Vitus Bering
Overview
 
Vitus Jonassen Bering

Vitus Jonassen Bering (also, less correNavy]], a captain-komandor known among the Russian sailors as Ivan Ivanovich. He is noted for being the first European to discover Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 and its Aleutian Islands. The Bering Strait
Bering Strait
The Bering Strait , known to natives as Imakpik, is a sea strait between Cape Dezhnev, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia, the easternmost point of the Asian continent and Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, USA, the westernmost point of the North American continent, with latitude of about 65°40'N,...

, the Bering Sea
Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....

, Bering Island
Bering Island
Bering Island is located off the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Bering Sea. At long by wide, it is the largest of the Commander Islands with the area of ....

, Bering Glacier
Bering Glacier
Bering Glacier is a glacier in the U.S. state of Alaska. It currently terminates in Vitus Lake south of Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, about from the Gulf of Alaska. Combined with the Bagley Icefield, where the snow that feeds the glacier accumulates, the Bering is the largest glacier...

 and the Bering Land Bridge
Bering land bridge
The Bering land bridge was a land bridge roughly 1,000 miles wide at its greatest extent, which joined present-day Alaska and eastern Siberia at various times during the Pleistocene ice ages. Like most of Siberia and all of Manchuria, Beringia was not glaciated because snowfall was extremely light...

 are named for the explorer.
After a voyage to the East, he joined the fleet of the Russian Navy as a sublieutenant in 1703, serving in the Baltic
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

 Fleet
Naval fleet
A fleet, or naval fleet, is a large formation of warships, and the largest formation in any navy. A fleet at sea is the direct equivalent of an army on land....

 during the Great Northern War
Great Northern War
The Great Northern War was a conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in northern Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The initial leaders of the anti-Swedish alliance were Peter I the Great of Russia, Frederick IV of...

.
Encyclopedia
Vitus Jonassen Bering

Vitus Jonassen Bering (also, less correNavy]], a captain-komandor known among the Russian sailors as Ivan Ivanovich. He is noted for being the first European to discover Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 and its Aleutian Islands. The Bering Strait
Bering Strait
The Bering Strait , known to natives as Imakpik, is a sea strait between Cape Dezhnev, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia, the easternmost point of the Asian continent and Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, USA, the westernmost point of the North American continent, with latitude of about 65°40'N,...

, the Bering Sea
Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....

, Bering Island
Bering Island
Bering Island is located off the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Bering Sea. At long by wide, it is the largest of the Commander Islands with the area of ....

, Bering Glacier
Bering Glacier
Bering Glacier is a glacier in the U.S. state of Alaska. It currently terminates in Vitus Lake south of Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, about from the Gulf of Alaska. Combined with the Bagley Icefield, where the snow that feeds the glacier accumulates, the Bering is the largest glacier...

 and the Bering Land Bridge
Bering land bridge
The Bering land bridge was a land bridge roughly 1,000 miles wide at its greatest extent, which joined present-day Alaska and eastern Siberia at various times during the Pleistocene ice ages. Like most of Siberia and all of Manchuria, Beringia was not glaciated because snowfall was extremely light...

 are named for the explorer.

Biography and voyages

After a voyage to the East, he joined the fleet of the Russian Navy as a sublieutenant in 1703, serving in the Baltic
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

 Fleet
Naval fleet
A fleet, or naval fleet, is a large formation of warships, and the largest formation in any navy. A fleet at sea is the direct equivalent of an army on land....

 during the Great Northern War
Great Northern War
The Great Northern War was a conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in northern Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The initial leaders of the anti-Swedish alliance were Peter I the Great of Russia, Frederick IV of...

. In 1710–1712 he served in the Azov Sea Fleet in Taganrog
Taganrog
Taganrog is a seaport city in Rostov Oblast, Russia, located on the north shore of Taganrog Bay , several kilometers west of the mouth of the Don River. Population: -History of Taganrog:...

 and took part in the Russo-Turkish War. He became engaged to a Russian woman, and in 1715 he made a brief visit to his hometown, never to see it again.

First Kamchatka expedition

In January 1725 Peter I of Russia
Peter I of Russia
Peter the Great, Peter I or Pyotr Alexeyevich Romanov Dates indicated by the letters "O.S." are Old Style. All other dates in this article are New Style. ruled the Tsardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire from until his death, jointly ruling before 1696 with his half-brother, Ivan V...

 asked Bering to command the first Kamchatka expedition. The goal of this expedition was to determine how far the Siberian mainland would go, since much of the world was uncharted and it was unknown whether Asia and North America were connected or whether they were separate land masses.

On 14 July 1728, Bering began his first exploration aboard the ship Gabriel and sailed northward from the Kamchatka Peninsula and through the strait that now bears his name. On 14 August he rounded the East Cape, and since the Asiatic coast trended westward and no land appeared to the north, Bering believed he had fulfilled his first exploration mission and sailed back to the Kamchatka Peninsula so he would not spend the winter on a desolate and unknown shore. While spending the winter in Kamchatka, he noticed numerous signs indicating land to the east. He tried to send his ships out that way to explore this land, but bad weather during the following summer caused him to give up the search and decided to return to St. Petersburg in March of 1730. During the long trip through Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

 along the whole Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

n continent, he became very sick.

Second Kamchatka expedition and death

In 1731, Bering was ennobled and received a reward for his discoveries. He soon proposed a second expedition, much more ambitious than the first. Bering was commissioned to the expedition, which involved 600 people from the outset and several hundred added along the way. Bering was back in Okhotsk
Okhotsk
Okhotsk is an urban locality and a seaport at the mouth of the Okhota River on the Sea of Okhotsk, in Okhotsky District, Khabarovsk Krai, Russia. Population: 4,470 ;...

 in 1735. He had the local craftsmen Makar Rogachev and Andrey Kozmin build two vessels, Sviatoi Piotr (St. Peter) and Sviatoi Pavel (St. Paul
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

), in which he sailed off and in 1740 established the settlement of Petropavlovsk
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is the main city and the administrative, industrial, scientific, and cultural center of Kamchatka Krai, Russia. Population: .-History:It was founded by Danish navigator Vitus Bering, in the service of the Russian Navy...

 in Kamchatka. From there, he led an expedition towards North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 in 1741. This expedition was to map the Russia-Siberia coast, the western part of North America and even parts of Mexico. While doing so, the expedition spotted the volcano Mount Saint Elias
Mount Saint Elias
Mount Saint Elias, also designated Boundary Peak 186, is the second highest mountain in both Canada and the United States, being situated on the Yukon and Alaska border. It lies about southwest of Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada. The Canadian side is part of Kluane National Park,...

, and sailed pass Kodiak Island
Kodiak Island
Kodiak Island is a large island on the south coast of the U.S. state of Alaska, separated from the Alaska mainland by the Shelikof Strait. The largest island in the Kodiak Archipelago, Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States and the 80th largest island in the world, with an...

. A storm separated the ships, but Bering sighted the southern coast of Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

, and a landing was made at Kayak Island
Kayak Island
Kayak Island , which includes the Bering Expedition Landing Site, is located in the Gulf of Alaska, 100 km SE of Cordova, Alaska Malaspina Coastal Plain. It has a land area of 73.695 km² and no population....

 or in the vicinity. Under the command of Aleksei Chirikov
Aleksei Chirikov
Aleksei Ilyich Chirikov was a Russian navigator and captain who along with Bering was the first Russian to reach North-West coast of North America. He discovered and charted some of the Aleutian Islands while he was deputy to Vitus Bering during the Great Northern Expedition.- Life and work :In...

, the second ship discovered the shores of the northwestern America (Aleksander Archipelago of present-day Alaska). These voyages of Bering and Chirikov were a major part of the Russian exploration efforts in the North Pacific known today as the Great Northern Expedition
Great Northern Expedition
The Great Northern Expedition or Second Kamchatka expedition was one of the largest organised exploration enterprises in history, resulting in mapping of the most of the Arctic coast of Siberia and some parts of the North America coastline, greatly reducing the "white areas" on the maps...

. Notably, the medical officer on Bering's ship was Georg Steller, a naturalist who discovered and described several species of plant and animal native to the North Pacific and North America during the expedition (including the Steller sea cow and the Steller sea jay).

Bering was forced by adverse conditions to return, and he discovered some of the Aleutian Islands on his way back. One of the sailors died and was buried on one of these islands, and the group was named after him (as the Shumagin Islands
Shumagin Islands
The Shumagin Islands are a group of 20 islands in the Aleutians East Borough south of the mainland of Alaska, USA, at54°54'–55°20' North 159°15'–160°45' West. The largest islands are Unga Island, Popof Island, Korovin Island, and Nagai Island. Other islands include Andronica, Big Koniuji, Little...

). Bering became too ill to command his ship, which was at last driven to refuge on an uninhabited island in the Commander Islands group (Komandorskiye Ostrova) in the southwest Bering Sea
Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....

. On 19 December 1741 Vitus Bering died on the uninhabited island which was given the name Bering Island
Bering Island
Bering Island is located off the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Bering Sea. At long by wide, it is the largest of the Commander Islands with the area of ....

 after him, near the Kamchatka Peninsula
Kamchatka Peninsula
The Kamchatka Peninsula is a peninsula in the Russian Far East, with an area of . It lies between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west...

, reportedly from scurvy
Scurvy
Scurvy is a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C, which is required for the synthesis of collagen in humans. The chemical name for vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is derived from the Latin name of scurvy, scorbutus, which also provides the adjective scorbutic...

 (although this has been contested), along with 28 men of his company. A storm shipwrecked Sv. Piotr, but the only surviving carpenter, S. Starodubtsev, with the help of the crew, managed to build a smaller vessel out of the wreckage. The new vessel had a keel length of only 12.2 meters (40 ft) and was also named Sv. Piotr. Out of 77 men aboard Sv. Piotr, only 46 survived the hardships of the expedition, which claimed its last victim just one day before coming into home port. Its builder, Starodubtsev, returned home with government awards and later built several other seaworthy ships.

There exists some debate as to whether Bering can claim " discovery
Discovery (observation)
Discovery is the act of detecting something new, or something "old" that had been unknown. With reference to science and academic disciplines, discovery is the observation of new phenomena, new actions, or new events and providing new reasoning to explain the knowledge gathered through such...

" of the Bering strait. European geographers had long believed in a Strait of Anian at the northeast end of Asia. Where this idea came from is unknown. In 1648 Semyon Dezhnyov probably sailed through the strait from the Arctic, but his voyage was not reported outside of Siberia. Of Dezhnyov Bering knew only the rumor that some Russians had once sailed from the Lena River to Kamchatka. Since Bering did not see the American side he did not know that he had passed through a strait, only that he had rounded the northeastern tip of Asia. He could not prove that there was no land bridge to the north under the ice. In 1732 Mikhail Gvozdev
Mikhail Gvozdev
Mikhail Spiridonovich Gvozdev was a Russian military geodesist and a commander of the expedition to northern Alaska in 1732, when Alaskan shore was for the first time sited by Russians....

 and Ivan Fedorov saw the American side of the strait
Cape Prince of Wales
Cape Prince of Wales is the westernmost point on the mainland of the Americas.Located on the Seward Peninsula of the U.S. state of Alaska near the city of Wales, Cape Prince of Wales is the terminus of the Continental Divide, marking the division between the Pacific and Arctic coasts, as well as...

. To prove that this was the end of North America rather than another island required the third voyage of Captain James Cook
James Cook
Captain James Cook, FRS, RN was a British explorer, navigator and cartographer who ultimately rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy...

.

See also

  • Johann Georg Gmelin
    Johann Georg Gmelin
    Johann Georg Gmelin was a German naturalist, botanist and geographer.- Early life and education :Gmelin was born in Tübingen, the son of an professor at the University of Tübingen. He was a gifted child and begun attending university lectures at the age of 14. In 1727, he graduated with a medical...

  • Stepan Krasheninnikov
    Stepan Krasheninnikov
    Stepan Petrovich Krasheninnikov was a Russian explorer of Siberia, naturalist and geographer who gave the first full description of Kamchatka in the early 18th century. He was elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1745...

  • Gerhardt Friedrich Müller
    Gerhardt Friedrich Müller
    Gerhard Friedrich Müller was a historian and pioneer ethnologist.-Biography:He was educated at Leipzig.In 1725, he was invited to St. Petersburg to co-found the Imperial Academy of Sciences...

  • Georg Steller
  • Second Kamchatka expedition
  • Exploration of the Pacific
    Exploration of the Pacific
    Exploration of the Pacific: Polynesians reached nearly all the Pacific islands by about 1200AD. In 1521 Magellan crossed the Pacific. For the next 250 years Europeans explored various parts of the Ocean, but the only significant trade was along both coasts and the Manila galleons that crossed from...

    .

Sources

  • Frost, Orcutt. Bering: The Russian Discovery of America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003 (hardcover, ISBN 0300100590).
  • Lauridsen, P. Bering og de Russiske Opdagelsesrejser (Copenhagen, 1885)
  • Müller, G.F. Sammlung russischer Geschichten, vol. iii. (St Petersburg, 1758)
  • Oliver, James A. The Bering Strait Crossing. UK: Information Architects, 2006 (hardcover ISBN 0954699572, paperback ISBN 0954699564)
  • Under Vitus Bering's Command: New Perspectives on the Russian Kamchatka Expeditions (Beringiana, 1), edited by Natasha Okhotina Lind and Peter Ulf Møller. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2002 (paperback, ISBN 87-7288-932-2).

External links

Bering, Vitus
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