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The Pig War of San Juan Island

Updated on November 1, 2017

There was only one casualty in this war - a pig. Yet its death could have changed the course of history and was pivotal enough to involve both American and British warships and troops. It all started on what is the present day island of San Juan in Washington state. When American farmer, Lyman Cutlar, was asked why he shot and killed Englishman Charles Griffin's pig he said "It was eating my potatoes". Cutlar claimed he had previously complained about Griffin's pig in his potato garden. To that Griffin responded "It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig".

Boundaries -

It was all a matter of unclear boundaries. When the Oregon Treaty of 1846 was signed, it was meant to establish the boundary between the United States and Canada. It went west from the Rocky Mountains to the coast. The treaty defined the 49th parallel which separated the two countries and all seemed well and good. Until it reached the channel off of Vancouver island. There things got mucky. The document stipulated that the boundary ran down the middle of the main channel. The Americans thought this to be Rosario Strait on the east side of San Juan Island. The British believed it was the Haro Strait on the west side of the island. Maps available at the time were unhelpful. This left tensions high and San Juan Island in limbo.


Both countries claimed sovereignty over the San Juan Islands. During this time Britain's Hudson Bay Company established several facilities on the island. At the same time a group of Americans came to the island, built homes and settled there. San Juan Island was a strategic point militarily because of its location. To both sides the stakes were high.

On the morning of June 15,1859 exactly 13 years after the Oregon Treaty was signed, American Cutlar shot Griffin's pig. Now you wouldn't think the killing of a pig would be such a large matter but tempers were already short on San Juan Island. Cutlar offered to pay $10 for the pig which outraged Griffin. Then British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar. His fellow Americans called for help from the U.S. military. They got it.

The military commander of the Department of Oregon dispatched sixty-six American soldiers of the 9th infantry to San Juan Island. They were under the command of Captain George Pickett. The British responded by sending three warships under the command of Captain Geoffrey Hornby. Both countries were worried about the invasion and occupation of the island by the other. And things only got worse.

Though no shots were ever fired, the scene was potentially explosive. The situation escalated and by August 10, 1859 over 460 Americans with fourteen cannons stood opposed to five British warships carrying over 2000 men and mounting at least 70 guns. For several days soldiers from both sides traded insults and tried to get the other to take the first shot. Somehow cool heads prevailed and guns remained silent.


When word of the situation on San Juan Island reached Washington and London, officials were shocked to learn that the potentially explosive international incident was caused by a pig. Then U.S. President James Buchanan quickly dispatched General Winfield Scott to investigate and hopefully calm the crises. Scott had successfully negotiated other border disputes in the past. Eventually after several meetings with Vancouver's Governor Douglas both sides agreed to keep a small military presence on the island until a settlement was reached. It all came down to who owned the San Juan Islands - the British or the Americans.

This went on for 12 years spanning the U.S. Civil War period. Two camps were set up on the island with a token 100 men. The "British Camp" was established along the shoreline on the north end of San Juan Island. The "American Camp" was in the meadows on the south end. During this time everyone got along great and it was believed the biggest threat to the island was the liberal consumption of alcohol.

In 1871, the Treaty of Washington was signed by Great Britain and the United States. It dealt with various issues concerning both nations including the decision to finally resolve the dispute over San Juan. The situation was turned over to Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany who was to serve as an international arbitrator. It was referred to a commission who met in Geneva for almost a year. Finally on October 21, 1872 the commission voted in favor of the United States setting the boundary via the Haro Strait. In November of that year troops from both sides were quietly withdrawn.


The Pig War is a fairly modern iteration. At the time it was referred to as the "San Juan Affair" or the "San Juan Difficulty" or the "San Juan Imbroglio".

The Pig War was the last time the United States and Great Britain opposed each other on U.S. soil.

General George Pickett who was commander of the American troops during The Pig War went on to lead the well-known Pickett's Charge in the battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

San Juan County has more miles of shoreline (375) than any other in the United States.

John Wayne was a frequent visitor to San Juan Island.

The Pig War is commemorated in San Juan Island National Historical Park.


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    • rajaramravi profile image


      8 years ago

      A different kind of hub.thankyou for publishing

    • dusy7969 profile image


      8 years ago from San Diego, California

      This hub is fascinating. I like this story.believe you mixed things up a bit at the beginning.I read the story and enjoy a lot it.The Pig War really began over the killing of the pig.So Thanks a lot suziecat for this sharing.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      We have visited that location and found the information about the Pig war equally interesting. Thanks for this informative hub. Rated up and useful.

    • Brinafr3sh profile image


      8 years ago from West Coast, United States

      Interesting hub, I like history.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      eTrucker - You are right. Thanks - duly noted and corrected.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I believe you mixed things up a bit at the beginning. You state that the Americans thought the main channel was the Rosario Strait on the West side of the San Juan Islands, and the Brits thought it was Haro Strait on the East. You correctly state at the end that the matter was settled in the Americans' favor by choosing the Haro Strait, which is, in fact, on the West side of San Juan Island

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Great when a writer can bring an historical, interesting story to readers who might otherwise never see it. Good piece suziecat7. oh, since we both live in the old north state it's a nice feeling to know there's another hubber close by. Will read some more of your hubs over next few weeks.

    • swedal profile image


      8 years ago from Colorado

      That was wonderful and a joy to read about. Great historical story that will make me appreciate my next pork chop....

    • PR Morgan profile image

      PR Morgan 

      8 years ago from Sarasota Florida

      That is a great bit of history....I wouldn't start a war over a pig..but don't mess with my hamsters! Love the War Pigs video!

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Dana - It is an interesting piece of history - glad you could stop by.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      You did a great job in the retelling of this story. I knew about it, it is fascinating, yes.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks for stopping by RunAbstract. Glad you enjoyed.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      8 years ago from USA

      Well, this one deserves a really big HOWDY, susiecat! Not only was it great history, it had some really nifty stuff in it - like "It's up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig!" How good does it get?

      Gus :-)))

    • danatheteacher profile image

      Dana Rock 

      8 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Wow, someone from NC talking about the Pig War. I teach Washington state history and this is one of my favs ;)

    • RunAbstract profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      I love history, especially tidbits very out of the mainstream. This was a great read! I will be back for more!

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks, James.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      8 years ago from Chicago

      What an awesome tale! I loved reading this. Thank you for the enlightening read. Well done!

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thank you all for your kind words and for reading my Hub.

    • lilyfly profile image

      Lillian K. Staats 

      8 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

      I adore this! Such little things can portend huge things! Thanks!

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      What a fascinating piece of history I'm sure I'd never have stumbled upon if I hadn't been following you. Three warships against 66 soldiers, escalation after that, and only the pig lost its life. Amazing. Voted up and awesome.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Oh, how interesting.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Pras - thank you for your kind words.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks, Jill.

      Allpurposeguru - Yes if all wars could end so peacefully. Thanks for reading.

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      8 years ago from Westerville

      Great pic of a great pig. I love pigs, they are so smart among other things. Interesting and very well told the pig war the good stuff you don't here about in the books. Thanks :) Katie

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Tammy - You're welcome - glad you enjoyed.

    • gusripper profile image


      8 years ago

      I didn't know a thing about it.Nice lady

    • D.A.L. profile image


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Suziecat7, what a fascinating article I really enjoyed this read. thank you for sharing.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      8 years ago from Washington

      OMG - One of my favorite places in the world! And when we go there we always get into the discussions about the Pig War....the war that really began (but never went anywhere) over the killing of the pig!~ Have you ever been to the island and seen the camps? Beautiful places, beautiful views, and excellent bird watching!!

    • Seakay profile image


      8 years ago from Florida

      Great informative hub! Thanks for your research. I enjoy history, thanks to my Junior High history teacher. His main line was "Those who do not learn history are destined to repeat it!"

    • prasetio30 profile image


      8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Another great hub from you. Thanks for writing this. Take care! ~prasetio

    • allpurposeguru profile image

      David Guion 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Well done, Suzie. I love articles like this.

      What a perfect war! They should all be like that. No one killed or injured (except, of course, the poor pig).

      And in what other war have soldiers gotten involved in trash talk trying to get shot at? Who said history is boring?

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      What a fascinating read! I really enjoyed this! The story behind wars is always fascinating.

      Thanks for this fine read Suzie!

      Rated up and useful!

    • Tammy L profile image

      Tammy L 

      8 years ago from Jacksonville, Texas

      I thoroughly enjoyed this tidbit of history. This is not something that you'd find in history textbooks. Thank you for doing such a good job.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      BP and Ingenira - Glad you enjoyed.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Dahoglund - I'm always on the lookout for these tidbits.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Drbj - It would make an interesting movie. Thanks for reading.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Darlene - Me too - why shoot the poor thing. Thanks so much for stopping by.

    • Ingenira profile image


      8 years ago

      Hilarious. Fascinating.

    • breakfastpop profile image


      8 years ago

      Fascinating hub.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I like these tidbits of history that often are overlooked.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      I'm surprised that a screenwriter hasn't written a movie screenplay yet of this historical almost-pig-war. Fascinating. Thank you, susie.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Hello Suzie, I am dedicated to the four legged creatures of this Earth, it can be a blessing and a curse. However the thought of killing any animal is so upseting to me and that includes pigs, pigs are smarter then most animals on this planet, even dogs. I rate this very interesting article and history up, your fan & friend darski

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks, WillStarr.

    • WillStarr profile image


      8 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      What a fascinating piece of history!

      Great Hub.

      Voted up and awesome.

    • mememy profile image


      8 years ago

      i saw your pig thing


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