Russian American Company, colonial trading company, chartered by Czar Paul I in 1799. The charter granted the merchant-dominated company monopoly trading privileges in Russian America, which included the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and the territory down to 55° N lat. (a second charter, granted in 1821, extended its domain to 51°); one third of all profits were to go to the czar. Under Aleksandr Baranov, who governed the region (1800–1818), a permanent settlement was established at Sitka and a thriving fur trade organized. The company failed, however, in its intention to create a large, settled population of Russians. The inhospitable climate, persistent shortages of food and supplies, and the unwillingness of the czar to send serfs to North America kept the colony weak and small. In the 1840s, as the profits from the fur trade began to decline, the czarist government took control of the Russian-American Company from the merchants. The company was officially dissolved in 1867 when Alaska was sold to the United States.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.