The Distribution of Alcohol among the Natives of Russian America

Andrei V. Grinëv

Abstract

The study of archival materials and published historical and ethnographic sources shows that alcohol played an insignificant role in contacts with the aboriginal population during the Russian colonization of Alaska. The Russian-American Company (RAC) tried to fight alcoholism and limited access of spirits to the natives of the Russian colonies partially for moral and partially for economic reasons. The only Alaskan natives to whom agents of the RAC supplied rum in large quantities were the Tlingit and Kaigani Haida in 1830–1842, and among them excessive drinking became a widespread problem. The chief suppliers of alcohol for these Native Americans were the British and American traders at the end of the eighteenth century. In the mid-nineteenth century traders and whalers began to supply it to the Bering Sea Eskimos as well. Russian colonization was marked by efforts to limit drunkenness in the native populations. In that sense, Russian colonization was favorable in comparison with subsequent American colonization of Alaska.

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