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  • D.J. Richardson

Stephen and Lucinda Boyce: San Juan Island Settlers Who Arrived Earlier than Previously Reported

Lucinda and Stephen Boyce were two of the earliest white settlers on San Juan Island, and were contemporaries and neighbors of Flora Ross. Unlike Flora, who left San Juan Island after her divorce in 1866, Lucinda and Stephen spent the rest of their lives on the island, and cemented their places in its history.

But one fact about their lives on the island requires correction. It has often been written that they arrived on the island in March of 1860. This statement appears to be driven by a petition dated March 1860 that Stephen Boyce signed, demanding that the U.S. Army replace Capt. Hunt’s command of the U.S. occupational force with a return of Captain George Pickett. While the petition offers a date certain, Stephen’s signature on the petition is more suggestive of an earlier arrival, as it suggests that he had an opinion about the qualifications of Pickett as a commander, even though Pickett had left the island in December 1859.

In fact, Stephen and Lucinda Boyce were resident on the island far earlier than March 1860, and as early as late July 1859, according to two primary documents that place the couple on the island in the early days of the Pig War. This is preceded by family oral history that placed Lucinda in Victoria in late 1858 and 1859, where she raised their children in a tent on the edges of the city—including giving birth to her third child (the first of their marriage)—while Stephen sought their fortune along the Fraser River.

While the two documents placing their arrival on San Juan Island in the summer of 1859 are quite different by their nature, they are consistent by their content. The first document is an interview note in the archives of historian Hubert Bancroft, at Berkeley University, in which Bancroft reports basic facts about the earliest arrivals on San Juan Island. The note’s reference to the Boyces states that:

"S.V. Boyce [went up] Frasier in 1858. Settled on Island in July 1859. He built the first house, store and saloon in San Juan town."

Although the notes are undated, the Bancroft archives’ records suggest that they are based on interviews carried out two decades later, which raises potential unreliability as to precise dates. U.S. troops only landed on the island on the morning of July 27, 1859, and it is unlikely that the Boyces arrived and attempted any homesteading prior to the arrival of troops—particularly as no such reference is found in the journals of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Bellevue Farm. But at the very least, it is a reference to the family’s arrival on the island during the early days of the Pig War.

The more detailed document—and also somewhat more reliable—is a civil Complaint filed in the District Court for Whatcom County on January 9, 1861. The Complaint, styled Bowker v. Boyce, was written by Port Townsend attorney Paul Kinsey Hubbs, Sr., who was the father of San Juan Island pioneer Paul Kinsey Hubbs, Jr., and was the father-in-law of Flora Ross (and who is often mistakenly claimed to have been her husband). Hubbs Senior represented John S. Bowker in an action to sue Stephen Boyce to resolve liability over a shared debt from their saloon business that had been collected from Bowker, but which Bowker claimed was a debt of Boyce’s to resolve.

While court pleadings typically contain one side of a story, they are also important statements of the facts as they were perceived, or at least alleged, by one side of the dispute. Of course, a fact stated in a Complaint is simply an allegation in the historical record unless it was subsequently proven at trial, or attaches sufficient evidence. But pleaded facts that are offered as background information are less likely to be the subject of dispute between the parties, unlike highly disputed allegations that go to issues of liability. In this case, Bowker alleges through his attorney that he and Boyce operated a saloon during the Pig War in the small, upstart town of San Juan village.

The Complaint explains that the departure of the vast majority of the U.S. soldiers following a joint occupation announcement left the two businessmen with no choice but to close down their saloon. To resolve their respective liability for the saloon’s outstanding debts, they

turned to three men to serve as arbitrators, one of whom was Paul Kinsey Hubbs, Jr., then in the process of marrying Flora Ross and building their homestead on the point known today as Cattle Point. The other two men who arbitrated the dispute were D.F. Newsom and H.H. Hazel. The Complaint also attaches the documents that evidence the debt, including a receipt for the purchase of certain liquor from G.A. Reynolds & Co., wholesale liquor merchants in Victoria.

While the Complaint provides insight into when the Boyces arrived on San Juan Island [i.e., early enough to have a functioning saloon in operation by October 10, 1859], and the nature of the business they operated during the Pig War, it also raises a few questions. Dueling U.S. and British magistrates, Henry Crosbie and Major John

DeCourcy, respectively, are frequently described as having worked together during the Pig War to shut down whiskey peddlers. Yet Boyce and Bowker appear to have run a viable business as long as there were enough soldiers on the island to consume their product. It suggests that, despite references to a broad campaign of the magistrates, the authorities may have overlooked businesses that sold liquor by the glass rather than by the barrel or demijohn.

At the very least, however, these documents demonstrate that these early settlers on San Juan Island arrived about eight months before the most cited date of arrival, at the outset of the Pig War.

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