Encampment captures 19th century life

Re-enactors from throughout the Pacific Northwest and Canada will once again celebrate peace as they gather for the 17th Annual Encampment scheduled Saturday and Sunday, July 25-26 on the English Camp parade ground.

Re-enactors from throughout the Pacific Northwest and Canada will once again celebrate peace as they gather for the 17th Annual Encampment scheduled Saturday and Sunday, July 25-26 on the English Camp parade ground.

The weekend includes recreations of mid-19th century Royal Marine Light Infantry and U.S. Army camp life, demonstrations of music, blacksmithing, spinning and weaving, sewing, cooperage and carpentry, along with the pageantry of period uniforms in scarlet and blue. Black powder rifled musket demonstrations and the firing of howitzer also are planned both days.

Mike Vouri, chief of interpretation and historian for San Juan Island National Historical Park, explained that the encampment aims to capture the celebratory spirit of the 19th century camps, when American and British camp would march together and celebrate holidays, including Christmas, the Fourth of July and Queen Victoria’s birthday. Typically the men would participate in athletic contests, imbibe in spirits and other refreshments and usually host a dance to which the community was invited. Vouri says that’s the spirit that the annual Encampment captures.

“It recreates that comradeship, that peacefulness,” Vouri said. “And it’s really a good opportunity to learn about 19th century life from these really knowledgeable people.”

This particular Encampment will be special for Vouri because it will be his last time at Encampment as an employee of the National Park Service, as he retires from NPS in September. Saturday, July 25, activities will include a ceremony honoring longtime park volunteer Jim Meredith, who passed away last December. Meredith could be found most summer weekends at English Camp, proudly wearing his red-and-blue woolen British uniform and explaining what it would have been like to be a Royal Marine on San Juan Island during the joint military occupation, 1860-1872. He was honored in 2013 as “Volunteer of the Century” by the park, and in 1998 was made an honorary Royal Marine by Royal Marine headquarters in England.

Saturday will conclude with the Candlelight Ball, scheduled at 7:30 p.m., in the English Camp barracks. The public is invited to join in the dancing and refreshments that will include the traditional cake and punch. Music for contra dancing will be provided by the Pig War Band.

“When you see the candlelight, hear the period music and see the dancers dressed in period clothing, combined it’s a pretty sight,” Vouri said.

Since its inception in 1998, Encampment commemorates the peaceful joint occupation of San Juan Island by British and American forces from 1859 to 1872, and final settlement of the Northwest Boundary dispute.

The Encampment tradition was renewed in 1998 on the occasion of the dedication of English Camp’s 80-foot flagpole, a gift to the park by the people of the United Kingdom. The event, jointly planned by the park and Michael Upton, the British Consul General in Seattle, drew nearly 600 people to the parade ground, including distinguished guests and officials from both nations. The 2009 Pig War Sesquicentennial Encampment drew more than 5,000 visitors over the two-day period.

For more information about or participating in Encampment 2015, call Doug Halsey at 378-2240, extension 2228 or e-mail him at douglas_halsey@nps.gov; or Mike Vouri, 360-378-2240, ext. 2227 or email mike_vouri@nps.gov.Disabled persons should call the park at 378-2240, ext. 2226, or 378-4409 for access info.

– Anna V. Smith contributed to this story.