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The Naming of Alaska

Explorers: "V"

These biographies are from Marcus Baker's monumental Geographic Dictionary of Alaska, published in 1902 by the United States Geological Survey. It detailed the origin of thousands of geographical place names in the Territory of Alaska, and provided brief biographies of about 120 of the people who had given the names described.
Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I-J | K | L | M | N | P | R | S | T | V | W | Z

Vancouver, 1792-1794

    Capt. George Vancouver, R. N., in command of the sloop of war Discovery, accompanied by the armed tender Chatham under the command of Lieut. William R. Broughton, R. N., made a surveying and exploring voyage from England to Northwest America and round the world in 1790 ta 1795. An account of this voyage was published by the British Government in 1798 in 3 quarto volumes accompanied by a folio atlas.
    This is an admirable account of an admirable piece of work and is one of the standard works for the region it covers.
    On April 1, 1791, the two vessels departed and, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, arrived off the coast of California on April 17, 1792. Thence Vancouver cruised northward, surveying and mapping the coast as far as Fitzhugh sound, whence he went to Nootka. He then cruised southward to San Francisco and Monterey, and about the beginning of 1793 went to the Hawaiian islands.
    Leaving these on March 30, 1793, he returned to the north, arriving off Cape Mendocino on April 26, whence he proceeded to Fitzhugh sound, joined the Chatham there, and resumed his surveys. During the season of 1793 he carried these northward along what is now British Columbia and in Alexander archipelago to Sumner strait. Quitting Alaska and returning southward, be surveyed the California coast from Monterey southward to San Diego and down to latitude 30° on the coast of lower California, finishing on December 15, 1793, and going thence to the Hawaiian islands. Quitting these on March 15, 1794, Vancouver returned on his last voyage to northwest America, arriving off Chirikof island, just west of Kodiak, on April 2. He then surveyed eastward, in Kodiak, Cook inlet, Prince William sound, and so on, to a junction with his surveys of the preceding year. This work ended at Port Conclusion, from which he took his final departure on August 22, 1794, and returned via Cape Horn to England, arriving off the Irish coast on September 12, 1795. Vancouver's work in the field and the admirable presentation of results in his published report constitute his monument. After more than a century it remains a standard work of reference.
    Vancouver had had previous experience in exploring. Captain Cook selected him in 1771 as one of his officers, and thus he accompanied that distinguished navigator during his second voyage. He also assisted Cook in outfitting and equipping for his third and last voyage. On December 9, 1780, he was made a lieutenant and served under Rodney in the West Indies till the middle of 1783. From 1784 to 1789 he served on the Europa, stationed at Jamaica. In 1790 be was made master and commander of the Discovery. In August, 1794, he was made a post-captain. After. his return to England he worked continually on his report till his death in May, 1798. The work, nearly but not quite complete at the time of his death, was finished by his brother, John Vancouver.


    Several Russian naval officers known for their work In Alaska have borne this name (Williams). Krusenstern, in his Receuil de mémoires hydrographiques, 1827, Vol. II, p. 76, says:

It is much to be regretted that the hydrographic works of a naval officer, Vasilief, who was in the employment of the American Company, were lost. I have already had occasion to speak of him in the preceding article. Provided with a sextant and chronometer and with much zeal and attachment for his profession, he had during his sojourn in our American colonies made a complete survey of all of the Aleutian islands without having had specific instructions to do so. Unfortunately he was drowned in Okhotsk harbor on his return from America to Russia, and what became of his precious papers and drawings is unknown. He is not to be confounded with the Captain (Mikhail Nikolaievich) Vasilief who was sent in 1819 to explore the northern parts of the Pacific ocean and particularly Bering strait.

Vasilief, 1809

    Ivan Vasilief the first, pilot or mate in the Russian navy, went with Hagemeister in the ship Neva to Russian America in 1806. In 1809 he surveyed the western shore of Baranof island and at an unknown date "died in the service."

Vasilief, 1819-1822

    Capt. Lieut. Mikhail Nikolaievich Vasilief sailed on July 3, 1819, from Cronstadt on a voyage to the Russian American colonies. With him went Shishmaref on the Blagonamierennie (Good Intent). Vasilief arrived in Petropovlovsk on June 4, 1820. Leaving there late in Junel he went to Kotzebue sound, where he joined his consort the Good Intent (Captain Shishmaref), and together they cruised northward along the coast to Icy cape, and, returning via St. Lawrence and the Pribilof islands, reached Unalaska on August 19, 1820. Thence be went to Sitka and southward to San Francisco and the Hawaiian islands, and on the 7th of April, 1821, was back in Sitka, whence he went to Unalaska, arriving on June 12. He then cruised northward as far as Cape Lisburne, explored the eastern part of Bering sea, discovered Nunivak island, and arrived at Petropavlovsk on September 8, 1821. Thence he returned to Cronstadt, arriving on August 2, 1822.
    During this cruise Vasilief and Shishmaref explored the mainland coast of Bering sea from Cape Newenham to and including Norton sound, and the Arctic coast from Cape Lisburne to Icy cape. (See Journal of the Russian Hydrographic Department, 1849, Vol. VII, p. 106-116.)

Vasilief, 1831-32

    Ensign Vasilief, of the corps of pilots, in 1831-82 surveyed and mapped a part of Alaska peninsula from Cook inlet westward nearly to Chignik bay. The map resulting from this survey is published by Lutke in his Partie Nautique, p. 274. Of this survey and map Lutke says:

Vasilief's map of the northeastern part of Alaska contains all possible details as to the situation of the coast and appears worthy of confidence, but in his journals which we have had in our hands we have found absolutely nothing except the data on which the construction of the map was based. Relative to places they contained no remark as to their configuration, properties, peculiarities, or their advantages, details so important for the navigator. We are, therefore able to add but few observations supplementary to his map hereto annexed.
    Vasilief began his reconnaissance in 1831 at Cape Douglas, and from there in the course of the same summer went as far west as Cape Kubugakli, in latitude 57° 52' 30". The following year he extended it as far as Cape Kumliun, in latitude 56° 32' 12". Circumstances prevented him from pursuing his work farther. The reconnaissance was made in three-holed bidarkas, a circumstance which, on the one hand, made it possible for him to explore all the windings of the coast in the greatest detail, but, on the other hand, prevented him from seeing the coast and judging of its appearance at any great distance. His chronometer stopped in the first days of the reconnaissance, so that it is based only on survey and latitude observations

Veniaminof 1824-1834

    Rev. John Veniaminof, a Russian priest of Irkutsk, went to Unalaska as a missionary in 1824. Of this devoted and noble man all writers speak in terms of the highest praise. The writer has sought unsuccessfully for any satisfactory account of his life and labors.
    He resided at Unalaska from the time of his arrival there in 1824 till 1834, when he was made a bishop. He then went, after the custom of his church, to Irkutsk and was there invested with his sacred office, taking the name of Innokenti or Innocentius. Returning he went to Sitka and labored successfully among the Indians there for a time, and later returned to Russia, where he reached the highest office in the Russo-Greek church, becoming Metropolite of Moscow. He became blind and died at an advanced age some time prior to 1880.
    Veniaminof was not merely a noble and successful missionary, but is known for his ethnologic and linguistic studies as well. There was published at St. Petersburg, in Russian, in 1840 his Notes on the Islands of the Unalaska District, in two volumes, with a supplementary or third part on the Atkans and Koloshians. These books are standard works, and it is regrettable that they are accessible only in Russian. He learned the Aleutian language and wrote a grammar and dictionary of it, which was published in 1846. In the same year be also published a sketch of the Koloshian and Kodiak languages. All these works have been used in preparing this dictionary.