Alaska's natural resources attracted first the interest of the Russians, then of the British, and finally of the Americans. The early eighteenth century Russian discoverers were motivated by curiosity about whether the Asian and North American land masses were joined. But Russian settlement and exploitation were spurred by the sea otter pelts that survivors of Vitus Bering's expedition brought back with them to the Russian court. Thus, "the eastward course of Russia's empire and the fur trade converted the passage from Kamchatka to Alaska into a busy sea lane. . . . " 1 The British Hudson's Bay Company followed in the nineteenth century, also in pursuit of furs and empire. By the 1860s, the combination of now-depleted marine resources and competitive imperialism persuaded Russian officials that it was time to sell this vast but costly and barely settled colony.