Russian American Naval History

Mare Island, San Francisco Bay, California and the Pacific


A little known aspect of the history of the Navy Yard at Mare Island, is the relationship cultivated here between the Russian and the American Navies for more than 150 years dating back to well before the American Civil War. In August 2010, the unauthorized removal and replacement of the grave markers of six of the eight Russian sailors buried at Mare Island Naval Cemetery in 1863, has resulted in more than a year of controversy which has overshadowed the truly remarkable story of friendship and cooperation between the two nations facilitated by their Navies.

celebrating and learning more about the Russian and American Navy tradition in California

We believe that it is time to explore beyond the isolated gravestone replacement incident, to discover the rich and enduring story of the ties that have bound together these two great nations for more than 150 years. Here, we hope to provide a portal for greater understanding of the Russian and American Navy tradition in California and the Pacific. To that end, we hope too, that you will feel free to contribute what you know and discover about this important story too long untold, by sending documents, links, and whatever else you believe will bring greater understanding and appreciation of this story. For example, here is a link for C. Douglas Kroll’s book published in 2007, "Friends in Peace and War", The Russian Navy's Landmark Visit to Civil War San Francisco.

The Cemetery

The Naval Cemetery is situated on a hillside overlooking the Napa River and Mare Island Strait, on Mare Island in Vallejo, California. In April 1872, Scribner’s Monthly Magazine described the cemetery this way: “And just above, on the hillside, peeps out from a ravine filled with trees (almost the only ones to be seen in the whole landscape) a little enclosed cemetery.”  In this small cemetery lie in their final resting place, six Russian sailors who served aboard the Bogatyr, the flagship of Admiral A.A. Popov’s Pacific Squadron during his 1863 visit to San Francisco Bay and Mare Island.

The Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 as part of the Mare Island Naval Ammunition Depot Historic District, which along with three other National Register listed districts on the island, makes up the Mare Island Naval Shipyard National Historic Landmark, the highest ranking the National Park Service gives an historic site in America. There are 922 Navy and Marine Corps enlisted and officers, some families, civilians and foreign servicemen from several countries, buried in the cemetery founded in 1858.

Mare Island Heritage Trust provides regular access and information

Acting in our caretaker role in cooperation with the City of Vallejo, of the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve, in which the Naval Cemetery is situated, the Mare Island Heritage Trust provides public access every weekend to the Preserve and publishes this website devoted to the Preserve.

1863 Russian gravestone removal and replacement

While we have written a handful of blog entries about the gravestone replacement topic, primarily our efforts over the past more than a year, have been to research and write about the “best practices” for cemetery and gravestone preservation and management and seek the advise of a wide range of specialist in the fields of cultural landscape history, gravestone preservation and restoration and even geotechnical engineers who can advise on the more comprehensive and overall preservation measures and restoration needs of the graveyard. Click here to read our position paper.

In its capacity as the owner and steward agency of the cemetery, the City of Vallejo has made recommendations regarding what the outcome of this issue should be. We, and others in the historic preservation field, disagree with their conclusions. Click here to read our press advisory and Letters to the Editor by our colleagues. Click here to read my blog entry regarding the upcoming hearing. Click here for details of the City of Vallejo Architectural Heritage and Landmarks Commission public hearing. On the night of October 13, 2011, in an unanimous decision, the Commission voted favorably for protection of the original stones. Read more on my blog.

Annual ceremony to honor and bless russian sailors buried here planned

An annual service to honor and bless the Russian sailors buried in our cemetery is planned for October 29, 2011 at 11:30am. Check back later in the month for a confirmation. Here’s a link to my blog from last year’s service.

Thank you for visiting and sharing our site which will soon move to a new web page home of its own.

Myrna Hayes, President and Volunteer Preserve Manager

Mare Island Heritage Trust

Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve

Vallejo, California


Russian Navy historical ties to Mare Island