In the 19th century, a dispute over border demarcation occurred between the US state of Washington and Vancouver Island in British Colombia, Canada (a British colony at the time). Tensions reached the peak, the two countries prepared for war, which was caused only by… a pig was killed.
The context of the conflict
The origin of the conflict is believed to be from the early 19th century boundary dispute between Great Britain and the United States. In 1818, a treaty was signed that hoped to avoid conflict, by allowing citizens of both countries to freely navigate the overlapping area and important waterways.
However, the tension between the two sides has not decreased. In 1846, another agreement was signed, called the “Treaty of Oregon”, which defined the boundary extending across the 49th parallel of west latitude, to “the middle of the channel separating the continent from Vancouver Island”. Accordingly, the border will go south to the Juan De Fuca Strait before emptying into the sea.
However, many issues arose later, as the sovereignty of the San Juan Islands between the Rosario and Haro Straits was not mentioned. Not surprisingly, both sides chose the strait that was in their interests to interpret the treaty. The Americans chose the Haro Strait, while the British chose the Rosario Strait. This means that each side claims that the San Juan Islands are their own.
Before the matter was finally resolved, the British took the first step. They proceeded to establish on the San Juan Islands a salmon collection station, through the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1851. By the time the Americans claimed the land, in 1853, the British had established in the area. This is a large-scale sheep farm.
Not easily accepting this situation, the US began to immigrate to the island and by 1859, there were about 30 Americans living here. Both sides considered the other’s presence illegal, but all was well. Until one day…
San Juan Island, where the war between Great Britain and America almost broke out.
Just for the pig
San Juan is an archipelago located in the western part of North America, in the state of Washington. It is separated from the American mainland by the Rosario Strait, from Vancouver Island (Canada) by the Haro Strait and the Boundary Strait. The island has an area of 142.59 km2, a population of 6,822 (according to the 2000 census).
In the summer of 1859, on June 15, an English-owned pig entered the vegetable field of an American farmer, Lyman Cutler. This is not the first time this has happened, as the pigs often wander in search of delicious potatoes to snack on under the scorching sun.
However, this time is different. Angered by the destruction of crops, Lyman brought out a gun and shot the pig dead. Unfortunately for him, the pig belonged to Charles Griffin, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
He sought compensation for the perpetrator. Cutler agreed to pay 10 USD for the life of the pig, but Griffin refused and demanded more, and reported the incident to British authorities. Cutler was threatened with arrest if he did not pay adequate compensation.
Not accepting that its people were treated in this way, the government in Oregon sent a military commander along with 64 soldiers to protect the American settlers in the San Juan Islands. The British government considered this an act of aggression, they immediately sent James Douglas, Governor of Vancouver Island, along with the destroyer Tribune to the island to handle the incident. Soon, other warships were also ordered to join.
Not to be outdone, the American garrison asked for support from the mainland and an army of more than 400 soldiers was on the island with eight cannons. Conflict seemed inevitable, American forces rushed to build fortifications and the British conducted artillery maneuvers.
However, when Governor Douglas ordered British naval forces to land on the island, the captain of the Tribune, Geoffrey Phipps Hornby, disobeyed and waited for Admiral Robert L. Baynes to arrive. It wasn’t until late August that the landings took place, and Baynes is said to be deeply dismayed to learn that the military escalation involved only one pig being killed.
Information about the situation of confrontation on the island was reported to the President of the United States, James Buchanan. He was completely taken aback by the situation spiraling out of control and immediately ordered General Winfield Scott to negotiate with Governor Douglas to defuse the impending conflict. This was a wise move because Scott had been involved in border negotiations since the 1830s.
By October 1859, negotiations began. Neither side wants to start an all-out armed conflict, but neither are they willing to give up their territorial sovereignty. In the end, the two negotiators agreed to reduce the number of soldiers, guns and warships, but not to completely relieve them from the disputed area.
Each side will have a force of 100 and work together to share responsibility for the island, until a formal solution is reached. The British set up garrison in the North, while the Americans stationed in the South.
During this time, the forces of both sides were restrained, behaved peacefully, often visiting and attending to celebrate each other’s national holidays. They did not expect this stalemate to last another 12 years.
Finally, in 1871, the Treaty of Washington was signed, which not only resolved the issue of the San Juan Islands but also many other disagreements between the two countries.
By 1872, the San Juan Islands had been declared American territory, and British farmers and marines left the island. The “Pig War” ended after 15 years of tension. Neither side suffered any damage, except for the British pig being killed.
According to Historicmysteries