Backstory and Context
Spain laid claim to California in the early 1500s, but didn't begin colonizing the area for another two hundred years. In the meantime, ships from Britain, Prussia, and Russia hunted whales and sea otters along the coast. The Russian-American Fur Company was chartered by Tsar Paul I in 1799, and a colony was established in Sitka, Alaska, as a headquarters for Pacific operations. Count Nikolai Rezanov, the company's founder, sailed to San Francisco in 1806, hoping to trade with Spain in order to supply food to the starving Alaskan colony. Rezanov negotiated with Jose Arguello, commander of the Prisidio of San Francisco, at last securing a shipment of wheat for his settlers at Sitka and Kodiak Island, as well as Arguello's permission to marry his daughter, Concepcion. Rezanov died of pneumonia before the marriage could take place, however, and with him the hope for a treaty with Spain.
Alexandr Baranov took over the Russian-American Fur Company and sent expeditions to the unoccupied coastline north of San Francisco Bay (New Albion) from 1808-1811. The following year, Ivan Kuskov led a party of Russians and native Alaskans to Bodega Bay, where they built a redwood stockade fort called Fort Rossiya (Fort Ross) on the land of Kahaya Indians, who allied with the Russians. Fort Rossiya's mission was to supply the Alaskan colonies with food, including wheat, meat, and produce. However, the colony proved unsuccessful due to a combination of factors, including over-hunting of sea otters, colonial reluctance to fully engage in agriculture, and problems with mice and gophers. The Russian-American Company, hoping to leave Fort Rossiya, contracted with the Hudson Bay Company for provisions and food to supply Sitka, and in 1941 sold the fort to John Sutter of Sutter's Fort, Sacramento.
Burials at Russian Hill
According to historic newspaper articles, the burials at Russian Hill occurred after an outbreak of "malarian disease" aboard a Russian war ship in San Francisco Bay in 1848. Belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, the deceased could not appropriately buried in either Catholic or Protestant cemeteries, so a separate cemetery with a Russian cross was established. The number of graves given by the newspapers varies from "a few" to thirty to forty. Though these articles date the cemetery atop Russian Hill to the sailors who died in 1848, it is possible that the burial ground dates earlier, to the Russian-American Company's early years as a colonial presence in the San Francisco area. One article, printed on October 2, 1887 in the San Francisco Daily Examiner, states that Russian Hill was the "oldest burying-place for the city". When the Gold Rush 49ers discovered the graves on Russian Hill, they briefly used the cemetery for new burials, but were deterred from further use by the steepness of the hill. Though most of the burials were moved in the 1850s (probably to Yerba Buena Cemetery), from where they would have been once again disinterred in 1871 to be reinterred in Golden Gate Cemetery, only to be moved in 1907 to Colma, California. However, several skeletons have been discovered on Russian Hill during construction projects.
Russian Hill / Русский Холм
Russian Hill was named for the graves of several sailors of the “Russian-American Company,” who died here in the early 1840s. During the Gold Rush the 49ers found their graves, marked by wooden crosses, at the top of this hill and added graves of their own. The graves were removed or built over during the 1850s.
Русский Холм, был ннзван в cвязи c зaxoрoнениями нескольких моряков "Русско-американской компании», умерших в 1840-X годах. Зaxoрoнения, пoмеченные деревянными крестами были обнaружены. нa вepшинe xолмa в периoд золотой лихорадки в 49-50-X годах. B конце 1850-X зaxoрoнения были пepeнeceны или paзpушeны.
This project was initiated by the United Humanitarian Mission and was supported by the Government of the Russian Federation. The plaque was designed by Leonid Nakhodkin and fabricated courtesy of Andrey Dorobvshev.
June 6, 2005
Cemetery of the Week #119: San Francisco’s Russian Hill. Cemetery Travel. January 08, 2014. Accessed April 01, 2017. http://cemeterytravel.com/2014/01/08/cemetery-of-the-week-119-san-franciscos-russian-hill/.
Russian Hill Cemetery. SF Genealogy. Accessed April 01, 2017. http://www.sfgenealogy.com/sf/history/hcmrus.htm.
Early California: pre-1769–1840s: Russian Presence. Accessed April 01, 2017. http://picturethis.museumca.org/timeline/early-california-pre-1769-1840s/russian-presence/info.