The Coveted Pacific Coast

A New Stage for European Struggles

A Russian Challenge

View Multimedia - Changing Boundaries

Caption: View Multimedia - Changing Boundaries

This situation changed after 1725. Peter I, Czar of Russia, from his capital, St. Petersburg, sent Vitus Jonassen Bering, a captain in the Imperial Russian Navy, to find a passage to America via Siberia. In 1741 Bering and Captain Alexis Chirikov reached Alaska. In the decades that followed, Russian traders in search of furs travelled the coastline to the north of what is now British Columbia. In the 1760s the Spanish embassy in St. Petersburg reported alarming news: the Russians intended to settle on the Pacific coast to the north of Mexico, thereby compromising the security of New Spain. That colony at the time occupied a vast territory rich in silver mines, and included Central America, Mexico and the southwestern United States. When informed of Russia's ambitions, the Marquis de Croix, Viceroy of New Spain, took firm steps: he ordered the construction of a naval base at San Blas in northwestern Mexico and further ordered that Alta California (now the state of California) be explored with a view to colonization.