Pig War of 1859 Saw England and America Fight Over Washington
Washington's history is a colorful one. It's one of the youngest states in the union, becoming the 42nd state in 1889. Several wars were fought between the United States and Indigenous tribes that lived in the then-Washington territory.
The war we're going to talk about today didn't have any human fatalities and it has gone mostly lost in the annals of history. The Pig War of 1859 is so bizarre, you may not even believe some of the details.
What started the Pig War?
In 1859, Oregon had just become a state, leaving Washington as a territory. The British laid claim to Canada to the north. It was still very much the wild west and territory lines became blurred between the United Kingdom and the United States. When an American moved to the San Juan Islands of modern-day Washington, he had a problem with a pig that was eating his crops. He did what most farmers who encounter invasive animals do and called first. Just kidding, he shot the pig. Unfortunately, the pig belonged to the man's neighbor.
Lyman Cutlar probably didn't think too much about the pig he had just shot. He offered to compensate his neighbor, Charles Griffin, for the pig. Griffin was an Irishman working on a ranch on behalf of Hudson's Bay Company. As for the cash offer, Griffin turned it down and then reported the incident to British authorities near San Juan Island. When Americans caught wind of this, they too reached out for military help. American General William S. Harney sent a 66-man company to the island, which spurred the governor of British Columbia to send 3 warships.
Did the British and Americans go to war?
The two nations held a mini cold war over a border dispute with assembled forces growing on both sides. The standoff continued until the Commander-in-Chief of the British Navy in the Pacific arrived, having been ordered by the governor to land on San Juan Island. But here's the thing. He didn't land. Instead, he told the governor that he would not "involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig."
How did the Pig War affect modern-day Washington?
With 2,600 troops, 80+ guns, and three warships ready to duke it out over a pig, cooler heads prevailed. The Americans and British continued their dispute over the island until 1872 when Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany declared that the island would belong to the United States. The British then withdrew their troops, abandoning their camp. You can still visit the British camp as well as the American camp in San Juan Island National Historical Park, where a British flag still waves. This is unique to San Juan Island National Historical Park, as no other foreign flag flies in a United States national park.