Alaska and its panhandle

Unlike the lower 48 states, there weren’t too many border decisions when the United States bought Alaska in the 1867 transaction that came to be known as Seward’s Folly.  The space was essentially already defined because Russia and Canada had already created a straight line boundary at the 141st Meridian, but why does Alaska continue to snake several thousand more miles south along the coast of Canada?


This region, called the Alaska Panhandle and circled below, was already a stretch of land that Russia laid claim to when they owned the territory.  When William Seward negotiated the purchase from Russia, he also accepted Russia’s map as evidence of just what he was buying.  But Canada had a different perspective based on extremely vague wording of the original treaty with Russia – so they set about to dispute American ownership of the panhandle.

Unfortunately for Canada, they trusted a British judge who was appointed to the Alaskan Boundary Tribunal, formed to settle the dispute.  The tribunal consisted of three Americans, two Canadians, and one British judge.  Rumor has it that the Brit sided with the American position because President Teddy Roosevelt had hinted that if America did not prevail in the tribunal he may choose to just take it by force.  Another rumor was that Britain was looking for American help in an arms dispute with Germany at the time.


In the end a treaty was signed and the United States retained ownership of the panhandle which had long been a popular route for ships and traders.  It later became one of the routes to the Yukon when gold was discovered.  Imagine living in the northwestern part of British Columbia and having to pass through the United States to get to the coast?

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5 Responses to Alaska and its panhandle

  1. Mindy says:

    Hi Lynn, I lived in Skagway at the far northern end of the Lynn Canal for five years!

  2. That must have been beautiful. I hope you had a boat!

  3. Susanna says:

    Hi Lynn – visiting from LinkedIn from the post your blog thread. I am also a children’s author, so I was drawn to your blog. I love your tagline (“I’m writing. Hope you’re reading.”)! And all these articles about the states getting their shapes are really interesting – I never knew any of this before, but I’ve certainly always wondered about certain shapes and why the sizes of the states are so uneven. Good luck with putting it together into a book!

  4. Thanks Susanna. This has been such an interesting project and I’m finding myself accidentally much more knowledgeable about some parts of American history that I had no idea about. I’ve passed the halfway point – have written about 30 chapters now. Twenty more to go. :o)

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