Monday, September 19, 2016

The Pig War

Sign at English Camp, San Juan Island, WA

Question: The final borders of what American State were determined by a German Emperor?
Answer: Washington State

Question: What famous Civil War general was deployed to the San Juan Islands during the Pig War?
Answer: George Pickett of Virginia who would famously or infamously lead a disastrous Confederate charge at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863

Question: Which American State was partially occupied by Royal Marines from 1860 to 1872?
Answer: San Juan Island in Washington (though it did not really become a state until 1889).

In the Canada chapter of America Invades we wrote, "And then, we come to the famous, or possibly infamous, Pig War of 1859. The San Juan Islands lying between Vancouver Island and the North American mainland were the subject of dispute between the United States and Britain. In 1859, things got serious, particularly for a certain pig, after an American farmer on the island found it in his garden and shot it. Unfortunately for the situation between the United States and Britain, the pig had belonged to an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The conflict began to escalate. US troops landed on the island, and soon after that, British warships turned up. A tense stand-off began. In the end, however, the dispute did go to arbitration, and the United States got the islands. The only casualty of this “war” was porcine.
American Camp, San Juan Island, WA
As absurd as the Pig War may seem to us now, it raises some fascinating historical conjectures. What if President James Buchanan had led the United States into a shooting war with Great Britain in 1859? Would the US Civil War have been postponed or deferred as all states, slave and free, rallied against a common enemy ... over bacon?"
NOT a bore but entertaining history!
Much more detail about this curious part of Northwest history can be found in Mike Vouri's The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay (

American Camp Visitor Center, San Juan Island, WA
In this volume you will learn how Lyman Cutlar, an American squatter, shot and killed a Berkshire boar that belonged to the Hudson's Bay Company on June 15, 1859.  Both American and British authorities escalated the conflict by deploying troops to the disputed island.  Senior officers on both sides were called in to settle the conflict.  Rear Admiral R. Lambert Rainey of the Royal Navy and Commander of the Pacific Station declared, "Tut, tut, no, no, the damn fools."   The corpulent head of the US Army, Winfield Scott, traveled all the way New York and was similarly appalled by the prospect of war between two great nations over such flimsy concerns.
English Camp, San Juan Island
The disputed island was subject to a joint occupation for twelve years from 1860 to 1872.  About one hundred soldiers did garrison duty at either end of the island.  All accounts and my recent inspection confirm that the English Camp with its manicured garden was a more enviable posting than the American Camp on the South side of the Island.  Soldiers from both sides often fraternized and sought to relive boredom with visits to the Island's brothels and Whisky saloons.

Monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I, Peacemaker
English Camp, San Juan Island, WA
In 1872 Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany was chosen to mediate the dispute between America and Britain.  After appointing a three man commission to study the issue, the Emperor recommended that the island be awarded to the United States.  The Royal Marines soon withdrew from San Juan Island.

Deer "Invade" English Camp
Today a visitor to English Camp can find deer frolicking about the deserted grounds.

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Travel Notes:  Friday Harbor Grand B&B provides an excellent base from which to explore the many delights of San Juan Island.  A delicious breakfast is included and the friendly owner, Farhad Ghatan, plays the piano almost every evening.  Charming!

Don't miss American and English

The Place in Friday Harbor features outstanding local seafood.

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