In 1808, a Russian ship ran aground and sank, leaving 22 crew members stranded on the Pacific west coast, near what is now La Push on the Olympic Peninsula.
One of crew members was an 18-year old woman named Anna Petrovna Bulygina, who historians believe was the first European woman to set foot on the Peninsula. Anna came to meet the local Indigenous group, the Quileute, and chose to stay with them rather than be rescued.
Saanich-based author Peggy Herring came across the true story in 2011 while visiting the Fisgard Lighthouse. A small plaque made mention of the shipwreck, and of the Russian woman, but Herring had to know more.
“My mother is from Russia, so any story about Russians gets me charged,” Herring said. “But when I found out that Anna had a chance to be rescued that refused, and that’s what really got me going.”
Herring spent the next seven years researching the case before she produced her novel Anna, like thunder.
Herring pored through historical accounts and interviewed local experts. Two written accounts existed: one from a fur trader who survived the incident and reported to Russian officials, and one from a Quileute elder who told the story to an official with the Indian Affairs Department, which was later published in 1925.
Herring also spoke with three Indigenous groups in from the area to hear their oral history; the Quileute, the Makah and Hoh River Peoples.
“Oh, they know the story,” Herring said. “The Makah woman laughed, because they know it as the story of the Russian woman who chose to stay with the Indigenous people rather than stay with her husband. In the record of the past, before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that sort of thing would be unthinkable, so it got buried.”
Herring said that despite the story taking place 200 years ago, the messages of strong feminism and Indigenous strength resonate with present-day conversations.
“It made me think, ‘why do we look back?” Herring said. “It’s so we can take today’s lens and see what happened then, to reflect on what’s changed.”
Herring’s book was released in May 2018 by Brindle and Glass, and has since become a staple in bookshops around the Pacific West Coast.
On Thursday, Jan. 31 Herring presents some of her research of the shipwreck at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia’s “Nautical Nights” series, beginning at 7 p.m. at 634 Humboldt St. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Anna, Like Thunder is Herring’s second novel.
To find out more, you can visit peggyherring.ca
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