Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

The Russian-Alaskan Church Bell at Rancho Camulos
Biography of Archimandrite Joasaph.

Webmaster's note.

The writer's name is not given, but this is probably the report sent in 1923 by Rev. A.P. Kashereroff of the Alaskan Historical Society (Alaska Historical Library?) in response to Alice Harriman's inquiry about a particular church bell at Rancho Camulos. The bell was manufactured in 1796 in Russian Alaska on authority of the Archimandrite Joasaph and taken in 1806 by Count Nikolai Rezanov (Resanoff) to San Francisco, from whence it was sent to the Mission San Fernando, where it hung until about 1860 when it was removed to Camulos. This document (scroll to bottom) is as close as we've gotten to a primary source.

By way of background, the structure of Russian and Spanish colonialism along the West Coast of North America during the late 1700s and early 1800s was remarkably similar. Both were church-state ventures, and both attempted to Christianize the native population as they established colonies, be they Russian outposts or Spanish missions. For the sake of readers who are more familiar with Spanish California, the Archimandrite Joasaph is roughly equivalent to Fr. Junipero Serra. (An archimandrite is an arch-abbot, one step below a bishop in the Russian Orthodox, or Eastern Catholic, Church.) The counterparts of Rezanov (a member of the nobility and emissary of the tsar) and his associates would be the Spanish military commanders such as Gaspar de Portolá.

Further reading.

Library and Museum

Biography of Archimandrite Joasaph.

Joasaph, in secular life John Ilyich Bolotoff, was born at Tver, Russia, in 1761 and was educated at Yaroslavl seminary. For some years after graduation, was teacher at Uglitz theological school. Took monastic orders in 1786 and joined the brothers of Tolgsk monastery. In 1794 with the rank of Archimandrite was appointed to head the first Russian mission to Alaska. Arrived at Kodiak Sept. 24, 1794, and began to Christianize the natives of Alaska. In 1798, left Kodiak for Irkoutsk and in 1799 was consecrated Bishop of Alaska. On his return trip in 1799 from Okhotsk to Kodiak on the ship Phoenix, was drowned (between Okhotsk and Kodiak) with all on board, and a very rich consignment of church goods and priests' vestments were lost along with the rest.

Left one book: "The topographical, climatological, statistical and ethonological description of the Island of Kodiak," printed in 1805 in the "Droug Prosvestcheniya" (The Friend of Enlightenment), St. Petersburg.

According to Tekhmenieff's history, page 72 of the appendix, from the letter written by Shelihoff to Baranoff on Aug. 9, 1794, from Okhotsk, the following extract may be of interest:

The people of various religions (meaning the natives) should be made acquainted with Russians, but do not overlook this regulation, that during the night time, the people of various religion should not remain in the village. At all places, where necessary, guards should be placed, no one to be permitted to pass, and the guards should strike signals. Even during the day time, such vigilance should be maintained. It would also be well to sound the hours by striking boards (I suppose this means some resonant wooden piece), determining the time by (sand) hour glass, and if time permits, with the help of artisans, to cast a bell which may also be useful for the church.

At present I have sent you twenty poods (about 800 pounds) of copper. It would not be bad, if through your exertions you could find some American copper from Copper River.

In the same appendix, page 86, from the letter written to Shelihof [sic] in answer to the above, dated St. Paul Harbor, May 20, 1795, I quote:

I found ore about Kodiak and Cook Inlet in great quantities; I tried in a small way to melt it into metal, but time did not permit to work into cast iron, and besides I do not know how. I asked Father Juvenalius to show us how to melt in hand ovens and small furnaces but did not get an answer. We need two men who know how to smelt iron in hand ovens and small forges.

Page 94 — Our Shaposhnikoff has cast bells here for the local church, weight five poods (about 203 pounds). For a long time past I had intention of going to Copper River for American copper.

From the material for the history of Russian settlements on the shores of the Eastern Ocean [Pacific Ocean], notes by Kyril Klebnikoff, compiled in 1821, printed at St. Petersburg, 1861, Vol. 3.

Page 97 on skilled occupations:

Blacksmiths: These are engaged at three forges. At one and sometimes at two of them, the men are principally engaged in turning out ship's work, which is their constant occupation and more particularly during spring before the departure of the ships. At the third, they are engaged in making new axes or repairing old ones, and this is the chief and most constant occupation. If time permits they (blacksmiths) make ploughs according to California model and mattocks for digging, for trade with California.

Coppersmiths: These are situated in three shops. At two of them they are engaged in making new boilers from tin and copper; bowls, teakettles, copper pots, measures, funnels and other utensils, a part of which is used for trade with California and with savages along the North of America and also for supplying other colonies, for no utensils are imported from Russia. In the third, they manufacture small articles for ships, and bells, not larger than five poods (about 200 pounds).

The small bells are used on the ships and the large ones for trade with California.

Page 148.

Governor De Bala [cq; ?] did not permit the Russians to establish themselves on the north side of the San Franciscan Bay and for that reason had established two new missions, one at San Rafael in 1819 and the other at Solano in 1824. At the establishment of these institutions, the missionaries being in need of various materials and instruments for their missions, had frequent intercourse with Fort Ross. There was a continuous trade between the two.

From United States Custom Records: From the manifest of vessels cleared coastwise beginning Oct. 18, 1867—

On Jan. 21, 1868, Hutchinson and Hirsch from Sitka, shipped on the schooner "Growler," Horace Coffin, Master, eight bells, 2,509 pounds, consigned to Schloss & Co., San Francisco.

On Nov. 16, 1868, the Russian American Co., from Sitka, shipped on steamer "Alexander," M.C. Erskine, Master, nine bells, weight not given, consigned to M. Klinkovstrom, San Francisco[1]. (M. Klinkovstrom was the Russian Consul at S.F. at that time.)

HOW they cast the bells in Alaska is a problem I cannot answer.

I may some day run up against something that will also clear up this interesting phase.

I have a picture of Shelikof and Baranoff, the copies of which I shall send as soon as I have some made.

According to J.J. Underwood, the story goes, "And so Resanoff loaded his ship with bells and furs and set out for Yerba Buena" [San Francsico].

As Sitka was less than two years old, it is very improbable that any bells had as yet been made there. What really happened was this: Supplies at the Sitka colony were very low, and starvation was staring the inhabitants in the face unless something was done at once, so Baranoff contracted with the American Captain D'Wolf and purchased the ship, "Juno," with her cargo of flour, sugar and other necessary articles. This relieved the immediate necessity but by the spring time the supply became so low that Rezanoff set sail in the June for San Francisco with articles for trade with the Spaniards, and also with the idea of making arrangements for a base for future supplies for Alaska.

Klebnikoff's notes on the material for history, page 146, gives the following articles carried: Linen, raven's duck, thick cloth, handkerchiefs, needles, boots, saws, axes and bed-ticking.

The bells of which you speak are from European Russia, brought on ships around the world to Alaska. The first two ships, Neva and Nadezhda, making [sic] the first trip in 1803-4. The bells from Russia were for the churches here, donated by the Russian American Company, which was obliged to maintain the churches at its own expense for the benefit of the employes [sic].

It is very likely that some bells were at Fort Ross. No gifts of bells were made by royalty, at least I do not recall having seen any such reference.

The Roman Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church began their separation in the 9th Century.

The first church established at Sitka was in 1816, with Father Alexis Sokoloff as pastor.

About Madame Shelikoff.

From the History of Tekmanieff, page 7.

On the 18h day of August 1783 on the ship "Three Saints," Gregory Shelikoff, accompanied by Madame Shelikoff, left Okhotsk. The ship wintered at Bering Island. Next spring the ship called in at Unalaska, where some repairs were made. On the 3rd of August 1784 the ship reached Kodiak Island and entered a harbor, which was named Three Saints Harbor.

After establishing himself on the inhospitable shores of Kodiak Island, Shelikoff began to erect buildings. He made a stockade and built some small houses. Shelikoff remained at Three Saints Harbor until the 22nd of May 1786 when he sailed for Okhotsk. He reached the Bolsheretcks on the 8th of August 1786 and in January 1787 arrived at Okhotsk. From there with his family, he proceeded to Irkoutsk. He left Eustraty Delaroff in charge of his business at Kodiak, who remained there until 1791 or until superseded by Alexander Baranoff.

Baranoff, seeing that Three Saits Harbor was not suited for his headquarters, as there was no timber there, removed the post further north to St. Paul Harbor in 1792. (The Saint Paul Harbor is the present town of Kodiak.) The post at Three Saints remained as a hunting lodge.

Shelikoff died at Irkoutsk on July 20, 1795. His business was conducted by his wife and his partner, G. Golikoff, who united with a company [of] Irokouts merchants in order to continue the fur operations in Alaska.

I fail to see in the historic records where Madam has taken any active part in conducting her husband's business.

Natalia Shelikoff, wife of Gregory Shelikoff, was elevated to the dignity of Nobility by an Imperial Ukaz of Nov. 10, 1797. In the Ukaz it reads:

For the perils and hardships shared with her husband, the late Gregory Shelikoff, deceased, for the services rendered to the crown by imperiling his life in uniting the inhabitants of North America to the scepter of the czar, for laying the foundation of the Greek Catholic Christian religion among the aborgines and for opening institutions beneficial to the fatherland, Madam Shelikoff and her children are elevated to the dignity of nobility. (The reference of Madam Shelikoff doing tapestry work during cold winters at Kodiak is some romantic talk to make some book more human.)

The first Russian Mission arrived at Kodiak (St. Paul) on the ship "Three Saints," Sept. 24, 1794; the mission was headed by Archmandrite Joasaph. (This is the correct way to spell it and pronounce it.) The rest of the clergymen were as follows: Hieromonks (or priest monks), Juvenalius, Markarius and Athanasius. Hierodeacoans (or monk deacons), Stephen and Nectarius. Lay Brother: Herman and Joasaph.

Bells of Kodiak.

[The following is lined out in early draft of this document:]

At Sitka there is one bell that was cast by Baranoff in 1811 (I think). It has quite a lot of inscription on the base. This I will supply to you in the near future, or just as soon as I can get some one to send it to me. Also I will send you the photographs of the bell in the belfry and as much data upon them as I can get for you.

Webmaster's footnotes.

1. The ship Alexander was with Baranov when he moved in 1804 from Kodiak to Sitka.


Native Village Names


Secularization & Sale, 1830s-40s (Engelhardt 1927)


Vischer 1865


Dedication 1925 x4


Bell at Camulos: Alaska Report 1923


Bell at Camulos (News reports 1923)


Bell at Camulos (Engelhardt 1927)



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