Intermarriages

Graignic Family on Boat, City of Paris, San Juan Island, circa 1870-1889, Washington State Rural Heritage, San Juan Island Historical Museum.

Intermarriage is a common theme running throughout the history of Pig War and the water boundary dispute between the United States and Great Britian.  For example, two important players in the events surrounding the military standoff and joint occupation of San Juan Island: Lyman Cutler, the American settler that shot the Hudson Bay Company pig and George Pickett, the American General that stationed troops on the southern end of San Juan Island, were married to indigenious women. In fact, the 1870 U.S. census of San Juan Island recorded ten Indigenous women married to white men, one Native woman married to black man from Canada, and six Kanaka (Hawaiian) men with Indian wives. This group of interracial couples accounted for a signifant number of island’s civilian residents.  Early male settlers on San Juan Island lived outside the social restrictions of traditional society and Indeginous women proved to be ideal domestic partners with extensive knowledge of natural and seasonal resources of the region. The Indigenous women who chose to enter into interracial marriages were navigating a changing world where the land they lived on transitioned from Salish territory to a disputed borderland. 

Beginning in 1854, Washington’s territorial legislatures agreed to invalidate mixed marriages but anti-miscegenation was short-lived and the statute was rolled back in 1868. The years following the Indian wars in early Washington Territorial history, the Office of Indian Affairs had been working steadily to isolate Native people in reservation communities on the Washington mainland. The goals were to achieve a separation of Native people from the “influence” of unsavory whites and to assimilate Native Americans as subservient members of mainstream society.  Due to the prevalence of intermarriage between Indigenous women and white men, the process of controlled assimilation was compromised and resulting mixed-race children threated the goal of separation. The laws created to limit intermarriage also threatened to disinherit mixed-race children. Between 1865 and 1866, amendments put forward by territorial legislatures legitimized the mixed-raced progeny of white men while also limiting parental rights of their Indigenous mothers. 

Intermarriage is a common occurrence throughout the history of settler-colonialism because the first wave of settlers were men who claimed the bodies, progeny, and homelands of the Indigenous women. This is particularly true of the San Juan archipelago, where Euro-American explorers and settlers claimed a superior right of ownership over the region and used treaties to pressure Indigenous compliance, relocation, and marginalization. The American myth includes an image of a white female settler working the land in Washington territory.  In reality, the first marriages in the region were cross-cultural alliances and economic partnerships. As mentioned, intermarriage on San Juan Island was a common practice but as white settlement increase those families would fall outside the norms of local society and marriages of white men to full-blood Coast Salish women almost completely ended.  Interracial couples were forced to navigate racist laws that limited the spousal and parental rights if Indigenous women.

Sources:

Jagodinsky, Katrina. “A Tale of Two Sisters: Family Histories from the Strait Salish Borderlands.” The Western Historical Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2016): 27-49.

Jagodinsky, Katrina. Legal Codes and Talking Trees: Indigenous Women’s Sovereignty in the Sonoran and Puget Sound Borderlands, 1854-1946. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

Wellman, Candace. Interwoven Lives Indigenous Mothers of Salish Coast Communities. Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 2019.

Wellman, Candace. Peace Weavers: Uniting the Salish Coast through Cross-Cultural Marriages. Washington State University Press, 2017.

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