San Juan Island

San Juan Island is in the San Juan Islands region of Washington State. It contains the county seat for San Juan County, which covers all of the San Juan Islands.

Friday Harbor on San Juan Island



As early as 1845 the Hudson's Bay Company, based at Fort Victoria, had posted a notice of possession on San Juan Island. In 1851 it established a salmon-curing station there and, two years later, a sheep ranch called Belle Vue Farm. About the same time, the Territorial Legislature of Oregon (which then included the present State of Washington) declared San Juan Island to be within its territorial limits, and in January 1853 incorporated it into Island County. In March 1853, Washington Territory having been created, San Juan Island was attached to Whatcom, its northernmost county.

By 1859 there were about 18 Americans on San Juan Island. They were settled on redemption claims which they expected the U.S. Government to recognize as valid, but which the British considered illegal. That crisis came on June 15, 1859, when an American settler named Lyman Cutlar shot and killed a pig belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company because it was rooting in his garden. When British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, American citizens drew up a petition requesting U.S. military protection. The subsequent military buildup caused each side to keep adding more military to the island. When word of the crisis reached Washington, officials there were shocked that the simple action of an irate farmer had grown into an explosive international incident. President James Buchanan sent Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, commanding general of the U.S. Army, to investigate and try to contain the affair. He was able to get both sides, the British and the American to agree to joint military occupation until the issue could be settled.

San Juan Island remained under joint military occupation for the next 12 years. In 1871, when Great Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Washington, the San Juan question was referred to Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany for settlement. The kaiser referred the issue to a three-man arbitration commission who met for nearly a year in Geneva. On October 21, 1872, the commission, through the kaiser, ruled in favor of the United States, establishing the boundary line through Haro Strait. Thus the San Juan Islands became American possessions and the final boundary between Canada and the United States was set.

Many of San Juan Island's roads trace sheep runs cut by Hudson's Bay Company workers. They were led, in part, by Fort Victoria Chief Factor and colonial Gov. James Douglas, from 1853 to 1859. Many of the workers were Cowichan Indians from Vancouver Island.

Get in

Most people arrive via Washington State ferry from Anacortes. Some arrive via ferry from Sidney, on Vancouver Island, BC. A few arrive via small plane or their own boat.

By ferry

By seaplane

Get around






Wildlife is a major attraction, with the area a prime location for viewing orcas, seals, eagles, and other marine wildlife. The San Juan Islands are also home to 300 species of birds.

Lime Kiln Point




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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, February 14, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.