To the east of Cypress Island, nestled between Decatur Island and Obstruction Island, is Blakely Island. At 4700 acres, it is the largest of the non-ferry serviced islands in the San Juan archipelago.
Originally discovered by Jose Navarez in 1791, but in 1792 William Broughton and Archibald Menzies of the Vancouver Expedition examined the channels around Blakely with the following comments: “the land rose rugged and hilly to a moderate height, and was composed of mossy solid rocks covered with a thin layer of blackish mould which afforded nourishment to a straddling forest of small stinted pines. The shores were almost everywhere steep, rugged and cliffy.”
In 1841, the Wilkes Expedition christened Blakely Island in honor of Johnston Blakely, commander of the sloop-o-war Wasp during the War of 1812. After numerous daring exploits, Blakely was awarded a gold medal by Congress, only to have his ship and crew mysteriously vanish at sea.
On the island’s eastern shore, as well as the beaches both at the north and south ends of what is now the airstrip, were the sites of seasonal tribal villages. In addition to an abundance of fish, shellfish, and seabird eggs, Blakely Island provided hunting grounds, berries, wild celery, and roots to harvest for the Winter. For the smell of the tule reeds which grew on the island and coveted for making baskets, the Native Americans referred to Blakely Hum-Hum-Ilch.
During the territorial period, the mill town of Thatcher was established in Thatcher Bay. Until very recently, the pilings from that could be seen there.
One of the earliest inhabitants on Blakely was in the 1870 census listing Paul K. Hubbs, Jr. and his wife, Sasha, as the sole occupants. The son of a well-born Tennessee attorney, Hobbs, a leading figure in the San Juan “Pig War”, had been granted the exclusive privilege to the island where he grazed 400 sheep.
Ten years later, the census listed Hubbs’ occupation as fishing, but by this time, there were other settlers on the island. E.C. Gillette, a pre Pig War surveyor on San Juan Island for the Americans, went to Blakely in 1874 to raise sheep on the southeast side. He was actually the first San Juan County surveyor and later became a county school superintendent.
Sometimes it is interesting to look back in time…