The Changing Locations of American Camp

American Camp and the Hudson's Bay Company

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Lieutenant Colonel Silas Casey may have taken this saying to heart when establishing the American Camp just a few hundred yards away from a Hudson Bay Company outpost.

In 1853, the steamer HMS Beaver brought the first shipment of sheep to a farm located at the southern point of San Juan Island named Belle Vue Sheep Farm. Established by Charles Griffin, Belle Vue Sheep Farm was the perfect location to raise sheep due to the landscape of the prairie surrounding the farm. Though this outpost farmed vegetables, crops, and livestock, wool was the primary product Belle Vue produced.

Six years later, Britain and the United States agreed to a joint occupation of San Juan Island. British soldiers would make camp on the northwestern edge of the island while the Americans had already set up camp on the southeastern shores. Captain George E. Pickett at first had chosen a location roughly 200 yards from the water of Griffin Bay. This camp did not last long because it was vulnerable to British naval guns. Pickett moved the camp over the ridge next to a pasture the Hudson Bay Company used for their sheep. The Americans remained here until the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Silas Casey in August that same year.

Once Casey arrived, he did not approve of the location the soldiers made camp. Coastal winds and rain pounded the soldiers and made it hard for them to do their duties. Casey moved the camp to where it sits today, a few hundred yards from the Belle Vue Sheep Farm.

Life at the camp was hard and at times miserable. Some soldiers risked punishment and drank, others committed suicide and some abandoned post. Despite being an arm’s length away from the HBC and their British enemies, American Camp saw little action. Instead, they spent most of their time constructing the redoubt until operations were shut down once an agreement was reached to reduce boots on ground.