Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Oregon Treaty and The Pig War

The June 15,1846 signing of the Oregon Treaty should have resolved the boundary dispute between the United States and Great Britain.  It established the boundary between the disputed territories at the forty-ninth parallel.  But a deviation from this strictly arbitrary line was necessary to divide the waters, so to speak.  The line was established through the center of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but wiggling it around the islands became a source of contention, for the details were ambiguous.

The British wanted the line established to the east of the San Juan islands, thus giving them possession of those lands.  The Americans insisted the line should go through the straits to the west of the islands, thus making them American territory.  A considerable amount of interesting history is contained in the period during which these differences prevailed.  Both English and Americans inhabited the islands.

Thirteen years pass.  On June 15, 1859, an American farmer named Cutler came upon a pig rooting in his potato patch.  He shot the pig.  An Irishman named Griffin was the owner of the porker.  Cutler offered to pay ten dollars for the pig.  Griffin demanded a hundred.  And thus started the war.
The British threatened to arrest Cutler; the Americans demanded military protection.  Sixty-six American soldiers of the Ninth Infantry  commanded by Captain George Pickett landed on San Juan Island.  Their orders were to keep the British from landing.    Meanwhile, the British dispatched three warships under the command of Captain Geoffrey Hornby.  By August the US troop count had risen to 461, possessed of 14 cannon.  The British contingency had escalated to five warships, mounting 70 guns and manned by 2140 men.

Both sides were apparently under orders that under no circumstances were they to fire the first shot.  So evidently the soldiers and marines spent their time heckling and needling one another, hoping, it is supposed, to provoke the first shot.  No shot was forthcoming.  Long story short, the dispute over the boundary was submitted to Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany for arbitration.  He submitted it to a three-man commissionl for consideration.  The final decision favored the Americans, and was handed down in October 1872.  After more than a decade the Pig War was over.  There were no casualties.  Except for the pig. 

The San Juans have ever since been a beautiful part of The United States.  Of course, apart from their beauty, the strategic location was important to the U.S. in controlling her waters and defending against potential naval threats.

I have had the good fortune to spend some time in the San Juan Islands, both in the 1950s and again in the 1980s and 90s.  It has been too long, though, for these are lovely places indeed.

This article is not thoroughly researched, as there is much too much material to study.  Much of the information contained herein is in a Wikipedia article about the Pig War.  It is much more detailed, should you want to know more.  See also the account of the Pig War at the National Park Service site.  Image: NPS


Shelly said...

The pig gave his life for a worthy cause. An excellent article!

Secondary Roads said...

Reckon who ate the pig?

Vee said...

Interesting bit of history!

vanilla said...

Shelly, the death of the pig did start something. Thanks.

Chuck, I wonder the same thing. Bacon!

Vee, and many of the people involved made their marks in history. Pickett
in the War Between the States, Hornby became Admiral of the Fleet, and Winfield Scott was involved in negotiations with the British governour.

Anonymous said...

Well that was fun to read, and interesting. Cool..

vanilla said...

Grace, happy to do it. There are so many interesting little historical tidbits!

Sharkbytes said...

This was interesting. I don't know much history about that part of the US

vanilla said...

Sharkey, I had the privilege of living for several years in the Pacific Northwest back in my (much) younger day. Interesting country, interesting history.