This Saturday, June 8th, there are events at both American Camp and English Camp on San Juan Island. At American Camp National Historic Park there will be a Pig War Story Guided Walk with the Park Rangers, explaining events leading up to the joint occupation by English and American troops. It begins at 11:00 and will take about an hour. At English Camp National Historic Park, beginning at 12:00 and lasting until 3:00, there will be a Living History celebration which will include an Exhibit of military equipment and skills. The activities demonstrated will be blacksmithing, coopering, weaving, and needlework.
What led to San Juan Island having two national historic parks celebrating the joint occupation? In June of 1859 an American settler named Lyman Cutler shot and killed a pig belonging to Englishman Charles Griffin of the Hudson Bay Company. The pig was in Cutler’s garden eating his potatoes. Griffin told Cutler that it was up to him to keep his potatoes out of Griffin’s pig.
In those days both the US and England claimed the San Juans. This little argument led to military intervention that escalated to growing forces on both sides but no real war involving guns or casualties (well, except for the pig). The British forces numbered 2,140 with five warships. American forces were only 461. For twelve years the joint occupation went on as both sides claimed ownership of the islands. The relationship between the US and British troops were not always tense. There was even a military trail between the two encampments. In 1872 the question was sent to a third party to decide. On October 21, 1872, Kaiser Wilhelm 1 of Germany made the decision that the islands were part of the United States. A month later the British troops left.
For those of us living on San Juan Island today this occupation has resulted in a rich history and the wonderful resource of two national parks on the island of San Juan. At American Camp, on the South side of the island, you may visit everyone’s favorite beach down Pickett’s Lane, walk the redoubt where soldier’s scanned the sea for warships, or visit the lagoon or granny’s beach. At English camp you can go up the trail past the graveyards to the top of Young Hill, visit the formal garden or even go dig clams in the season. It is on the west side of San Juan Island in protected Westcott Bay.