Food in the Camps

What did the U.S. Army and British Royal Marines eat?

The food situation varied wildly for the soldiers stationed on San Juan Island.

U.S. Army soldiers and Royal Marines stationed on San Juan Island found the natural resources teeming with sustenance in the mid 19th century. Deer roamed freely—the depopulation of wolves to protect livestock interests had seen to that—sea life was abundant, with active fisheries and oyster fields just off the coast. The soil was rich and fertile; the temperate climate supported the growth of a variety of vegetables.

The typical daily garrison ration for frontier soldiers in the U.S. Army consisted of ¾ lbs. of pork or 1 ¼ lbs. of beef, 18oz of bread, or 12oz of hardtack—a simple biscuit. They were also provided portions of rice, potatoes, coffee, sugar, and beans for every 100 rations. Soldiers who owned their own firearms were allowed to hunt, adding a variety of meats to the menu.

American soldiers could also supplement their rations with goods purchased at the sutler’s shop. The sutler’s shop, similar to a modern Post Exchange (PX), provided goods imported from other parts of the U.S., including canned goods and beverages, as well as fresh food and drink, operated under a license from the post commander, and was run by American Edward Warbass.

In English Camp, a vegetable garden was planted, giving the Royal Marines fresh produce to supplement their daily ration consisting of 1 ½ lbs. of bread, 1 pound of meat, 2oz rice, 2oz sugar, 3oz coffee, and ½oz salt. While the exact vegetables grown are unknown, gardens in the area were known to produce potatoes, peas, beans, and cabbage, providing variety and nutritional support to garrison rations.

The English Camp housed two mess halls, one for officers and another for enlisted, while the American Camp had three, one for officers, one for NCOs, and one for enlisted. The American Camp also had a granary that supplied its two bakeries.

Aside from the rations provided, nearby San Juan Town provided soldiers and Royal Marines yet another way to add more variety into their diets. The town had a butcher, bakery, and restaurants. The men could also barter for or buy seafood procured by local natives and found the range of options a nice break from their repetitious and oft inadequate government rations.