A Barely-Punished Murder

A pair of 1863 murders reveal a rickety system of justice during the Joint Occupation period

In the 1800s San Juan County endured a two-tiered justice system that depended in part on the skin color of victims and perpetrators.

What are the consequences of murder? From 1860-1872, the justice system in the San Juan Islands depended on the corporation of the American and British military authorities. A murderer named William Andrew would pose a challenge to this arrangement.

In 1863, occupants of the island were concerned that a man known only as "Bill" had not once but twice killed Native American residents without consequence. They brought the issue to English Camp Commander David Bazelgette. The first murder had occurred near San Juan Town and American Camp three years previously, yet American civil authorities had done nothing. The second murder near English Camp finally galvanized the British commander into action.

Bazelgette wrote a letter to Captain Bisell, his American counterpart. In a diplomatic spirit, Bazelgette proposed a joint action: American and British troops would together seek out witnesses, identify the suspect, and deliver justice. With the American's consent, this international patrol set forth. Several witnesses joined this patrol to identify the suspect.

These witnesses led the patrol to Lime Kiln Point. There, they identified the murderer as a laborer at the San Juan Lime Company's kiln, one William Andrews.

Here's where the murder investigation differed from what we might expect. Instead of interrogating or arresting the suspect or handing him over to civil authorities, Captain Bissell simply announced that Andrews must leave the island within 24 hours. Attention then shifted to Andrew's employer, Augustus Hibbard, who was selling liquor on the premises and elsewhere on the island.

William Andrews slipped off the island and out of the historical record at this point. His fate is unknown, as are the names of his victims. The relatively light punishment Andrews received was likely due to the fact that both of the murder victims were Native Americans. By contrast, in 1869 Augustus Hibbard, former employer of Andrews, was himself murdered by a business partner who was tried and sentenced to hang for his crime. In 1873 one "Kanaka Joe," a Hawaiian laborer, was publicly executed for killing two white settlers on San Juan Island.

While American and English authorities were keen to protect their settler population, neither made any great effort to extend the same protections to the area's original inhabitants. To the contrary, in response to the expulsion of Andrews and the condemnation of the whiskey-dealing Hibbard, San Juan Island's Justice of the Peace organized a community resolution protesting military authorities. This double standard proved yet another factor in diminishing the indigenous population of the San Juan Islands.