America’s Great Pig War

Most Americans know a little about the times America went to war with Great Britain. There was the War of Independence in 1776 and the War of 1812 in 1812. But how many know anything about the Pig War between America and the mother country?

Over the centuries America has had its problems resolving border disputes between itself and Britain and/or Canada. After all, the border is 5,525 miles long and not, as it seems, a straight line. In the Pacific Northwest, the boundary weaves its way through a large chain of islands and it has not always been sure just which island went with which nation.

One such disputed island was San Juan where the British Hudson Bay Company had commercial interests and where residents included both British and Americans. For the most part, the two nationalities got along fine, that is until 1859 when a Brit’s pig wandered into a Yank’s potato patch and had its way. The American farmer shot the Brit’s pig and the stage for war was set.

The American offered $10 as a settlement but the Brit refused and demanded the Yank be arrested by the British authorities. The American islanders immediately appealed to the US Army for protection and a unit of sixty-six soldiers were sent to the island. The British responded by building a fort in the north of the island and sending three warships to protect their interests.

For the next thirteen years, the British occupied the northern portion of San Juan while the Americans held onto the southern part. By 1872 the military force had escalated to include 2,600 men, 84 pieces of artillery, and 3 warships. At one time a British officer ordered a British Admiral to disembark his troops and attack the US Army. The Admiral, however, refused and said he would not, “involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig”.

With this refusal to attack the event became a standoff until 1872 when an international commission, led by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, ruled that San Juan Island would become the sole property of America.  While everything needed for war was present, cooler heads prevailed and no shots were ever fired. The exception being the shot that killed that potato stealing pig.

Both the British Fort and American camp still exist and are a part of the San Juan Island National Historical Park. For a touch of added trivia, the fort is the only place in America where “a foreign flag is regularly hoisted over US soil.” Great Britain provides both the flag and the flagpole. hoisted over US soil, and both the flag and the flagpole were provided by the British government as a sign of friendship.

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