English Camp on San Juan Island
San Juan Historical Museum
Marriages between white settlers and native women were extremely common in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-nineteenth-century, for the simple reason that there weren't anywhere near enough white women to go around. The children and grandchildren of these unions were well respected in their communities. An English traveler to southern British Columbia in the late 1880s reported:
"…One evening I was standing in front of a shop on Fort Street, when a very pretty phaeton drew up, with a lady in it, charming enough in look and dress and style for Rotten Row [a very posh section of London]. This lady commenced a conversation with a friend upon the side-walk, and I heard what was said. She spoke with a decided London accent, certainly, but in perfectly cultured tones.
A man near me, whom I knew slightly, said to me, as she drove away--
"Well, what do you think of that for an Indian?"
I expressed unbounded surprise, at which he laughed, remarking, "Oh, you Britishers, what ideas you have! Why, some of the loveliest and most delightful women here have Indian blood. That lady is only one of many; they are as much thought of as others. She has several children, and they are pretty, too. I could show you as many such, who are half, three-quarters, whole Indian… they are usually very pretty, and generally extremely fascinating…" --Roper, Edward. By Track and Trail: A Journey Through Canada. London: W.H. Allen & Co Limited, 1891, pp. 241-244.
Before we left the museum I picked up a copy of the book Native American Wives of San Juan Island Settlers, written by Karen Jones Lamb, who has traced her own ancestors to the Tlingit tribe. In her book she reports, "Native wives blended aspects of their original culture with that of the men they chose as their life mates… Their relationships and marriages were long lasting… The women came from differing tribes from as far north as Alaska and as far south as Puget Sound. Some had been slaves captured by other tribes… Others had met their husbands in social situations right here in the islands. Some had been high caste Natives related in blood to chiefs… [T]hese women played vital roles in the development of the San Juan Islands." —Jones-Lamb, Karen. Native American Wives of San Juan Settlers Bryn Tiron Publishing, 1994. pp. 1-2.
San Juan Island is a truly beautiful place with a welcoming community and diverse heritage; I would recommend a visit to anyone!