The US and Great Britain Almost Went to War Over Washington State
Washington State has had it's share of interesting history...and conflict. Within a decade of statehood, a push to separate Washington at the Cascade Mountains had begun. It would have created the States of Washington and Lincoln.
In truth, that particular conflict began not long after the Washington Territory came in to existence in 1853. Early Washingtonians must have just liked to fight because not only did the fight amongst themselves, they almost started a war between nations.
In the mid 1800's Great Britain still ruled over Canada, and the United States over the Washington Territory. Between the mainland of each country sat the San Juan Islands. The Oregon Treaty, signed between the two nations in 1846, was supposed to end disputes the two had over Oregon Country that was co inhabited since 1818...and for the most part it did.
The Blurry Boundary That Nearly Started A War
In the mid 1840's Hudson's Bay Company claimed the San Juan Islands as British land and started a sheep farm. In roughly six years time it grew to 4500 head. The United States also had settlers in the San Juans and they believed it to be U.S. land. The British believed the boundary to be Rosario Strait, the U.S. thought it to be Haro Strait. The Treaty didn't clearly define the boundary, tensions slowly grew, and each nation's interpretation led to an international incident.
It all came to head in 1859 when 25 year old Lyman Cutlar woke up to find an intruder on his farm. The intruder was eating his potato crop. It wasn't the first time an intruder got in to Cutlar's crop, but it would be the last. Cutlar grabbed his gun and killed the intruder, which happened to be a pig that was owned by Great Britain's Hudson's Bay Company.
Cutlar felt bad about killing the pig and offered to pay $10 to Hudson's Bay for his actions. The company manager, Charles Griffin, refused his offer and said
“you Americans are a nuisance on the island and have no business here…and I shall…have you removed.”
Four British soldiers then arrived at Cutlar's homestead demanding $100 for the pig. Word of the conflict spread to the U.S. mainland. Roughly a month and a half later, U.S. Forces arrived on the San Juan Islands to protect American citizens and interests.
By the middle of August 1859, cannons were pointed by both Nations in the others direction as the fear of war became real. In September President James Buchanan sent General Winfield Scott to negotiate with the Governor of the Vancouver Colony James Douglas. While both sides agreed to reduce their military presence, the conflict would continue, with varying degrees of bluster, for the next dozen years.
The Civil War would break out the following year taking U.S. attention away from the area. The Vancouver Colony would become part of the Colony of British Columbia before becoming a part of the Dominion of Canada. The U.K. and the U.S. would sign the Treaty of Washington in 1871 dealing with a number of disputes including the San Juan Islands.
Germany would be named as an arbitrator to determine the situation with the San Juan Islands. They decided to use the U.S. Interpretation of the boundary, the Haro Strait, and the entirety of the San Juan Islands belonged to the U.S.