Historian presents the economic struggle behind the origins of Sonoma

Sonoma residents are probably familiar with the basics of the town’s early history, with Jose Altimira establishing the mission, Mariano Vallejo consolidating Mexican power and the Americanos raising the Bear Flag.

But on March 27, Marie Christine Duggan, a historian of early California history, brings an economic perspective to the events of the early decades of the 19th century, and reads them largely as a struggle between two imperial powers: Russia and Spain. And where they met was in Northern California – a circumstance that led Mexico, in 1823, to found the last of its 21 missions: San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma.

Duggan’s description of that power struggle begins with the gradual expansion of Russian influence into the New World – and shrinking of Spanish influence – from the Alaskan panhandle down to the Bay Area between 1774 and 1812, when the Russians built Fort Ross on the Mendocino coast.

As Mexico was supplanted as a continental power, she says, a new player, the United States, gained a powerful ally in what became the state of California. But many other influences and alliances shaped the birth of California and Sonoma’s own origin story.

Marie Christine Duggan
Marie Christine Duggan

Duggan, an economics teacher at Keene State College in New Hampshire, has a PhD in economics. She learned Spanish to be able to read the source documents of the colonial period, and uses her knowledge to explore how Hispanic commercial actors in Mexico, Spain, Peru and the Philippines influenced California’s development.

Her discussion of the Bay Area’s “Borderlands between Russian and Spanish Empire” will be presented by the Sonoma Valley Historical Society on March 27, beginning at 2 p.m. on Zoom. To attend, email to register. The lecture is free.

Email Christian at

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette