A Lonely Officer's Quarters at the Edge of the World

General George Pickett's home on San Juan Island

Though his time on the island was brief, General Pickett's home provided shelter for a man who had faced great loss early in life, and was destined to face more.

General George Pickett is perhaps best known for his time in the Confederate Army, but his military career did not begin at Gettysburg. Assigned to command Company D on San Juan Island, Captain Pickett arrived at the San Juan Islands in July 1859 and stayed on through August of the same year. He returned to command in April 1860 and stayed for over a year.

Pickett was a West Point graduate who graduated last in his class (a position which would later be called “the goat”) and accepted his commission with the Army in 1846. In 1851, he married his first wife, Sally Harrison Minge. Army life was hard on Sally, and she died during childbirth in Texas. By 1856, Pickett was serving in Washington Territory at Fort Bellingham. While stationed here, he married a Haida woman named Morning Mist. Together they had a son, James Tilton Pickett, who eventually became a newspaper artist before passing away at the age of 32 from a combination of typhoid fever and tuberculosis. Morning Mist died a few months after giving birth to James from lingering complications from childbirth.

After leaving James in the care of his Native grandmother, Pickett spent his time on the island alone. He usually had the house to himself, but at times two junior officers resided there as well, with living quarters for the officers on opposite sides of the house and a kitchen at the back. The home was built with salvaged materials from Fort Bellingham brought to American Camp by Pickett. The house faced the parade grounds with the enlisted quarters directly across from it.

During his time in the Civil War, this obscure Army officer would rise to prominence. In July of 1861, soon after the beginning of the war, Pickett left the island with Company D for Fort Steilacoom so that he could resign from the Union Army and join the Confederacy in its rebellion against the United States. He was quickly promoted to Brigadier General and fought in several battles. The most famous battle Pickett was involved in was the Battle of Gettysburg. Pickett’s Charge, on the second day of the battle, was a military disaster that represents the high water mark of the rebellion. After the war, Pickett fled to Canada.

The oldest building on the island, the Pickett House is currently undergoing renovations to bring it back to its original state. The house features weatherboarding around the outside and a wraparound porch. Each officer’s quarters has two rooms with a fireplace in each room, located on either side of the house. The floors, plastered walls, wallpaper, and fireplaces are being refurbished by the National Park Service so that they may once again display its original character