The Alaska Claim

by Brock Pate

Once Benjamin Perkins died in 1862, his wife Anna took over the helm of their suit. Her actions have led to what many modern day historians paint as a drama riddled scandal during the time. This part of the story begins in 1867, when Anna Perkins went before congress with an idea to recoup lost money. She proposed that the money owed her, three hundred eighty-five thousand dollars, could be withheld from the $7,200,000 U.S. purchase price for Alaska. [1]

            As the sale of Alaska was debated among those in Congress, some members raised her issue. Debate about the Perkins claim lasted for a good bit of time and blew up when E. Peshine Smith[2], who worked for the Bureau of Claims, publicly said that Russia was at fault for the financial bankruptcy suffered by the Perkins family and was therefore responsible for paying the money. However, Smith saw taking the fund from the purchase of Alaska as a mistake. Nonetheless, the movement quickly gained traction in Congress.[3]

            De Stoeckl was increasingly unnerved by the movement. He believed those in Congress who supported Anna Perkins did so for financial gain. Ultimately, the plan fell through. In July of 1868, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for their asking price, without any distribution to Perkins. In “The Purchase of Alaska,” Frank A. Golder argues that de Stoeckl played a hand in paying off some of the support in Congress, but that there is no proof as to who exactly was paid.[4] If this were to have occurred, and there is not ample proof, it would have been those very congressmen that supported the claim to begin with.

            Even with the deflating defeat for Anna Perkins, the claim was once again raised in Congress and pushed through committees. De Stoeckl retired in 1869 and his replacement was a man named Constantine Catacazy, who was instructed to investigate the claim for Russia. Catacazy’s new colleagues in the United States found him hard to get along with and after his reviewal of the Perkins claim, it becomes readily evident why.[5] Catacazy found that the claims were not credible due to the “essentially fraudulent character” as well as its “entire worthlessness.”[6]

            Catacazy’s objections pushed the claim to a halt. The claim would then appear a few more times but eventually disappeared. At one point, Benjamin Perkins’s lawyer Evarts had become the Secretary of State but felt as though it was unethical to push the manner any farther.[7] It was essentially easier for everyone to avoid the subject and allow Anna Perkins to just live with her financial ruin than it was to hammer a stake down the center of the good relationship Russia and U. S. carried at the time.

            In the end, no one got any money from the investments made by Benjamin Perkins. It grew into a scandal during the Alaskan Purchase that aggravated relations between U. S. and Russia. The multi-faceted story the Perkins claim carries is truly interesting and deserving of much more attention, whether for its drama or its historical relevance to the Crimean War.

[1] Lee Farrow, “A Reexamination of the Perkins Claim,” in New Perspectives on Russian-American Relations, vol. 1 (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016), pp. 74-87.

[2] E. Peshine Smith, 1814-1882.

[3] Ibid

[4] Frank A. Golder, “The Purchase of Alaska,” The American Historical Review 25, no. 3 (April 1920): pp. 411-425,

[5] Farrow, “A Reexamination of the Perkins Claim,” 74-87.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

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