The Story of Gustave Ferdinand Niebaum (Gustaf Nybom) is a true story of the American dream. Well in this case a Finnish-American dream. Gustaf Nybom was born in Oulu on August 30th 1842. Gustaf reached Alaska at age 16 (1858) as a cabin boy on the Sophie Adelaide, a supply ship of the Russian American Company. What he experienced there must have impacted him as he returned to Helsinki with thoughts of Alaska in his head.
In Helsinki Gustaf earned his masters of seamanship papers from the Nautical Institute in 1861. By 1866 Nybom was commanding his own ship, the Constantin. Nybom was one of at least 44 Finnish captains under the Russian-American Company. Later he was the captain of the Shelikoff, Czarowitz, and Kamchatka.
Nybom was said to be an expert of the water, land, animals, and people. As an expert of the waters and lands, he traveled the Aleutian and Pribolof Islands and the Alaska coastlines and rivers. He created some of the earliest maps of Alaska. As an expert in animals, Gustaf was already being thought of as the world’s leading fur trader. As an expert of people, he spoke seven languages and was fluent in five. We know that the five must have been Finnish, Swedish, Russian, English, and German. Of the other two, one was probably Aleutian.
In 1867 Gustaf Nybom became Consul of Russian to the United States in San Francisco. In this role his responsibility now included promoting the sale of Alaska to the United States. At the time of the Alaska Purchase, the Russian-America Company had 19 trading posts in Alaska.
In March of 1867, President Andrew Johnson’s Secretary of State, William H. Seward, secured a deal to purchase Alaska from the Russian Tsar for $7.2 million. The Senate ratified the treaty on April 9th. Ultimately it was not for land or resources that the US Congress agreed to the deal. Instead it was to block British access to the Pacific Ocean. On October 18, 1867, the Russian flag was lowered for the last time in Sitka, Alaska. The story of Gustaf Nybom was just beginning.
Continue to Part II – Ship’s Captain and Captain of Industry