Starting in 1775, Shelekhov organized voyages of merchant ships to the Kuril Islands and the Aleutian Islands, in what is now Alaska, for fur trading. In 1783–1786, he led an expedition to the coastal shores of the mainland, where they founded the first permanent Russian settlements in North America. Shelekhov's voyage was done under the auspices of his Shelikhov-Golikov Company, the other owner of which was Ivan Larionovich Golikov. This company was the predecessor of the Russian-American Company, which was founded in 1799.
In April 1784, Shelekhov arrived in what he named as Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island with two ships, the Three Hierarchs, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom and the St. Simon. The indigenous Koniaga, an Alutiiq nation of Alaska Natives, defended themselves from the Russian party. In what became known as the Awa'uq Massacre, Shelekhov and his armed forces, who had guns and cannons, killed hundreds of the Alutiiq, including women and children. They also took hundreds of hostages, many of them children, to force submission by other Alaska Natives. Having established his authority on Kodiak Island, Shelekhov founded the first permanent Russian settlement in Alaska along the island's Three Saints Bay. (Unalaska had been established long before, but it was not considered the permanent base for Russians until Shelekhov’s time).
A gulf in the Sea of Okhotsk, a strait between Alaska and Kodiak Island, and a town in Irkutsk Oblast in Russia bear Shelekhov's name. Shelekhov travelled via Shelekhov Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk in December 1786-January 1787, after he had been left behind at Bol’shereck in Kamchatka as the winds tore the Three Hierarcs from her anchors and carried her out to sea. There is a statue of Shelekhov in his native Rylsk.
In 1775 Shelekhov married Natalia Alexeyevna Kozhevina, the daughter of a prominent clan of Okhotsk navigators and mapmakers and their wives. At his death he had five surviving daughters and one son.
- Daikokuya Kōdayū, a Japanese castaway in Russia
- Piotr A. Tikhmenev: A History of the Russian-American Company , editors Alton S. Donnelly, Richard Pierce (Seattle: University of Washington Press, English translation 1978; pp. 48–59) (the original Russian work was published in 1861).
- "Alaska History Timeline". Retrieved on August 31, 2005.
- Richard Pierce in his introduction to Shelekhov’s A Voyage to America 1783–1786.
- Matthews, Owen (2013). Glorious misadventures : Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America (First U.S. edition. ed.). London [u.a.]: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62040-239-9.
| Governor of Shelikhov-Golikov Company
1784–22 May 1786
Konstantin Alekseevich Samoilov
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