How a pig that loved potatoes brought England and U.S. to brink of war in 1859

Pigs, Potatoes and a War

By —— Bio and Archives--June 9, 2018

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Pigs, Potatoes and a War
A porker loose in a potato patch and a pair of pig-headed leaders nearly provoked a war between Britain and the US. It was only diverted when less rambunctious admiral refused to “involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig”

The obscure squabble has gone down in history as ‘The Pig and Potato War.’ It commenced with what seemed at the time to finally settle the Canada, or British North America as it was then known, border with the United States. In 1846 the two nations signed the Oregon Treaty signed agreeing on the 49th parallel ‘to the Pacific.’ Once reaching the ocean, the treaty stated the border to run through ‘the middle of the channel separating the continent from Vancouver’s Island.’


This left the strategic San Juan Island to be claimed by both sides. The Hudson’s Bay Company had a salmon curing station and sheep ranch, both well-staffed. There were also between 20 and 30 recently arrived US settlers. By all accounts, both sides got on rather well. Until that is on the 15th June 1859

On that auspicious date, a large black pig belonging to Charles Griffin, an Irish employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company accidentally wandered onto the land of American farmer Lyman Cutlar. Discovering it rooting in his potato patch and gorging on the spud the spuds an angry Cutlar shot and killed the offending pig. There is some indication that this was by no means the first time that Griffin had permitted his pigs to rub loose. Despite this, Cutlar offered to pay Griffin $10, but this was refused.

When British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, the American settlers appealed for military intervention. Hot-headed anti-British US General William S. Harney and Governor of British Columbia James Douglas both were soon at loggerheads. Eventually the pig in the potato patch came to involve a face-off with three warships, 84 guns and over 2,600 men. The affair continued to boil and bubble until October of that year when Governor Douglas ordered Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy in the Pacific Robert L Baynes to land on San Juan Island and engage American forces there.

His refusal effectively defused the rising tension. Both sides entered negotiations and it was agreed that each would station 100 men, the British on the north, Americans on the south, until a formal agreement could be reached. The US Civil War intervened, but in 1872 an international commission led by Kaiser William I of Germany awarded the entire island to American control. So ended the Pig and Potato War.


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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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