cover of Blakely Island in Time

cover of The Pig War


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Local History and Peace Efforts © 2006

The Pig War: Standoff in Griffin Bay © Michael Vouri


Blakely--Island in Time © JoAnn Roe

I’ve always loved the fact that I live on a piece of ground that was disputed territory and that the dispute between the two nations was settled peacefully.

My visits to American and English Camp, however, have been more about natural than the historical experiences of the places: at American Camp I love to walk the beach or the bluff and watch for eagles, harriers, and owls. I have to admit I have always evidenced a greater interest in digging for clams or gathering mussels at English Camp than the buildings left by the British occupation. While I’ve been out experiencing nature, I haven’t read much local history. 

This column focusing on local authors and books about the islands will surely review books about various aspects of the natural environment, but last month I faced up to reading some of historical literature about home. I started with Blakely: Island in Time, newly released by Montevista Press. JoAnn Roe chronicles Blakely island’s history starting with the geological forces that shaped it, through early pioneers, the unique subdivision that to this day houses most of Blakely’s homes, telling about the lives and adventures of islanders. The stories include a few interesting vignettes, there are some fabulous photographs, but the book is poorly edited and the proofreading is an embarrassment.

A late chapter of the book abbreviates the story of Malcolm Crowley’s purchase and gift of over two thousand acres of Blakely to preserve it from subdivision. In Roe’s telling, it is the story on one man with financial means who made the effort to protect a place he loved. As such, it is inspiring, but most of us don’t have the mean to buy up every property facing development. It’s too bad it’s not a story that shows most islanders how each of us can make a difference in preserving the special character of the places we love, and it is disappointing that author couldn’t translate her love of Blakely into a compelling book.

An important book about the significance of individuals shaping events is Mike Vouri’s The Pig War: Standoff at Griffin Bay, published by Griffin Bay Bookstore. It is a more difficult and much more rewarding book.  The Pig War isn’t just a cute story in Vouri’s hands; it’s a message from the past of how diplomacy can work.

It is well written and researched. Vouri tells the story in meticulous detail (perhaps relating the involvement of more characters than most readers can follow).  The actions and responses of a handful of historical figures (British Governor Douglas, American General Harney) on either side of the territorial dispute could have easily led to a bloody fighting war while, in fact, the responses of a handful of other figures (British Captain Hornby, British Admiral Baynes) prevented carnage.

Now is a good time to read history. Perhaps we can learn from it to preserve our natural heritage in the islands and around the world. With luck, we might all learn from history to be peacemakers in this current time of war for our country.

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