Wednesday, February 20, 2019

History of Smuggling in the American San Juan Islands

History of Smuggling in the American
San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands, a remote island paradise in the Pacific Northwest seem serene but have a turbulent history.
Image by Janalyn Voigt (all rights reserved).

Mists often shroud the San Juan Islands, an archipelago off the coast of Washington state. Add to this an intricate network of waterways, hidden harbors, secluded coves, and an international border, and it's easy to see why smuggling became an important industry in the San Juan Islands.

Following the signing of the Treaty of Washington between the United States and Britain in 1871, the San Juan Islands became an American territory. Shortly thereafter, the United States imposed import duties on woolens, silks and other goods entering the San Juan Islands. Many local residents didn't take well to having to pay for something they'd long received for free, so they simply ignored the law.

In response to popular sentiment that the immigrants from China were robbing American nationals of jobs, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned Chinese workers from entering the United States for the next ten years. This gave rise to the smuggling of Chinese laborers to build railroads and work in the mines. Thousands of illegal immigrants were willing to pay $100 a head for transport from China.

Illustration, "Central Pacific Railroad–Chinese Laborers at Work." Public domain image.
Lawrence "Pirate" Kelly and Ben Ure, both notorious smugglers, operated from a base on Ben Ure Island just off Washington state's Deception Pass. Ure is said to have tied illegal Chinese immigrants into burlap bags, to be thrown overboard when customs agents approached. Dead Man's Bay off San Juan Island, came by its name because the tide often washed the bodies ashore at that location.

In 1890, high tariffs were placed on the importation of opium, which led to this drug becoming a profitable item for smugglers.And in 1919, the Volstead Act ushered in Prohibition, creating a market for bootlegged alcohol until 1933, when Prohibition was repealed and "rum running" ended. Cigars and wool were also smuggled to avoid tariffs and turn a profit.

Drug smuggling continues in the San Juan Islands, today. One of the most recent incidents occurred in August 2015, when a Coast Guard crew confiscated 24 kilograms of the drug, MDMA (known as ecstasy or molly), from a boat near San Juan Island in August 2015.

As long as there are taxes, laws, and a profit to be made from circumnavigating them, smuggling will go on, and the seclusion of the San Juan Islands makes them one of its favorite locations.

Deceptive Tide

When murder comes to a peaceful island paradise, what you don’t know could just kill you.

Piper Harrington, struggling to build a new life after her husband’s plane crash leaves her widowed, travels to a remote island in the Pacific Northwest to research a novel. She checks into a resort condominium near the Moran mansion on Orcas Island and soon encounters a wounded teenage girl who seems followed by trouble. Piper wants to help Lindy, but a series of unsettling events lead her to believe she has, herself, become the target of a stalker.

A spectral figure resembling the ghost said to haunt the historic mansion has her questioning her sanity. She has never felt more alone, even while two men vie for her attention. One has an air of charm, while mystery surrounds the other. Remaining heart-whole seems the only way to protect herself, but both become increasingly impossible.

About Janalyn Voigt

author Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. Look for her upcoming romantic mystery and western historical fiction releases. This multi-faceted author also writes in the fantasy genre. Beginning with DawnSinger, Janalyn's epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, carries readers into a land only imagined in dreams.

Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary Agency. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, she loves to discover worlds of adventure in the great outdoors with her family.


  1. Thanks for the interesting post. I love visiting the San Juan Islands.

  2. Very interesting post! Dead Man's Bay...creepy! And the plot for your books sounds intriguing!