by Brian Wright for Seward City News-
Happy Alaska Day! One-hundred and fifty years ago today, Alaska formally became a part of the United States.
On October 18, 1867, two-hundred and fifty American soldiers joined a throng of dignitaries and Russian troops at what is now the Baranof Castle State Historic Site in Sitka, Alaska. A civil war battleship, the USS Ossipee, floated nearby in the harbor. According to the official account given by Lovell Rousseau, the former Union Army General and congressman who presided over the ceremony, the transfer took place at precisely half past three in the afternoon. The Russian flag that flew over the site was lowered and replaced by the stars and stripes of the United States.
“The flag was so hoisted,” Rousseau’s report stated, “that in the instant it reached its place the report of the big gun of the Ossipee reverberated from the mountains around … Captain Pestchouroff stepped up to me and said, ‘General Rousseau, by authority from his Majesty the Emperor of Russia, I transfer to the United States the Territory of Alaska’ and in a few words I acknowledged the acceptance of the transfer, and the ceremony was at an end.”
Alaska Day is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the day the United States purchased Alaska from Russia. The Alaska Purchase, however, was finalized on March 30, 1867, what is now known as Seward’s Day. It wasn’t until October 18th, nearly seven months later, that the United States officially took possession of its new territory.
William H. Seward, namesake of our town and Secretary of State under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson from 1861 to 1869, played the central role in brokering the deal. At 586,421 square miles, the $7.2 million dollar price tag amounted to less than two cents an acre. Nevertheless, this transaction was met by strong opposition at the time and was labeled “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox” by critics.
The largest event commemorating this year’s Alaska Day will be held in Sitka. Festivities include interpretive programs at historic sites, a parade, a concert series, a kayak race, a period costume ball, and more.
Alaska Day is an official state holiday and state government employees will be awarded a day off to celebrate this Alaskan milestone.