The Russian Discoveries from the Map Published by the Imperial Academy of Saint Petersburg


This map, showing the known geography of Alaska in the late 18th century, was based on an original Russian map by Gerhard Friedrich Müller published in 1754 by the Imperial Academy of Saint Petersburg. The map was printed in 1775 on Fleet Street in London by Robert Sayer, a noted English map and print seller. Because the North Pacific and Arctic constituted the last largely unknown parts of the world at this time, early maps of Alaska were popular in Western Europe and were frequently reprinted. The map was published before the third Pacific voyage of Captain Cook to Alaska in 1778, and thus is still based on bearings and other geographical information obtained from the twin voyages of Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov (shown by dotted lines) to Alaska in 1741, as well as on the findings of even earlier Russian expeditions. Sayer’s map shows the routes of the voyages by Semen Dezhnev in 1648 around the Chukotka Peninsula and East Cape (Cape Dezhnev, the northeastern-most point of Asia), by Bering through what became known as the Bering Strait in 1728, and by Mikhail Gvozdev and Ivan Fyodorov in 1732 through the Bering Strait to Cape Prince of Wales on the North American side of the strait. The map also perpetuates the myth of a large landmass north of the Aleutian Islands reported by Kamchatka natives and purportedly visible from Bering Island. Its depiction of the Aleutian Islands is more accurate than that of earlier maps. By 1775, Russian explorers and promyshlenniki (fur-traders) had traveled throughout much of the Aleutian Islands in search of sea otters and provided information beyond what was known in Bering’s time about several island groups in the Aleutian chain. The map also depicts the by 1775 well-known geography of the Sea of Okhotsk, Sakhalin Island, the Kurile Islands, and northern Japan and provides geographical information about California based on recent Spanish explorations. Noteworthy features include the entry point of the Strait of Juan de Fuca near present-day Seattle and the fictitious “River of the West” from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

Last updated: January 27, 2016