TWO NATIONS ON THE BRINK OF WAR NEGOTIATE THEIR WAY TO LASTING FRIENDSHIP
San Juan Island National Historical Park celebrates how individuals and nations can resolve disputes without resorting to violence. For it was here in the mid-1800s that Great Britain and the United States settled ownership of the island through peaceful arbitration.
Long before the Europeans arrived, the island's temperate climate, rich soil, timber, and marine resources attracted native peoples who for thousands of years netted salmon, hunted game, and gathered camas roots. These islands were first explored, charted, and named in the 1790s by Spain and Great Britain, and later by the United States. Each staked claims to the Oregon Countrythe present states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and parts of Wyoming, Montana, and British Columbia. Spain withdrew by 1800, and the British and the Americans agreed to a joint occupation of the region in 1818.
Although lucrative trade agreements and capital investments existed between the two nations, the Americans living in the Oregon Country considered the British presence an affront to their "manifest destiny." The British believed they had a legal right to lands guaranteed by earlier treaties, explorations, and the commercial activities of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC).
Nevertheless, in June 1846 the Treaty of Oregon was signed in London. The boundary was set along the 49th parallel, from the Rocky Mountains to the middle of the "channel" separating Vancouver Island from the mainland, then south to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and west to the Pacific Ocean. But there are two channels: Haro Strait, nearest Vancouver Island, and Rosario Strait, nearer the mainland. The San Juan Islands lie between them. Both sides claimed the entire island group.
By 1853 the HBC established Belle Vue Sheep Farm on the island's southern shore, site of today's American Camp. The move was political, but the island's fertile soil and grazing lands also turned immediate profits. Word of good farm land spread quickly to the mainland and by the spring of 1859, at least 18 Americans had settled claims that the British believed were illegal.
An uneasy peace ended on June 15, 1859, when Lyman Cutlar, an American, shot an HBC pig rooting in his garden. When British authorities threatened Cutlar with arrest and his countrymen with eviction from the island, a delegation sought protection from Brig. Gen. William S. Harney, commander of the US Army's Department of Oregon. Harney ordered a company of infantry commanded by Capt. George E. Pickett (of later Civil War fame) to San Juan Island. Pickett landed his 64-man unit on July 27.
In response, British Gov. (and HBC chief factor) James Douglas dispatched Royal Navy Capt. Geoffrey Hornby and three warships with 62 total guns, 400 Royal Marines, and 15 Royal Engineers with orders to dislodge Pickett but avoid an armed clash. Pickett refused to budge and sought help from Harney, who sent Lt. Col. Silas Casey with reinforcements on August 10. Soon 461 soldiers occupied the island, erecting fortifications while Hornby watched from the bay. Fortunately, Rear Adm. R. Lambert Baynes, commander of the Royal Navy's Pacific Station, had by then returned from sea and ordered Hornby to stand fast. British naval policy dictated that he was only to fire if fired upon.
When word of the crisis reached Washington six weeks later, both governments agreed to send Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, US Army commander, to contain the affair. He arrived by steamer in late October, and within a week he and Douglas agreed to reduce their forces to no more than 100 US soldiers and a single British warship.
On March 21, 1860, Royal Marines landed and set up "English Camp" on Garrison Bay, 13 miles northwest of American Camp. For the next 12 years, San Juan Island would remain under a peaceful joint military occupation.
In 1871 the boundary question was submitted for arbitration to Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, who a year later ruled that the islands belonged to the United States. The Royal Marines left in November 1872, the US troops two years later. Peace was affirmed on the 49th parallel, and San Juan Island would be long remembered for the "war" in which the only casualty was a pig.
The Island's Attractive Natural Bounty Shaped Its History from Earliest Times
NATURALIST ACTIVITIES San Juan Island National Historical Park offers a diverse landscape from seaside bluffs and evergreen forests to wetlands and stands of Garry oak. Many trails invite exploration. In spring purple camas and sprays of spring gold blanket the dramatic open prairie of American Camp. Throughout both English and American camps you will find abundant native wildflowers, like chocolate lilies, lupines, blue-eyed Marys, and hookedspur violets. Wildlife that you may see are Orca whales. Pacific harbor seals, river otters, Columbian blacktail deer, over 200 species of birds, and 32 of butterflies. Look for the rare island marble butterfly around the yellow field mustard plants. Guided tours include birding, prairie walks, and intertidal explorations.
THINGS TO KNOW English and American camps are day-use parks open daily, dawn to 11 pm. Visitor centersyear-round at American Camp, seasonal at English Campoffer information, maps, books, gift shops, and exhibits. Self-guiding walk booklets are available at the trailheads. Park programs include guided tours, children's programs, and living history demonstrations and workshops. Picnic areas are available. Camping, hunting, and off-road travel (car, truck, motorcycle, or bicycle) are prohibited. Do not disturb or remove natural or cultural features. Pets must be under physical control at all times. Watch children near cliffs and shoreline. Don't swimcurrents are strong and water frigid. For information and hours of operation, check the free park newspaper at visitor centers or visit www.nps.gov.sajh.
ENGLISH CAMP is on tranquil Garrison Bay, an ancient home of the Coast Salish people. At water's edge is a shell midden reported to have been 900 feet long and 350 feet wide. A self-guiding trail traces the Royal Marine era with its historic parade ground, barracks, blockhouse, commissary, and a formal garden patterned after the original one planted in 1867 for a captain's homesick wife. In the visitor center an audiovisual program describes the US-British boundary dispute and the peaceful joint occupation. Hike along the bay, then through forest up to the summit of 650-foot Young Hill for panoramas of Vancouver Island, the Olympic Mountains, and Haro Strait. The Mitchell Hill trail network also offers forest walks. In spring, look for wildflowers like fawn lilies and shooting stars.
AMERICAN CAMP dates from 1859, but native peoples harvested camas bulbs here over 2,500 years ago. The visitor center houses American Indian artifacts that represent the daily life of an ancient cultureharpoon points and shell pendantsas well as buttons, bottles, and spectacles from the 1800s. There are many trails. Relive the Pig War on a self-guiding history walk or see the original officers' and laundress quarters. Hike the seaside bluffs, up Mount Finlayson, or down to the lagoons with views of Griffin Bay, where in 1859 the schooner Harney ran aground. Or stroll along South Beach, where the steamer Julia unloaded naval guns from the USS Massachusetts. As you walk, listen for the soft spouting of an Orca whale and watch for river otters scurrying down the bluffs to the beach.
For firearms regulations check the park website or ask at a visitor center.
Service animals are welcome.
The park staff works to restore native grasses and wildflowers on the American Camp prairie by removing invasive species, planting native vegetation, and doing controlled burning.
Prescribed fire is designed to mimic historic fire patterns and prevent invasion of the prairie by non-prairie plants.
Source: NPS Brochure (2012)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
A Conceptual Model of the Upland Aquatic & Nearshore Marine Habitas of San Juan Island National Historical Park (Washington) NPS Technical Report NPS/NRWRD/NRTR-2003/318 (Mark D. Flora and Steven C. Fradkin, February 2004)
A Study of the Probable Original Layouts, Uses, and Appearance of the Officer's Quarters (HS-11) at American Camp, San Juan Island National Historic Park (Kingston Heath, Fred Walters and Aaron Lemchen, August 15, 2005)
Administrative History, San Juan Island National Historical Park (HTML edition) (Kelly June Cannon, November 20, 1997)
Amphibian Inventory 2002: San Juan Island National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NCCN/NRTR—2013/731 (Barbara Samora, Michael Layes and Rebecca Lofgren, April 2013)
An Early Lithic Site in the San Juan Islands: Its Description and Research Implications (Stephen M. Kenady, Robert R. Mierendorf and Randall F. Schalk, August 15, 2002)
Assessment of Coastal Water Resources and Watershed Conditions at San Juan Island National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NRWRD/NRTR-2006/360 (Terrie Klinger, David Fluharty, Kirsten Evans and Carrie Byron, December 2006)
Ethnographic Overview and Assessment of the San Juan National Historic Site: Final Report (Jorge Duany, February 25, 2015)
Geologic Resources Inventory Report, San Juan Island National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2014/835 (J.P. Graham, August 2014)
Historic Landscape Report: American Camp & British Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park (Cathy A. Gilbert, 1987)
Historic Resource Study, San Juan Island National Historical Park (Erwin N. Thompson, September 1972)
Historic Structures Report: Crook House, English Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park (Patricia Erigero and Barry Schnoll, September 1984)
Historic Structures Report: English Camp (Part I) (A. Lewis Koue and Erwin N. Thompson, June 1969)
Intertidal Fish Inventory of San Juan Island National Historical Park (2002) NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NCCN/NRTR—2011/457 (Steven C. Fradkin, June 2011)
Landbird Inventory of San Juan Island National Historical Park: Final Report (2002) NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NCCN/NRTR—2009/156 (Robert L. Wilkerson, Rodney B. Siegel, Heidi K. Pedersen and Robert C. Kuntz II, January 2009)
Modeling Future Forest Conditions at San Juan Island National Historical Park: A Planning Tool for Park Managers and Scientists NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NOCA/NRR-2020/2107 (Mariano Amoroso and Bruce Larson, April 2020)
Museum Management Plan, San Juan Island National Historical Park (Kelly Cahill, Kirstie Haertel, Theresa Langford, Diane Nicholson, Samantha Richert, and Paul Rogers, 2010)
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Forms
American and English Camps (Pig War Site) (Charles W. Snell, April 10, 1961)
English Camp (Laurin C. Huffman III, June 1973)
Natural Resource Condition Assessment, San Juan Island National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SAJH/NRR-2020/2131 (Catherin A. Schwemm, ed., May 2020)
North Coast and Cascades Network Climate Monitoring Report: Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve and San Juan Island National Historical Park; Water Year 2010 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/NCCN/NRDS—2012/327 (William Baccus and Mark Huff, June 2012)
North Coast and Cascades Network Climate Monitoring Report: Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve and San Juan Island National Historical Park; Water Year 2011 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/NCCN/NRDS—2013/569 (William Baccus and Mark Huff, October 2013)
North Coast and Cascades Network Landbird Monitoring Reports
North Coast and Cascades Network Landbird Monitoring: Report for the 2013 field season NPS Natural Resource Data Series. NPS/NCCN/NRDS-2014/691 (Amanda L. Holmgren, Robert L. Wilkerson, Rodney B. Siegel and Patricia J. Happe, August 2014)
North Coast and Cascades Network Landbird Monitoring: Report for the 2015 field season NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NCCN/NRR-2016/1128 (Amanda L. Holmgren, Robert L. Wilkerson, Rodney B. Siegel and Jason I. Ransom, June 2016)
North Coast and Cascades Network Landbird Monitoring: Report for the 2019 field season NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NCCN/NRR-2020/1284 (Amanda L. Holmgren, Robert L. Wilkerson, Rodney B. Siegel and Jason I. Ransom, July 2020)
North Coast and Cascades Network Landbird Monitoring: Report for the 2020 field season NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NCCN/NRR-2021/1337 (Amanda L. Holmgren, Robert L. Wilkerson, Rodney B. Siegel and Jason I. Ransom, November 2021)
San Juan Island National Historical Park: An Environmental History (Christy Avery, 2016)
Soil Survey of San Juan Island National Historical Park, Washington NPS TIC# D-87 (2005)
The Butterflies of San Juan Island National Historical Park (Robert Michael Pyle, February 2004)
The Pig War, Conflict and Resolution in the Pacific Northwest A Resource Guide for Washington State Teachers (Mike Vouri and Janet Oakley, undated)
The Geology of the San Juan Islands University of Washington Publications in Geology Vol. 2 (Roy Davidson McLellan, November 1927)
The Salmon Bank: An Ethnohistoric Compilation (Jacilee Wray, March 1, 2003)
Vascular Plant Inventory of San Juan Island National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/NCCN/NRTR—2010/350 (Regina M. Rochefort and Mignonne M. Bivin, July 2010)
Vegetation Classification and Mapping Project Report: San Juan Island National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NCCN/NRR—2012/603 (F. Joseph Rocchio, Rex C. Crawford and Catharine Copass, December 2012)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 02-Dec-2021