September 01, 2021

First Contact



First Contact
1754 map published by the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, showing the route of Bering and Chirikov’s expedition.

It is astonishing to think that as recently as the eighteenth century – not the Middle Ages, not the days of Marco Polo, but in the supposedly enlightened eighteenth century – people still had only the vaguest idea of where Asia ended and America began.

In 1725, when Peter I sent the renowned explorer Vitus Bering on an expedition to faraway Kamchatka, he instructed him to “follow the land northward,” remarking that no one knows where it ends, but that “it appears that that land is part of America.” Commander Bering’s mission was to establish where Russia and America “meet.”

The First Kamchatka Expedition (1725-1731) did not manage to answer that question, but the explorers who undertook the Second Kamchatka Expedition (1732-1743) made it all the way to Alaska, to the Aleutian Islands, and brought back intriguing tales of people living in forests and on the banks of a mysterious river who were amazingly similar to Russians. They had beards, prayed to images on wooden boards, and dressed like Russians.


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