When visitors come to St Petersburg from the US, many are surprised by the historical connections between the US and Russia dating back to well before the US Revolutionary war.
Historical figures with connections to the city of St Petersburg included John Quincy Adams In 1809, President James Madison asked Adams, at age 42 already one of America’s most seasoned diplomats, to serve as the first American ambassador to Russia. Many knew that but what is not well known was that it was his second assignment to Imperial Russia’s Capital. Almost 30 years prior, when Adams was 14 years old, his father, John Adams, sent him to serve as the secretary to Francis Dana, who was being dispatched to Russia to seek aid for the revolutionary cause. Adams brought his family and brother and his brother’s wife and sister in law.
While in St Petersburg they had a baby girl, Louisa, who died as the next year and is buried in the cemetery of Alexander Nevsky Monastery which is open to visitors. The Adams were favorites of Tsar Alexander and as a result, Russia tilted strongly to trade with the US while trade with France declined.That was one of the reasons France invaded Russia in 1812 with disastrous results for Napoleon’s Grand Army, the largest most powerful in the world at the beginning of the invasion of Russia. Half a million top soldiers entered Russia and less than 40,000 returned to France. . The Adams’ returned to the US so he could become Secretary of State in 1814, and later became president.
Another close tie was the National Hero and father of the US Navy during the revolutionary war, was John Paul Jones. After his many exploits in harassing the British navy in the war of independence Jones was out of work so on April i3, 1787 to enter into the service of the Empress Catherine II who was rather taken with Jones and confidently stated of Jones,”He will get to Constantinople.” He was given a name as a French subject Павел де Жонес (Pavel de Zhones ). He served as a Rear Admiral and conducted campaigns for Russia in the Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792) in the Black Sea.
George Washington Whistler, the American engineer, designed and built part of the first Russian railroad St. Petersburg-Moscow
James McNeill Whistler, famed American painter spent his childhood at St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. His most famous work was the iconic “Whistler’s Mother”.
The Academy of Arts is still the main art academy in the world focusing on classical painting, located along the Neva Russia across from the city center and can be visited if you come to St Petersburg.
Another well known St Petersburg native was Ayn Rand, the famous American writer, who was born in St. Petersburg in 1905.
Joseph Brodsky the acclaimed Russian/American poet was also from St Petersburg as was Vladimir Nabokov the Russian/American writer of The Defense (1930) The Gift (1938) Bend Sinister (1945–46) Lolita (1955) Pnin (1957) Pale Fire (1962) Speak, Memory (1936–1966) Ada, or Ardor (1969) and many short stories and movie scripts. His home in St Petersburg is in the city center and has a marble plaque on the exterior wall.
A visit to St Petersburg, and walking almost any street you will see plaques of white marble describing which famous or notable resident lived in the building. From scientists to composers, writer, ballet dancers, royalty, artists and others well known throughout the world are remembered with these plaques. Few cities, in just 315 years produced so many influential creators, thinkers, and artisans.