The American Camp Monument

The “Grappling Hook” of San Juan's Past, Present and Future

The American Camp Monument established in 1904 by the Washington State Historical Society is an illustratation of San Juans transformation from the 19th century, to the present.

“Erected October 21, 1904, by the Washington University State Historical Society as arbitrator William I of Germany decided the San Juan case October 21, 1872. First Officer in charge was Cap. George E. Pickett of the 9th U.S. Infantry. American Camp 1859-1872.” These are the words that you will find on the marble monument at American Camp – displayed just as it was when it was erected in 1904. To quote the words of the 18th century French essayist, Johnathan Jorbert: “monuments are like grappling hooks that bind one generation, to another.” The American Camp marble monument is not just a commemoration of the American soldiers on the island and a peaceful settlement of the boundary dispute. The monument, itself, is a link between the island's past and present, and how the transformations the the island had went through over the years since joint occupation.

On July 27, 1859 Captain George E. Pickett landed on the shores of Griffin Bay. On August 22nd, Lieutenant Colonel Silas Casey north slope of the ridge just north of the Hudson’s Bay Company barns, which was home to the pig that strayed and started the Pig War situation. During the conflict, San Juan Island became a very popular tourist attractions. The first tourists of San Juan Island were residents from Victoria and the surrounding Islands. Tourists from Victoria arrived on San Juan as the Americans were constructing their camp and the British Royal Marines were doing drills with the 52 guns they had, in total. The visitors who arrived in San Juan during this time wanted to see what life on San Juan as the joint occupation was underway, knowing that San Juan was characterized by the Pig War conflict. When The United States was awarded the islands, the British flag was taken down and the American Flag was set in its place on the islands telegraph. American settlers immediately went to work “Americanizing” the island, selling the British Camp lands, placing American orchards, businesses and industries in place of the British ones.

After the boundary dispute was settled in 1872, fishing, agriculture and the lime kiln trade was the primary means of illustrating and promoting San Juan island. As a result orchards dominated the landscape. Between 1876 and 1886, the General Land Office allowed homesteaders to buy lands located around the camps. Military buildings located in the former American military camp were sold, dismantled from the site. The two camps were even used as homes for some settlers. Unfortunately, these industries and recreations that helped fuel the island's economy, failed relatively quickly. Overfishing by fishing industries on San Juan made fish species go endangered. Improved infrastructures and transportation on the mainland hurt businesses of trade and the agricultural industries, since the mainland could trade and obtain their goods abroad and as a result large-scale farming failed. However, in 1880, tourism had started on San Juan Island as various resorts, hotels health lodges and summer homes were all established. Residents had started to see tourism as the future of the island. By the start of the 20th century, the National Park ideal and the attention to historical sites was becoming popular and profitable. By the 20th century, the scenery, recreational opportunities, military camps and the historical significance of San Juan Island had become valued by a more broader crowd than just the residents of San Juan. San Juan residents believed that land preservation would be beneficial for the island, as it would mean more tourism.

In 1891, the Washington State Historical society was organized and established. On October 21, 1904, the Washington State Historical Society and its secretary Professor Edmond S. Meany established the American Camp monument on the redoubt location of San Juan, which commemorates Captain George Pickett, the site of the American fort during the Pig War. This event gave American camp it's first public recognition, inviting tourists, residents and the living actors of the Pig War. An edition of the San Juan Islander on October 15th, 1904 had stated “the invitation to attend the ceremonies is general and a large attendance of people is especially desired.” The Rosalie steamer brought the members of the Historical Society from Seattle for the ceremony, along with groups of excursionists [tourists]. As soon as the excursionists landed, they climbed the hill to the site of the old American fort and unveiled the monument. Among the people who were there at the monument unveiling, was the Captain Edward D. Warbass who was the American Camp sutler during the events of the Pig War and the Company “M” Lieutenant George B. Dandy of the third artillery who had been stationed in San Juan Island during the 1860's. According to the October 22nd edition of the San Juan Islander perfectly describes the historical importance of the American Camp Monument:“ the unveiling of the monuments at American and British military camps on October 21st, was a notable occasion not only in the history if the county, but of the northwest.” The American Camp monument established by the Washington State National Historical Society is a symbol of how much San Juan Island's identity had been transformed. The American Camp Monument was the island's first public recognition of American Camp during the post-occupation periods, illustrating the significance of the islands past, present and the transformation of San Juan's identity of being an agricultural economy, to one that is based around preservation and tourism .