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Eric Shackle Writes: Islanders Re-Enact The Pig War

...Few people other than North Americans have heard of the once-threatened Pig War between Great Britain and the United States...

Brilliant journalist Eric Shackle tells of the commemoration of an important international boundary dispute.

Do please visit Eric's world-famous e-book www.bdb.co.za/shackle/

Few people other than North Americans have heard of the once-threatened Pig War between Great Britain and the United States, but residents of tiny San Juan Island, where it occurred in 1859, re-enact it every year.

The island, 20 miles long and seven miles wide, is situated between Vancouver Island, in what was then British North America (now Canada) and the northwest corner of the United States, not far from Seattle.

Events leading up to the Pig War are described in the San Juan Island National Historical Park website, which says:

When [park visitors] learn that Great Britain and the United States almost plunged into war over a dead pig, the initial reaction is amusement. After all, 19th century journalists did label the dispute with tongue in cheek.

... Here was one of those rare occasions when two nations chose to avoid war at all costs by opting for diplomacy and eventually binding arbitration; where restraint was demonstrated from the halls of power to the men in the ranks; and a lasting peace was assured along more than 3,000 miles of international border.

The “Pig War”, as the confrontation on San Juan Island came to be called, had its origin in the Anglo-American dispute over possession of the Oregon Country, that vast expanse of land consisting of the present states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, parts of Montana and Wyoming, and the Province of British Columbia.
An Anglo-American agreement of 1818 had provided for joint occupation of the Oregon Country, but by 1845 both parties had grown discontented with this arrangement.

The British, determined to resist the tide of American migration sweeping across the Rocky Mountains, argued that the Americans were trespassing on land guaranteed to Britain by earlier treaties and explorations and through trading activities of the long-established Hudson's Bay Company.

Americans considered the British presence an affront to their "manifest destiny" and rejected the idea that the great land west of the Rockies should remain under foreign influence. Both nations blustered and threatened, but wiser counsels eventually prevailed and in June 1846 the Oregon question was resolved peacefully.

The Oregon Treaty of 1846 gave the United States undisputed possession of the Pacific Northwest south of the 49th parallel, extending the boundary "to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island; and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of Fuca's straits to the Pacific Ocean."

But while the treaty settled the larger boundary question, it created additional problems because its wording left unclear who owned San Juan Island.

On June 15, 1859, Lyman Cutlar, an American settler, shot and killed a pig belonging to Britain's Hudson's Bay Company, because it had uprooted his garden. The disgruntled Brits threatened to arrest Cutlar, so the Yanks sought U.S. military protection.

Brigadier General William S. Harney, "the anti-British commander of the Department of Oregon", sent 66 soldiers of the 9th US Infantry under Captain George E. Pickett to San Juan. Soon afterwards, British Royal Marines landed on the island's northwest coast. The island was under military occupation for the next 10 years.

After much huffing and puffing by politicians from both sides of the Atlantic, Germany's Kaiser I was called in to arbitrate. San Juan eventually became part of Washington state, USA.

Battery D is a group of San Juan Islanders who re-enact the period of the Pig War, 1859-1872.

Its website says "Appearing at several occasions each year such as encampments at San Juan Island National Historical Park and local parades and celebrations, members turn up in period uniforms and clothing to bring the period back to life.

"Members portray individuals from Battery D, 3rd Artillery and Company D, 9th Infantry as well as British Royal Marines and civilians."


Full account and maps http://www.nps.gov/archive/sajh/Pig_War_new.htm

The Pig War of San Juan Island http://www.wahmee.com/pigwar.html

Re-enactment photos http://www.nps.gov/sajh/encampment-at-english-camp.htm

Re-enactment group (Battery D) http://www.sanjuanislander.com/groups/historical/batteryd.shtml


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