The Pig War
Watch park historian, Mike Vouri, give a brief overview of the Pig War by clicking here.
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.
The dispute is perhaps the best-known period in island history. But the park also encompasses a rich and diverse environment that cannot be separated from the island’s 3,000-year human history. Long before the arrival of Europeans, the island sheltered a thriving culture attracted by its temperate climate, rich soil, abundant timber and marine resources. These same attributes lured Spain, Great Britain and the United States. Each explored, charted and named the islands while staking overlapping claims to the Oregon County-- the present states of Washington Oregon, Idaho, portions of Wyoming and Montana and the province of British Columbia.
Spain had abandoned its claims by the time an Anglo-American agreement in 1818 provided for joint occupation of the region. Although lucrative trade agreements and capital investments existed between the two nations, primarily on the Eastern seaboard, tensions mounted among those living in the Oregon Country. Americans 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 commercial activities of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Nevertheless, in June 1846 the Treaty of Oregon was signed in London, setting the boundary on the 49th parallel, from the Rocky Mountains "to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island” then south through the channel to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and west to the Pacific Ocean.
Meanwhile, Pickett was reinforced on August 10, by 171 men under Lt. Col. Silas Casey, who assumed command and, with Pickett in tow, went to Victoria to parley with Baynes. The old admiral (a veteran of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815) refused to leave his 84-gun ship of the line, HMS Ganges, to call upon Casey aboard a lighthouse tender. A disappointed Casey took note of the Ganges’ size and on his return to San Juan pleaded for more men.
San Juan Island remained under joint military occupation for the next 12 years. In 1871, when Great Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Washington, the San Juan question was referred to Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany for settlement. The kaiser referred the issue to a three-man arbitration commission who met for nearly a year in Geneva. On October 21, 1872, the commission, through the kaiser, ruled in favor of the United States, establishing the boundary line through Haro Strait. Thus the San Juan Islands became American possessions and the final boundary between Canada and the United States was set. On November 25, 1872, the Royal Marines withdrew from English Camp. By July 1874, the last of the U.S. troops had left American Camp. Peace had finally come to the 49th parallel, and San Juan Island would be long remembered for the "war" in which the only casualty was a pig.