Flora’s birth while her parents were camped overnight on San Juan Island, coincided with her parents’ journey to Fort Vancouver in the spring of 1842. While there, Charles Ross received instructions to shutter his Hudson’s Bay Company post at Fort McLoughlin, and use the lumber and other materials to begin construction of a new post that would become Fort Victoria. The expected international boundary that would be confirmed in the Treaty of Oregon of 1846 meant that the Company needed to abandon its administrative post along the Columbia River, and create a new administrative headquarters on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

Charles Ross died in 1844 after having completed the construction of Fort Victoria, of what is believed to have been appendicitis. Isabella was pregnant with their tenth child, William Ross, while Flora was barely two years old. Flora spent her first four years of life at Fort Victoria, but in 1846 Isabella moved the family to the southern end of Puget Sound and established a farm near Fort Nisqually, a Company post then run by Dr. William Fraser Tolmie. Flora returned to Fort Victoria when she was only nine years of age, to be enrolled in the Company’s school at Fort Victoria along with two of her brothers, where she lived at the fort throughout the year along with other children sent there for a proper education from Rev. Staines and his wife. It was a short time away from her family, however, as the Company sold lands surrounding the fort to Company families in 1853, and Isabella purchased farmland south of Victoria along the bays known today as Ross Bay and Foul Bay (then called “Fowl Bay”). Isabella returned to the area with her five youngest children and established a farm on the lands. The eldest, John, moved to San Juan Island to work at a new company farm, Bellevue Farm, before starting his own farm outside Victoria. The next eldest four Ross children—Walter, Elizabeth, Catherine and Charles Jr.—remained in Washington Territory. 

 

Flora was a girl of sixteen in 1858 when the Fraser River goldrush brought as many as twenty thousand miners to the region. Most of them were Americans who passed through Victoria, turning it overnight from a small trading fort into one of the largest cities on the west coast. But while some other girls her age were focused on marriage, Flora appears to have set her sights on a career in nursing. She enrolled in a new school run by the Sisters of St. Ann, an order of nuns who had arrived in the early days of the goldrush to provide education and nursing care to the small community, and later established Victoria’s first nursing school. It appears that Flora learned nursing skills from the sisters, as some references to her when she was living on San Juan Island after having withdrawn from the school refer to her as a “nurse,” or “Indian nurse.” 

 

Flora withdrew from the Sisters’ school on July 25, 1859. Her wedding announcement published in newspapers six months later describe her as being a resident of “Bellevue” on San Juan Island. This is almost certainly a reference to Bellevue Farm, where she may have gone to provide nursing care to the dying wife of farmworker Aleck Mcdonald, although it should be acknowledged that some referred to the entire island as “Bellevue” at the time. However, this is more than just speculation, given surrounding events and circumstances that would have made it highly unlikely that a girl of seventeen from a respectable Company family would have had any other means or purpose to be on San Juan Island during a military stand-off. On the day that Flora withdrew from the Sisters’ school, Aleck Mcdonald was in Victoria. According to the Bellevue Farm post journal, he had traveled there to see a doctor because he was not well, but his wife died just over two months later, and the only means to obtain a nurse for her care would have been to travel to Victoria. At that time, the only settlement on San Juan Island was Bellevue farm, and about two-dozen homesteads settled by Americans claiming the island for the U.S. 

 

The farm’s journal, recorded by farm manager Charles Griffin, does not record the arrival of a young nurse. But this would not be expected, as his journal only mentions the existence of women on three occasions. In each case, the reference to a woman is in the context of how the men were kept from their duties that day, such as the reference to how two workers had to make a coffin instead of fulfill their ordinary duties because Aleck’s wife had died—the post does not even mention her name. The farm had many women and children as residents, but their lives were not worth mentioning in the farm’s journal unless they interfered with the duties of the workers, and there would have been no reason to mention a teenage girl serving as a nurse for a farmworker’s wife.

 

Within two days of Flora’s withdrawal from the Sisters’ school, Britain and the United States nearly went to war over their maritime boundary dispute, with each claiming San Juan Island as one of their possessions. U.S. troops invaded the island in late July 1959, and set up camp near (and eventually directly beside) Bellevue Farm, while the Royal Navy maintained warships in Griffin Bay with their cannons pointed at the hillside. From that moment on, there were essentially three categories of women on San Juan Island: wives and daughters of settlers, farmworkers or solders; prostitutes camped on the beach; or Flora. Her wedding announcement would not have been the story that it was had she been a wayward Company girl living in inappropriate circumstances. Nor would Rev. Cridge have married her to her husband in Christchurch. While it is certainly possible that her reasons for living at “Bellevue” vary from the interpretation given here, there is no evidence pointing to another credible theory.

 

The San Juan Island military standoff was largely the product of the efforts of Paul Kinsey Hubbs, Jr., the U.S. Deputy Inspector of Customs on San Juan Island. Hubbs had lived an interesting life prior to his arrival on the island. He was born in September 1832, most likely in Philadelphia (though some reports claim Maryland), and spent much of his childhood in France during a period when his father had been a U.S. diplomat. His teenage years were spent in California in the midst of the goldrush era. And in 1853, he travelled to the north coast of British Columbia (then New Caledonia), where he claimed to have lived with the Haida for about three years, including taking one or more wives and participating in war parties (if his stories are to be believed). 

 

Hubbs returned to Washington Territory in 1856 and joined the U.S. Army, serving as a scout because of the skills he had reputedly learned living with the Haida. But in 1858, he accepted the posting on San Juan Island, largely a figurehead position to secure an official U.S. presence on the island. It was a quiet and lonely posting, until 1859, when the shooting of a Company boar by a U.S. settler created a minor disturbance and a threat of arrest by British authorities. Hubbs saw an opportunity to advance U.S. interests, and caused the settlers to sign a petition to the U.S. Army requesting assistance. On July 26, 1859, U.S. Army Company C, under the leadership of Captain George Pickett, landed on the island, commencing what is often referred to as the “Pig War of San Juan Island.”

 

Hubbs’ cabin, at the time, was located a few hundred yards to the west of Bellevue Farm. It is likely that he and Flora would have met shortly after her arrival, assuming they hadn’t met before at some event in Victoria. Six months later, Flora and Hubbs were married on December 6, 1859, at Christchurch in Victoria. The announcement of their marriage was published in the Victoria Gazette and New Westminster Times as a news story, which heralded the marriage as a second peace agreement for joint occupation of San Juan Island by an American and a British subject, coming as it did on the heels of a larger joint occupation agreement between the U.S. and British governments. That same marriage announcement also somewhat cryptically suggested the potential for future conflicts that might arise within their "joint occupation" and need reference to the courts for resolution.

I.  From Childhood to Marriage