Fort Ross


Dear friends of Salt Point and Fort Ross,


Sweet rain! Slow and steady the drizzle came down late Friday and Saturday, with parts of Western Sonoma County getting over an inch and a half of rain this last weekend. While that hardly moves the needle on our drought, it brought a brief respite from our wildfire anxiety and washed away a long summer of dust and unease. Let us hope for an early and wet winter in the west. 


In more administrative news, FRC has an important announcement to make. Starting September 15th, Fort Ross Conservancy and California State Parks entered a new phase of our partnership by signing a five year co-management agreement which allows FRC to staff and manage the Fort Ross State Historic Park entrance station. Next spring when Reef Campground reopens, FRC will also co-manage Reef Campground. Co-management agreements allow qualified nonprofit organizations such as FRC to operate a portion of a park unit, sharing operational and financial roles and responsibilities for the park unit with our district. These agreements allow each organization to leverage their expertise to manage the diverse natural and cultural resources of our parks. We are excited about the changes and we’re grateful for the support of both the Partnerships Office in Sacramento and leadership from our local district.


Next time you drive through the entrance station at Fort Ross, say hello to our seasoned crew Autumn and Debbie, and welcome Darlene and Jackie to the Fort Ross Conservancy team. 




I must close on a solemn note, as we lost a towering member of our community this month with the passing of Fort Ross volunteer Lynn Hay Rudy. Her historic research has been invaluable in capturing the ranch era history of Western Sonoma County and Fort Ross in particular. She’s contributed to many Fort Ross publications, and her books on the Salt Point Township are the authoritative guide to local history. It was Lynn Rudy who saw the value of the Call House during a time when Fort Ross State Historic Park was seen as a “Russian only” destination and ranch era buildings outside of the fort compound were being demolished -- Lynn decided the Call House needed to stay and through force of will alone put that building on the map. Over many years she meticulously furnished it with Call family artifacts and replicas, and then realizing she alone couldn’t keep this going indefinitely, grew and indoctrinated a dedicated band of still-active volunteers to steward the house museum. Lynn will be missed but her legacy will outlive us all. 


Be well, be safe, and take good care, 




Sarah Sweedler

Fort Ross Conservancy CEO

Lynn Rudy




We sadly announce the death of Lynn Rudy on August 12. She died at home, with the love and support of her family - surrounded by love, light, music and flowers. A community memorial will be held for her sometime in the future. Many thanks to our many friends and neighbors who made Lynn’s life here on the Sonoma Coast so happy and fulfilling.


The Rudy Family

Fort Ross Harvest Festival



Saturday October 16th, Fort Ross State Historic Park


Free! California State Parks $10/car parking fees apply


Happy Fall! What better time to announce we will be hosting Fort Ross Harvest Festival than on the first day of fall. It has been two years since we welcomed you to this event and we have missed you all! 


Join us in the historic orchard for a safe and joyful reunion for Fort Ross Harvest Festival on Saturday, October 16, 2021. 


Our dear friends from Russian House Kedry will tantalize your eyes and ears with their enchanting traditional Russian songs and dances. Join in!


As the health and happiness of our visitors are paramount, this will be a low key version of our usual Harvest Festival celebration. We will not be organizing pumpkin carving, apple painting, or apple juicing this year due to the close proximity these activities require. 


Pack a picnic, bring an empty bag to collect fruit, and help us harvest the bounty of the orchard. We encourage gentle harvest of all the fruit found in the orchard. 


Bake a pie and tag us @fortrossconservancy with the result! We’d love to see what you do with these beautiful fruits. 


Bring a hat and wear layers - weather on the coast can change quickly. We will not have an ADA shuttle this year so please park at the main parking lot and walk up to the orchard. (You may drive to the orchard to drop members of your group off who may not be able to walk up to the orchard, but cars must be parked in the main Fort Ross parking lot.)


Call or email us for more information / (707) 847-3437



Save the Date: Virtual Fort Ross Dialogue, November 2, 2021

We are happy to announce that our tenth annual Fort Ross Dialogue will take place online on November 2, 2021. This year the theme of the dialogue is ‘Cultural Relations Platform: Celebrating a Decade of Public Diplomacy.'


Fort Ross Dialogue aims to strengthen the cooperative Pacific dimension of US-Russian relations dating back to the Russian-American Company and its southernmost California settlement in the 19th century. Over the last ten years, we have accomplished a lot, and we’re proud of our achievements!


This year’s virtual event will not disappoint you. We will be circulating additional information on the panels, speakers, and registration details in the coming weeks to all FRC members and everyone who has attended the conferences in the past. 

Ivan Kuskov’s Ship’s Encounter with a Whale, & Melville’s Moby Dick

Great American novelist Herman Melville was just a boy when he first heard of the encounter between a massive whale and the brig his uncle, John deWolf (D'Wolf), was navigating. deWolf was traveling Russian-America with Georg von Langsdorff, a German naturalist working for Imperial Russia who had just returned from the Russian American Company’s maiden voyage to San Francisco, California. deWolf’s vessel -- built by Fort Ross founder Ivan Kuskov -- made contact with the whale during the summer of 1806 while the American sea captain was making his way from Alaska to Russia. 



© Rockwell Kent’s drawings for the 1930 edition of

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick


deWolf became the proud owner of the vessel Ermak, built by Kuskov in Yakutat, after selling the Juno to the Russian American Company (RAC). The Russian American Company purchased Juno so that they could take the schooner to California to establish trade relations with the Spaniards at the San Francisco Presidio. The governor of Russian America Alexander Baranov paid a hefty price to secure deWolf’s vessel, offering $54,638 and 572 sea otter pelts worth $13,062 for the American’s ship. The deal to secure the Juno also included the Ermak, small cutter vessel, which deWolf claimed was a 40-ton ship when completely rigged with two suits of sail, four carriage guns, thirty muskets, and provisions for thirty days. As part of the deal Baranov also promised the American captain from Bristol, Rhode Island, safe passage across Russia to St. Petersburg. 


But when time came to sail, deWolf and his crew were offered instead another small cutter, the Rostislav, also built by Kuskov in Yakatan, as the Ermak could not sail on time. While the Rostislav was an 85 ton vessel, deWolf in his memoirs mistakenly referred to the ship as “Russisloff,” placing it at only 25 tons. The Ermak, at 100 tons, was in fact much larger that the 40-ton estimate the American predicted the ship to be. (See: The Fleet of the Russian-American Company, by Evguenia Anichtchenko, Alaska Journal of Anthropology vol. 11, 2013.) Why my focus on tonnage? Well, with this encounter, size definitely mattered!   


The vessel was sailing the waters between Kamchatka and the Siberian coast when deWolf and his crew made direct contact with a whale. Here is how Langsdorff described the encounter in the seventeenth chapter his book Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World: During the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, and 1807, first printed in 1814, five years before Herman Melville was born.


“An uncommon large whale, the body of which was larger than the ship itself, lay almost at the surface of the water, but was not perceived by any one on board till the moment when the ship, which was in full sail, was almost upon him, so that it was impossible to prevent its striking against him,” Langsdorff, aulic counselor to his majesty the Emperor of Russia wrote in his book.  


“We were thus placed in the most imminent danger, as this gigantic creature, setting up its back, raised the ship three feet at least out of the water. The masts reeled, and the sails fell altogether, while we who were below all sprang instantly upon the deck, concluding that we had struck upon some rock; instead of this we saw the monster sailing off with the utmost gravity and solemnity. Captain D’Wolf applied immediately to the pumps to examine whether or not the vessel had received any damage from the shock, but we found that very happily it had escaped entirely uninjured.”


The experience described by the German naturalist must have made quite an impact on Melville, as he included Langsdorff’s full quote of the whale encounter in the Moby Dick, after confirming the story with his uncle, John deWolf. 


“I have the honor of being a nephew of his. I have particularly questioned him concerning this passage in Langsdorff. He substantiates every word,” Melville wrote in Moby Dick, in the “Affidavit” chapter of the book. 

Ten years after the publication of the Moby Dick, deWolf published his own recollections of that same experience in the A Voyage to the North Pacific and a Journey through Siberia more than Half a Century Ago. He describes the encounter as follows:


“This tract of ocean, from longitude 130° west, along the entire coast of Alaska and through the seas of Kamtchatka and Ochotsk, was at that time the great place of resort of the right whale. Persecuted in all its other haunts, it had sought refuge in this northern region, where as yet a whale-ship had never made its appearance. We were frequently surrounded by them. Sometimes they would take a position at the windward, and come down towards us, as if they were determined to sink us; but when they had approached within eight or ten rods, they would dip and go under, or make a circuit round us. Most of them were much longer than our vessel, and it would have taken but a slight blow from one to have smashed her into a thousand pieces,” deWolf Wrote.



“We ran into a large whale which was lying near the surface. We somehow slid up on his back so as to raise our little vessel two or three feet and throw her over on her side four or five streaks. It was like striking a rock, and brought us to a complete stand-still. The monster soon showed himself, gave a spout, ‘kicked’ his flukes and went down. He did not appear to be hurt, nor were we hurt, but most confoundedly frightened. I sounded the pump immediately, and found that all was safe as to leakage, and we continued on our course quite satisfied with the result” deWolf described.


deWolf’s whale encounter, together with similar incidents of the Essex in 1820 and the Union in 1807, inspired Melville to write the Moby Dick. Yet, most publications nowadays credit only the Essex’s epic in describing Melville’s motivation for writing the great American classic. Clearly that is not true -- deWolf’s and Langsdorff’s narrative undoubtedly must have provided inspiration for the setting of Melville’s narrative.

-- Igor Polishchuk, Director of External Relations

Fuel Reduction at Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve



California State Parks is beginning a fuels reduction project at Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve. A crew with Sierra Nevada Forestry Service will be working each week Tuesdays through Fridays until October 15th to accomplish the fuel reduction and improve the forest health. The purpose of this project is to reduce ground fuels & dead and dying trees, and reduce small diameter tan oak/Doug firs. Work will be focused along Philips Gulch trail, Chinese Gulch trail and the Kruse Rhododendron loop. Small piles of removed plant material will be constructed, covered with waxed kraft paper and burned at a later date once it is safe to do so. Temporary trail closures will occur to maintain crew and park visitor safety, signs will be posted at the trail junction and information will be passed along to state park staff who may interact with park visitors. Closures will only take place Tuesdays through Fridays while the crew is working.


Please contact Environmental Scientist Chris Heintzelman at with any questions. Thank you so much.

The Fort Ross Flag Pole is Back! 



The Fort Ross mast which once flew the flag of the Russian American Company has been repaired by California State Parks after being damaged in a storm earlier this year. Coincidently, the repair was finished 209 years after the maiden mast was erected at the fort. A deer family happened to be in the compound to witness the flagpole go up. 


“They designated 30 August 1812 [Julian Calendar] as the day to raise the flag over the fort, and for this [purpose] they implanted a spar from the topmast in the ground in the centre of the fort. After the usual prayer reading, they raised the flag with the firing of cannon and side-arms,” reads the beginning of the official history of this important artifact.


The mast is the centerpiece of the historic fortress as it welcomes visitors and groups of students to the compound. Thank you Thom, Duke, and Kevin with California State Parks for keeping history alive!