Blockprints In The Barracks: Interior Finishes at Camp Pickett, San Juan Island


a. introduction
b. three wallpaper artifacts
c. wall and house context
d. Western territories context
e. paper-hangings context
f. the "Pig War" is resolved

a. introduction

The colored lines show disputed 19th century boundaries in the Northwest Territories. For over two decades, the British Empire and the United States contested the issue. In fact, they nearly went to war over it. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 had settled the boundary between the mainland and Vancouver Island by routing it though the middle of the channel separating the Strait of Georgia from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But what did the Treaty mean by "middle"? Rosario Strait (the red line) was favored by the British, while Haro Strait (the blue line), was favored by the Americans. More central yet was the green line (San Juan Channel) but this compromise route was rejected. The matter simmered for a dozen years. And then on June 15, 1859, Lyman Cutlar shot and killed a large black pig. The shooting was certainly justified. It was not the first time that the pig had enjoyed Cutlar's potatoes. Unfortunately, it was an English pig and an American settler.

We have to interrupt the progress of the "Pig War" since we have a lot of wallpaper ahead. All we really need to know is that soon after the pig died, twenty-one tents were being pitched on the southern tip of San Juan Island in order to house Company D, 9th Infantry, U. S. Army. The tents went up under the direction of Captain George Pickett. He was a Virginia native who would soon quit the U. S. Army and win lasting fame by leading a charge at Gettysburg.

Just as quickly, the Royal Navy established a camp on the northern end of the fifty square mile island. As the opposing forces dug in, Pickett's tent village was improved with wooden construction. Planks and battens from a U. S. fort guarding Bellingham Bay were re-purposed. This explains the traces of earlier paint found on the construction materials of the Officers' Quarters, the only building to survive. The study by art conservator John Twilley of Hawthorne, NY, also revealed

". . . a number of highly pertinent findings including the earliest use of white, tan and caramel-color paints and oil varnishes in conjunction with fauxpainting or graining treatments."

The camp was rude but not small and at one point included twenty-five buildings. Camp Pickett was used for military housing until 1874 and the Officers' Quarters evolved into the main farmhouse of a substantial property. At its largest, the farm consisted of 185 acres. The homestead was acquired by the National Park Service in 1955. The Officers' Quarters/farmhouse and the Royal Navy camp are now part of the San Juan National Historical Park. In an unusual and perhaps unique arrangement, the Union Jack still flies over the British camp.

The compilation of an interior finishes report for the five interior spaces of the Officers' Quarters'/farmhouse helps us understand how wallpaper was bought, sold and installed in the 19th century northwest. The earliest layers on the plank walls include three wallpaper artifacts: two wallpapers and a fabric liner. While the exterior is clad in horizontal weatherboard (a k a clapboard) the plank walls and interior battens are uprights; more important, some of the interior battens were removed and replaced with the linen underlayment prior to paperhanging.

b. three wallpaper artifacts

1. rounded scrollwork Pattern 01
2. pomegranate Pattern 02
3. linen layer

rounded scrollwork Pattern 01

Close to two dozen wallpapers and borders have been catalogued, but the grey and white pattern shown above is by far the earliest. The paper is pasted directly to the planks and battens of Room 01, one of two front rooms. Wavy scissor-trimming and mismatches are evident here and throughout the wallpaper installations of the home, mute evidence of inexpert hands. No doubt handymen and off-hours soldiers were pressed into service, since professional tradesmen from back East tended to settle in cities like San Francisco. They had little reason to visit outposts. An examination of the paper, as quoted from the report, showed the following:

The design is a volute type (commonly called scrollwork). It features grey or lavender rounded scrollwork on an off-white ground. . . The outlines of the grey color are unusually sharp and crisp. They are raised in comparison to the ground. The build-up of paint elevates this paper from common machine printed papers of the era, which utilized thin, runny inks on absorbent grounds. It is probably a blockprint. Pattern 01 is on a strong, relatively long-fibered paper that appears to pre-date 1870. The small (about 2" x 4") sample I received has a slight sheen to the off-white color. It appears to be a polished (satin) ground.

Paint and whitewash were applied as interior finishes during the 1859 construction. The report places the installation of this wallpaper at around 1863. It must have improved the quality of life for the inhabitants of the room. Despite the surroundings, it was a quality paper. A greater improvement came in 1867 with the erection of the lath and plaster shown encapsulating the scrollwork pattern. Many wallpapers followed.

At this point we need to return to the original plank construction to introduce two other wallpaper artifacts. In the adjoining front room, 02, this same pattern was found, but some pattern matching in the room was jumbled. At first, it seemed to researchers that the ravages of time had made the documents hard to read. And yet, little by little, another pattern, also grey and white, and also a foliate type, asserted itself. With patience (and some modern forensic tools) Michael Davis at Leavengood Architects traced out an entirely different pattern installed alongside the first. Two photos (middle and bottom) of the second pattern from the report along with a description are given below:

This pattern (called Pattern 02 in order to distinguish it from Pattern 01, the scrollwork paper) appears to depict a pomegranate or similar large fruit with large petals and blossoms, somewhat naive in rendering, with correspondingly large light-colored rough branches here and there in the pattern, which link up the floral.

The example of Pattern 02 in the bottom photo looks far more deteriorated than the example of Pattern 02 in the middle photo — and yet they are the same pattern. Pattern 02, which could be called an irregular damask, was not examined by this writer, but it is probably another blockprint. This attribution is based on a reported sheen in the background of the paper, indicating a polished ground, as well as on the pattern's similarity in color and design to Pattern 01.

A remarkable discovery, as documented in the middle photo, is that Patterns 01 and Pattern 02 were installed side-by-side. They were not just installed in separate rooms and happened to meet under some long lost partition. On the contrary, they seem to have been installed in media res, as if one strip of Pattern 01 was hung and then followed immediately by a strip of Pattern 02. Since both patterns run the full length of the wall there seems to be no other explanation.

From the report:

. . . buyers at retail stores in the far West were able to buy wallpaper. However, in many cases, the amounts of wallpaper were not always adequate. Complicating factors were a.) the distance involved from the production sources back east, and b.) the fact that a local retailer had to guess how many rolls to purchase from a supplier. Retailers also had to guess about which styles would sell. . . it is quite plausible that the Pattern 02 that we see overlapping the Pattern 01 was chosen in order to fill out a room lot. And, that this particular seam was where the switch between papers took place.
There are two additional reasons supporting this scenario. One, the tone, style, color and so on are so very similar. Two, the Pattern 01 (on right in digital photo) is pieced horizontally. It is likely that the paperhangers were running out of paper, and forced to make mismatches in order to complete the strips. In other digital photos of Pattern 02 (in Room 3) there are also examples of mismatches. It would seem that this was done not out of ignorance, but because the paper supply for the room was known to be short, and such shortcuts and emergency measures were necessary in order to finish the room.

The third wallpaper artifact is a fabric underlayment (3. linen layer) in Room 02, here described as linen, though the product goes by many names. This close-woven and strong material retains slubs (bumps) in the weave. It was found on top of pomegranate Pattern 02. It supported a "watered silk pattern", which unfortunately cannot be easily dated. The watered silk pattern seems to belong to either the Military Era (1859-74) or the early Agricultural era (1875-1900).  Of more significance is that a radical change had been made to the plank wall before the installation of the fabric. The battens had been removed.

underlayment and "watered silk" pattern

This change provided a smoother wall for the fabric, which was soon followed by new layers of wallpaper. The change was almost certainly made to improve the appearance of the room; to lift it up from its rude plank structure toward a monolithic and therefore smoother surface. It may be significant that this minor upgrade was done not in the rear of the small house, but in the front. The underlayment was found in the room adjacent to the front room already improved with lathe and plaster.

c. wall and house context

We turn now from the artifacts to their context. Below are wallpaper stratification diagrams for two test locations. The paper-hangings and linen appear near the bottom. There is an archaeological quality to the diagrams prepared by Leavengood, as they march backwards from around 1955, the year that the family left the house.

The top layer, the "Scalloped Edge/Festooned Pattern Salmon Pink on Light Tan Ground" border overlaying the "Plaid - Two Colors on Medium Tan Background" sidewall paper, was still on the walls in 1955. The diagram follows several more layers of paper before gray fiberboard intervenes. Several more layers surmount the lathe and plaster before the rounded scrollwork pattern is reached. Finally, we arrive at the plank walls which established Camp Pickett.

Similarly, Diagram 4 below retraces a chronological journey from the installation of two borders on a green painted beaverboard and three more strata of wallpaper before the linen layer is reached. The earliest wallpaper sits on the painted planks at the bottom. 

It's difficult to render decorative layers in old houses and the difficulty increases with the house's age. Yet, these diagrams are good models. Not only are the layers labeled, they're clearly separated, making visual and logical sense. Another advantage is how color and texture are used to suggest qualities of the artifacts. Finally, using descriptors such as "Golden Floral Pattern w/ Silver Diamond Pattern" is practical, even if the terms may be open to interpretation. Naming patterns helps researchers keep track among a multitude of artifacts.

d. Western territories context

 Paper-hangings were a popular interior finish material for long stretches of the 19th and 20th century, but few remain in place. The investigation at the Officers' Quarters/farmhouse is important because it documents a rare survival. The interior finishes report supplies some context for the use of wallpaper in the Northwest Territories. By 1854, two San Francisco businesses, 

. . .  J.C. Bell (Upholstery and Paper Hangings) and A.C. Messerve & Co. (Upholstery, Paper Hangings and Dealer in Millinery Goods) published ads noting that they offered “A fine assortment of paper hangings” or had paper hangings “constantly on hand.” A review of Puget Sound directories indicates that by 1860  . . .  Mr. Gambitz had recently returned from San Francisco with an assortment of clothing and household goods including “paper hangings” as well as carpets, rugs and oil cloths. By 1863 at least three Victoria companies specialized in “Paper Hangings” – John Banks & Co. (a painter and glazier) and Fawcett & Co. (an upholstery business) and Stemmler & Co. Upholsterers and Paper Hangers. Thus, by 1863 wallpaper products were popularly in use and appear to have been readily available for purchase in nearby Victoria (shipped there from San Francisco) and installation at Camp San Juan.

We know from a manufacturer's diary kept by Bumstead & Co., Boston, that East Coast mills often sent agents westward during the 1850's.

In 1852, Bumstead wrote in his diary that "Mr. O. [Oliphant, one of his partners] just returned from the West + North (Canada)…everything in the West must be white - the satins must be white - the cheap 7 ct papers must be white without a speck of any thing but white…".  Oliphant's efforts must have paid off because a few months later Bumstead recorded an order from Oliphant for  ". . . 12 cases paper hangings on board the Fleetwood to Fratsert [?] Hitchins, San Francisco.  Amounting to 772.51, insurance 21.25 = 793.76." Orders like this added up. The next year Bumstead writes that "On his Hayden's recent trip West he had taken orders for 298,000 rolls - amounting to $33,000."

The interior finishes investigation shows how the rude dwellings of the West were adapted for finery arriving from the East. Of particular interest is the documentation of the removal of the battens before canvassing. How many other rooms were improved in this way?

The fabric found at Pickett's Camp is sometimes called hessian, burlap, canvas, muslin, jute, or hemp. The heritage industries in Australia and New Zealand have long been aware of this transfer of material culture from England. In the mother country, underlayments for leather and fabric were common before 1700. The same transfer of material and methods took place in Haiti and other Caribbean islands, where settlers decorated with fabric underlayments commonly used in France. Denmark, too, was a precursor, for on a Danish sugar plantation in the 1830's (Kathrineberg, on St. Thomas), stretched and tacked canvas supported plain paper throughout. The paper was then decorated with earthy hues of plain distemper paint. Other fabric was used during the 1849 Gold Rush, when miner's cabins (probably the better types) were canvassed before wallpaper went up.

What was the purpose of the fabric? As we've seen, fabric smoothed the wall, but it did more. If wallpaper was pasted directly to wood in a hot climate, it was likely to split because of seasonal expansion and contraction of the wood. The slight air space resulting from stretching and tacking fabric prior to installation avoided this fate. Air spaces (especially deeper ones that resulted from tacking the fabric to firring strips) aided ventilation and discouraged insects. But, even if the fabric was tacked directly to planks, it stabilized the wallpaper, improving its appearance and longevity.

Previous layers were often left in place before repapering, resulting in thick "wallpaper sandwiches."  Restorers of primitive buildings have learned to watch for a most inexpensive and common alternative to fabric underlayments — newspapers. That these newspapers help researchers date the structure and the decorative changes in the lives of the inhabitants is obvious. Less obvious is the answer to another question: were multiple layers of newspaper, fabric and new wallpaper consciously used as a crude form of insulation?

e. paper-hangings context

It's not hard to find images of mid-19th century foliate wallpapers like those of Patterns 01 and 02. A book of European documents (Odile Nouvel, Wallpapers of France 1800-1850, Rizzoli, 1981) shows similar patterns dating from 1841 (fig. 131), 1845-50 (fig. 135), and 1845-50 (fig. 137). All are blockprints, and the first two are satin grounds. Another example turns up in the background of a charming folk art oil painting: Cats and Kittens, (c. 1872-3, National Gallery of Art). These sedate grey and white or ton-sur-ton types projected cool sophistication and were popular. They seem mainly French in origin. They were quickly copied by native paperstainers for a burgeoning middle-class American market.

The cost of wallpaper as it moved West is not well established, and yet documentation hints at how much Patterns 01 and 02 may have cost. The records of the National Park Service show that in 1847 wallpaper purchased around the time of the construction of a house by John Dominis in Hawaii included:

• 28 rolls of paper hangings #2063 at 70 cents
• 32 rolls of paper hangings #1280 at 42 cents
• 26 rolls of paper hangings #4628 at 70 cents
• 20 rolls of paper hangings #4567 at 28 cents.

Dominis was a ship's captain, and a Boston native. After he married the Queen, the house would be known as Washington Place. The large number of rolls in the entries above suggests that Dominis may have been re-selling the wallpaper as well as using some for his own home. Bumstead's diaries also list paper-hangings with four-digit codes: for example, patterns were recorded labeled "3322", "3026"  and "4213" in 1841; and "2340" and "2342" in 1849. All were French papers.

If there seems a large gap between the prices of Dominis' papers, which ranged from 28 to 70 cents, and Bumstead's reference to his "cheap 7 ct paper" in 1852, it is partially explained by two trade conventions. First, Bumstead was recording wholesale costs in his diary, not selling costs; and secondly, a higher price was applied whenever the paper changed hands, from France to Boston to points west. For example, records at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum show that in 1857, 100 rolls of "# 9407 Satin Wallpaper" were sold by the Croton Manufacturing Company of New York to distributor Henry Corbett of Portland for 28 cents a roll.

Corbett's records show that he sold 34 rolls of "# 9407" to Reid & Hughes (almost certainly a local retailer) for 50 cents a roll. No doubt the consumer who bought a room lot of 6 or 8 rolls from Reid & Hughes paid yet more for # 9407.

It's not clear what the future holds for Patterns 01 and 02 at the Officers' Quarters. However, the report makes the following suggestion:

 . . . [that] all (or substantial portions) of the high quality lavender/grey/off-white, block-printed paper that is encapsulated in Room 1 ought to be further uncovered, conserved and preserved in situ. It is an intrinsic part of the military era history and its conservation would provide an unusual opportunity to preserve and interpret a unique c.1863 wallpaper type and installation.


f. the "Pig War" is resolved

Now, what about that Pig War?

It's true that Lyman Cutlar shot Charles Griffin's pig, but it's also true that the shooting was for just cause – unauthorized potato eating. The real problem was that Cutlar (an American settler) and Griffin (an employee of the British-owned Hudson Bay Company) couldn't agree on the value of the pig. Since both men appealed to higher authorities, and since the ownership of the island had never been established, their respective nationalities put the matter on a fateful course. Cutlar was accused of trespass and threatened with arrest by a British magistrate for simply living on the island. The American authorities soon received a petition from Cutlar and seventeen other settlers asking for military protection. The petition was accepted, and company D, 9th Infantry of the U. S. Army, led by Captain Pickett, arrived in San Juan on July 27, 1859.

Meanwhile, the British governor moved to expel all American settlers, not just Cutlar.  The Pig War was on. Though the confrontation grew from a small and almost ludicrous event, it was no small matter. Like the boundary negotiations which had dragged on from 1846 to 1859, the Pig War lasted more than a decade. At the height of tensions, 461 U. S. combatants with 14 cannons confronted 2,140 British seamen with 5 warships mounting 70 cannons.

Perhaps because they occupied an island which was no more than twenty miles long by six miles wide, the rivals found ways to coexist. They shared off-hour activities like horse racing, and even wheelbarrow racing during holidays, not to mention that perennial pastime of military men – hard drinking. The ownership of San Juan Island was finally decided in 1872, and the camps were disbanded in 1874. We could say that hostilities ceased, except that hostilities had never really started.

The only casualty of the war was the pig.

Acknowledgements, Sources and Further Reading:

This article would not have been possible without permissions from Jerald Weaver, Chief of Integrated Resources, San Juan Park. Also, thanks are due to Leavengood Architects/Krafft & Krafft Architecture/CRM for permission to quote from their "Interior Finishes Report, Officers' Quarters (HS-11) at American Camp, PMIS No. 132727." The report (which included my comments as wallpaper consultant) was produced for the National Park Service, San Juan Island National Historical Park, on Nov. 11, 2011. It is based in part on previous work for the NPS by Harold LaFleur (1977) and by Heath, Walters and Lemchen (2005). Michael Davis at Leavengood Architects deserves recognition for his innovative methods of investigating and cataloging the extant wallpaper.
Special thanks to those who helped me with the Corbett billing records on the West Coast: Amy Bowman (Oregon Historical Society), Uta Hussong-Christian (Oregon State) and Patricia Richards (University of the Pacific).
The image of San Juan Island and surrounding area is used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License and can be found at:
The Croton Manufacturing Company bill is from the Warshaw Collection at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum; the Henry Corbett Day Book is housed at the Holt-Atherton Department of Special Collections, University of the Pacific; there is a copy of Josiah F. Bumstead's Factory and Store Memorandum, 1840-1868, with finding aid, in the archives of Historic New England in Boston.
The "Pig War" has been ably chronicled by Michael Vouri, Chief of Interpretation at San Juan National Historic Park; see especially The Pig War: Standoff At Griffin Bay (1999); an informative web page giving the highlights is at:

Copyright: © 2012 Robert M. Kelly. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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