On Saturday, February 11, Robin Joy Wellman presented “Forgotten Tales of California: The Russian-American Company and Fort Ross” as a part of the Russian History Museum’s Second Saturday online lecture series.

Chartered under Emperor Paul I, the Russian-American Company was a state-sponsored fur trading venture that established colonies in Alaska and California. In 1812, a company outpost called Colony Ross was founded on the coast of California. The story of this settlement, unknown to many, is an intriguing narrative of a meeting and melding of cultures. As one of the most culturally diverse settlements along North America’s western shores at that time, Fort Ross helped shape early California.

Robin Joy Wellman, long-time educator at Fort Ross State Historic Park, presented the story of the settlement and its historical context. She discussed the diverse populations that came together at Fort Ross and their roles in relation to the Russian-American Company. The presentation mapped the neighborhoods surrounding the fort and what they might have looked like; delved into stories of intermarriage and everyday life; and touched upon the many “firsts” that took place at Fort Ross and their impact on California’s history. Wellman also examined the settlement’s story in the broader context of international trade. Wellman  concluded by addressing Fort Ross’s legacy today, as an example of shared history between Russia and the United States, and its enduring significance within academic, diplomatic, and religious spheres.

About the Speaker

Robin Joy Wellman spent 30 years working at Fort Ross and continues to be actively involved in the telling and sharing of its story, including the natural and cultural details of the landscape, everyday colonial life, and the international commercial trade. In her work as the lead coordinator for natural and cultural history interpretation at Fort Ross, she worked closely with museums, universities, history institutes, and thousands of schools.  Additionally, she has collaborated with members from various tribes (e.g. Kashaya, Coast Miwok, Dry Creek Pomo, Sakha) in projects relating Northwest Pacific history, and has hosted diplomats, international scholars, and other dignitaries at Fort Ross. In 2012, for the Fort Ross Bicentennial, Robin was Chair for the California State Parks, organizing over 38 events and was awarded the designation of  “State Park Interpreter of the Year for California State Parks,” adding to the many other awards received in recognition of her work in historic interpretation. Robin has presented internationally at venues including the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Geographical Society, American Embassy in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow, and UNESCO World Heritage Center in Paris. Her work on the collection of ethnographic objects from California was published by the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera).