The signing of the Treaty of Washington on June 15, 1846 created Point Roberts as a geopoliticized entity. On June 15, 2021, Point Roberts celebrates its 175th birthday!
The Treaty of Washington, also known as the Oregon Treaty (though the word “Oregon” is not used in the U.S. title of the treaty), extended the border between the United States and Great Britain along the 49th parallel from the continental divide to the Pacific Ocean, knowingly bisecting our peninsula, and thus creating our exclave.
Many people believe Point Roberts was created by accident – that the diplomats in Washington, D.C. and London were unaware the 49th parallel bisected the peninsula, or unaware of the peninsula at all, but this is not true. Point Roberts was well-documented on both American and British maps at the time.
American maps used in the negotiation were created when the U.S. Navy sent Charles Wilkes to the Salish Sea in 1841. The Wilkes Expedition spent over a week at Point Roberts in July of that year, a full half-decade prior to the treaty, precisely mapping points relative to the 49th parallel, including Point Roberts, the Lily Point reef, Boundary Bay and the mouth of the Fraser River. Wilkes clearly notes the proposed boundary line would bisect the peninsula, and that Point Roberts would belong to the U.S. This is not seen as a problem; his logs note the strategic desirability of having U.S. territory close to the mouth of the Fraser River and the abundant salmon in our waters.
As we celebrate 175 years of being a geographic exclave, we feel the ramifications of the treaty every day as the pandemic locks us in, yet we can celebrate the positive aspect of what the treaty created: a beautiful place in the Salish Sea where amazing history has happened, and continues to happen.
Happy birthday, Point Roberts! Mark your calendar and join us at the community center on Saturday, June 12 at 1 p.m. as Historical Society member and author Mark Swenson will give a talk on the history of our exclave as we celebrate our 175th birthday. Refreshments served.