"Charles Griffin probably heard it before he saw it. There was no mistaking that sound at mid-nineteenth century. Steamers could be detected from miles away, the great cylinders panting and clanking over the flat, gray inland seas with the steady thump of bass drums. As he later noted in his journal it was between 8 and 9 p.m., Tuesday, July 26, 1859."
It had been a beautiful evening, typical of the island in midsummer. A southwest breeze made the prairie grasses shimmer in a golden reflection of the silver waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca below the headlands a quarter mile from his cabin porch. Looking south across the strait, the snow-capped Olympic mountains rose from a bank of clouds, effacing a sky beginning to turn salmon, while directly west, Victoria was locked in a haze of wood smoke from slash being burned to make room for the rapidly growing British colony. It had been nearly six years since Vancouver Island Governor James Douglas had dispatched Griffin to San Juan Island. His orders were to establish Belle Vue Sheep Farm as a unit of the Hudson's Bay Company. The governor, who then also ran the Hudson's Bay post at Victoria, hoped the farm would entrench Great Britain's claim to the island. An ambiguity in the language of the Oregon Treaty of 1846, which set the international boundary between the United States and Great Britain at the Forty-ninth Parallel, had placed the San Juan Islands in limbo. Both nations claimed them and thirteen years later the dispute remained unresolved..."
-- Michael Vouri, The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay (Copyright 2006)
Did You Know?
American Camp's Officers' Quarters, built in 1859-1860, is the oldest structure on San Juan Island. It may have once been home to Capt. George E. Pickett of Civil War fame.