January 1, 1680
Telluris theoria sacra (The Sacred Theory of the Earth)
Reverend Thomas Burnet tries to explain the creation story using natural philosophy, i.e. not use any miracles. "They say in short that God Almighty created waters on purpose to make the Deluge ... And this, in a few words, is the whole account of the business. This is to cut the knot when we cannot loose it."
On the subject of miracles, the Reverend Thomas Burnet published his century's most famous geological treatise in the 1680s, Telluris theoria sacra (The Sacred Theory of the Earth). Burnet accepted the Bible's truth, and set out to construct a geological history that would be in accord with the events of Genesis.
But he believed something else even more strongly: that, as a scientist, he must follow natural law and scrupulously avoid miracles. His story is fanciful by modern standards: the earth originally was devoid of topography, but was drying and cracking; the cracks served as escape vents for internal fluids, but rain sealed the cracks, and the earth, transformed into a gigantic pressure cooker, ruptured its surface skin; surging internal waters inundated the earth, producing Noah's flood. Bizarre, to be sure, but bizarre precisely because Burnet would not abandon natural law. It is not easy to force a preconceived story into the strictures of physical causality. Over and over again, Burnet acknowledges that his task would be much simpler if only he could invoke a miracle. Why weave such a complex tale to find water for the flood in a physically acceptable manner, when God might simply have made new water for his cataclysmic purification? Many of Burnet's colleagues urged such a course, but he rejected it as inconsistent with the methods of "natural philosophy" (the word "science" had not yet entered English usage):
They say in short that God Almighty created waters on purpose to make the Deluge ... And this, in a few words, is the whole account of the business. This is to cut the knot when we cannot loose it.
Burnet's God, like the deity of Newton and Boyle, was a clock-winder, not a bungler who continually perturbed his own system with later corrections.
We think him a better Artist that makes a Clock that strikes regularly at every hour from the Springs and Wheels which he puts in the work, than he that hath so made his Clock that he must put his finger to it every hour to make it strike: And if one should contrive a piece of Clockwork so that it should beat all the hours, and make all its motions regularly for such a time, and that time being come, upon a signal given, or a Spring toucht, it should of its own accord fall all to pieces; would not this be look'd upon as a piece of greater Art, than if the Workman came at that time prefixt, and with a great Hammer beat it into pieces?
January 1, 1695
An Essay Toward a Natural History of the Earth
In 1695, John Woodward's An Essay Toward a Natural History of the Earth viewed the Genesis flood as dissolving rocks and earth into a thick slurry which caught up all living things, and when the waters settled formed strata according to the specific gravity of these materials, including fossils of the organisms.
In 1695, John Woodward's An Essay Toward a Natural History of the Earth viewed the Genesis flood as dissolving rocks and earth into a thick slurry which caught up all living things, and when the waters settled formed strata according to the specific gravity of these materials, including fossils of the organisms. When it was pointed out that lower layers were often less dense and forces that shattered rock would destroy organic remains, he resorted to the explanation that a divine miracle had temporarily suspended gravity.
January 1, 1741
Krasheninnikov discusses the culture and beliefs of the Native Kamchadals. "They believe that the earth, sky, air, water, land, mountains and forests are inhabited by spirits whom they fear and honor more than their god!" Sacrifices were made to these spirits and idols were kept in their dwellings, "and rather than fearing their god, they curse him for all their misfortunes?" Russia began sending priests in 1741.
In Siberia, as in Alaska, Russians paid only scant attention to native ceremonies and beliefs. Christians could only dismiss native beliefs as gross superstitions and deplore their barbarity. Most Russians assumed that Bering Sea natives did not believe in God and had difficulty understanding the aboriginals' conceptions of the supernatural. Krasheninnikov, however, conceded that the Kamchadals believed in God, but found their idea of God and notions of good and evil very strange. His assessment of the native character was not commendatory. "Their pleasure consists of idleness and of the satisfaction of their natural desires. They arouse their lust with songs, dances and love tales which they are accustomed to relate. Boredom, responsibilities, troubles, are considered the greatest misfortunes which can befall them; and to guard against these, there is nothing they will not do, even sometimes at the risk of their lives. Their guiding principle is that it is better to die than not to live in comfort, or to be unable to satisfy their desires. Thus they used to have recourse to suicide as a last resort to find happiness." 8
It is hard to determine the basis on which the young Russian reached such curious conclusions. He does not illustrate the great fear of boredom nor the abhorrence of discomfort he seemed to have discovered. and one suspects that such tendencies might have been more manifest among the idle nobles of eighteenth-century St. Petersburg than the Kamchadals. As for the natives' suicidal propensities, there is evidence that this was a result of Russian oppression rather than an ingrained cultural trait. The only instances Krasheninnikov cites were the aftermath of battles with Cossacks when, after realizing that further resistance would be futile, Kamchadals hurled themselves into the midst of the enemy "with weapons in hands so as not to die without avenging" themselves. 9 As late as 1740, Kamchadal warriors, after a futile rebellion, killed all their women and threw themselves into the sea from a cliff where they had taken refuge. Krasheninnikov himself relates that suicide "became so common among them when they were conquered by the Russians, that the Court sent orders from Moscow to put a halt to it." 10 No one seems to have considered that the Kamchadals might have had good and rational reasons for preferring suicide to falling into the hands of victorious Cossacks heated by battle.
Other judgments of Kamchadals reached by Krasheninnikov were equally derogatory. "They have no knowledge either of riches, of honor, nor of glory; consequently they know neither greed, ambition nor prides all their desires are aimed to living in an abundance of everything they want, satisfying their passions, their hatred, and their vengeance." 11 According to the curious reasoning of the young Russian, the ignorance of the Kamchadals caused them to avoid some vices and indulge in others. Kasheninnikov's conclusions were never as clear as his prejudices. The more closely one examines such statements, the more confusing they become. Using the same depictions of character traits, a sympathetic observer might have presented the motives in quite a favorable light, though Krasheninnikor cannot be condemned for reflecting the attitudes of his time.
Krasheninnikov found the Kamchadals extremely boorish. "They never doff their hats nor bow to anyone. They are so stupid in their discourse that only in their power of speech do they differ from animals." 12 Their religion mystified the Russian scientist: "They believe that the earth, sky, air, water, land, mountains and forests are inhabited by spirits whom they fear and honor more than their god!" Sacrifices were made to these spirits and idols were kept in their dwellings, "and rather than fearing their god, they curse him for all their misfortunes?" 13 Krasheninnikov's notes on native customs are extensive, valuable records which seem to have gained much by his use of Steller's work. Steller had a great curiosity concerning native beliefs and he had the patience to satisfy it by means of extensive questioning. When the German scientist inquired about the Kamchadals' belief in a supreme being he did not depend upon a handful of informants, but put the same question to more than a hundred Kamchadals. Together, both men contributed to a monumental and timely work, the record of a people whose culture was soon to be overwhelmed. A few years later it would have been impossible to compile such a thorough description of the doomed nation. In 1741 the first Russian priests were sent out to convert the heathen and stamp out what remained of their traditional beliefs: What the Cossacks had begun with firearms was completed by the churchmen.
January 1, 1745
The Russians, with superior ships and firepower, took what they wanted from the Aleuts and killed any who obstructed their actions.
Atrocities began in the winter of 1745: An explosion of deadly
firearms against a people who had only stone-tipped spears and
walrus-bone knives began the crude intrusions of the old world into the
new. On Attu Island of the Near Islands, at the extreme tip of the
Aleutian chain, the first native was injured by a bullet. Two days later on
Attu Island ten armed men, under Alexei Beliaief, went to explore their
landfall. Before long the men encountered a settlement of Aleuts. The
men, hungry for women after a long, arduous voyage, and unaccustomed
to exercising civilized restraint, provoked an argument that ended in the
outright killing of fifteen male natives. No other substantial reason, other
than securing the women, was recorded for the killing. Additional
gunpowder and bullets were rushed to the scene from the ship in support
of the murderers. For nearly an entire year the peoples of Attu were
ruthlessly harassed by the Russians at first welcomed to the island.
The years passed and the violence between the Aleuts and Russians
continued. The isolation of the scene lent itself to lawless and unbridled
actions. There was no effective government authority and might meant
January 1, 1763
West of the Revolution - An Uncommon History of 1776
Aleuts engage in warfare with the Russians but gradually lose - especially when the Russians destroy their boats - key to their hunting practices and "as indispensable as the plow and the horse for the farmer"
In 1763, four ships, the Zacharias and Elizabeth, the Holy Triniry, the
John, and the Adrian and Natalie, were visiting Umnak and Unalaska,
two of the larger islands of the Aleutian chain that Russians had dis-
covered only four years earlier. The captains collected iasak from local
Aleuts and demanded amanaty to ensure prompt payment and their own
safety. Then they divided their crews into hunting parties, as Aleuts
from Unalaska, Umnak, and neighboring islands had expected. The
Aleuts hatched a plan. As Solov'ev reported it, local residents would
"live in friendship at first," but when the Russians split up to hunt and
trade, they would take them by surprise. "Using this ruse," they hoped
to "kill all the Russians."
On Unalaska, the Aleuts ambushed the hunting parties from the
Zacharias and Elizabal. Four survivors, fleeing along the coust to their
vessel, spotted a locker washed ashore, then bits and pieces of the ship
itself, and finally the bodies of their mates, mangled and strewn about
the beach. Months later, they reached the Holy Trinity, where they
learned that, besides themselves, only three of their chirty-seven crew-
mates had survived."
The Holy Trinity had also come under attack and would soon be
destroyed. The skeleton crew, reduced in number and weakened by
scurvy, could not control the vessel, and in heavy winds it was driven
to Umnak and crushed on the rocky shore. Aleuts set upon fifty-four
castaways that same night. In July 1764, the twelve survivors of that
raid built a skin boat and rowed around the island, searching for the
John, the third of the four ships that had been trading in the islands.
In a steam bath constructed by the Russians, they found only a charred
frame and the garroted bodies of twenty countrymen. (No one from the
Job survived to recount its story, but in 1970, archaeologists discovered
the steam bath and the remains of the crew. The refugees from the
Zacharias and Elizabeth and the Holy Trinity were soon rescued by the
last surviving ship, the Adrian and Natalie. In September 1764, relief
arrived when Solovey anchored off Unalaska and learned of the plight
of his fellow promyshlenniki."
In retaliation, Solover killed at least seventy Aleuts in five differ-
ent engagements. "I preferred to talk them out of evil intentions so
that they could live in friendship with the Russian people," he main-
tained. But elderly promyshlenniki, interviewed in the early nine-
tenth century, would remember differently. On one occasion, Solovev,
after being provoked, killed one hundred Aleuts "on the spot." The
bloodshed was "terrible," they recalled. On another, Solovev blew up
a fortified structure sheltering three hundred Aleuts and cut down
the survivors with guns and sabers. One trader stated that Solovev
had killed more than three thousand in all, perhaps an exaggera-
tion; another insisted that he had killed no more than two hundred.
Considering that Unalaska sheltered only a few thousand inhabitants,
even two hundred deaths would have represented a crushing blow to
Years later, Aleuts insisted that Solovief, above all others, was
responsible for their decline. The Russian captain had killed hundreds
or thousands, they said, and many others had fled at his approach. He
made a practice of destroying their haidarkat, as kayaks are known in
the Aleutians. The boats were essential for hunting, "as indispens-
able as the plow and the horse for the farmer," observed one Russian.
Many of the refugees died from starvation or exposure while laboring
to replace the skin-covered vessels, which took over a year to build."
On Unalaska and surrounding islands, Solover "shot all the men;
three residents recalled in 1789. He reportedly practiced a cruel experi-
ment: arranging the Aleuts in a line, he fired at the first to discover
how many people the bullet would pass through. On one occasion,
villagers sought refuge on Egg Island, a tiny outcropping with cliffs
four hundred feet high, lying in deep water just off the eastern edge
of Unalaska. Its rocky shoreline hindered Solov'ev's approach, but he
made landfall on the second attempt and killed the men, women, and
children who had gathered there. "The slaughter was so atrocious,"
Aleuts said, "that the sea around the islet, became bloody from those
who threw themselves or were thrown into it."6
In his journal, Solover remained largely silent about his thirty-five
months on Unalaska and the surrounding islands, where his crew
harvested the vast majority of the furs that would eventually be
sent on to Kyakhta. There was "nothing worthy of notice" in the journal,
declared the Russian Senate, which ordered future voyagers to keep bet-
ter records. Solov'ev's reticence may have been grounded in knowledge
of the fate of Ivan Bechevin, a wealthy Irkutsk merchant who was put
on trial in 1764 for the actions of his company. The official investigation
concluded that Bechevin's promyshlenniki-_who kidnapped, raped,
and murdered a number of Aleut women--committed "indescribable
abuses, ruin and murder upon the natives."3
Nonetheless, enough details exist to reveal that relations berween
Solover and the Aleuts rapidly deteriorated. Shortly after Solov'ev set
up camp on Unalaska, he sent out two hunting parties. A detachment
from the first became stranded in a cove surrounded by high cliffs.
The Aleuts who discovered the vulnerable men severed their arm and
leg tendons and then cut off their limbs and heads. Later, they boasted
to Solovev, "we are going to kill all of you just like we killed Russian
people before." Solov'ev ordered two Aleut captives stabbed to death."
The remainder of the first party went west, to hunt dt Umnak and
other western islands. It mer with success, according to Solov'ev. The
men lived peacefully with the islanders, who "voluntarily" gave them
hostages, traded with them, and paid dasak. "I was always happy wich
those foreigners and nothing bad happened while we stayed there,
" he stated. (lozemtry, meaning "foreigners," was the term Russians applied to
the native peoples of Siberia, as well as to the Aleuts.) Their acquiescence
to Solov'ev's presence may have been forged in the 1760s, when, accord-
ing to one report, promyshlenniki had virtually "exterminated" the
'"disobedient" populations on southern Umnak and its western islets.**