One hundred and fifty years ago, on October 31, 1873, one year after Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany decreed that the San Juan Islands belonged to the United States and not to Great Britain, the Washington Territorial Legislature created San Juan County. For the next year, the new county was governed by Whatcom County.
Local historian Lynn Weber/Roochvarg's detailed and fascinating essay "Washington Territorial Legislature establishes San Juan County on October 31, 1873" described the situation islanders found themselves in.
"With the Kaiser's decision, the San Juan Islands were under the undisputed jurisdiction of Whatcom County, which promptly began to treat islanders as an integral part of the county population and therefore subject to the same taxes, administration, laws, and regulations as all other Whatcom residents. Many islanders hadn't really thought through all the implications of coming under Whatcom County jurisdiction. Among the first shocks was the discovery that Whatcom County imposed an eight-mil-per-dollar tax on personal property. Road taxes, poll taxes, territorial taxes, and school taxes were also collected. In order to vote, islanders (men only, of course) had to row to mainland Whatcom County and pay a $2 poll tax. And the residents were now subject to a variety of laws and rules that islanders, long accustomed to living almost completely independent of regulation and restriction, found annoying and frustrating."
"...The first session [of the Territorial Legislature] after the Kaiser's decision took place in Olympia beginning October 6, 1873. Islanders were ready and had their documents in order. On October 17, less than two weeks after the opening of the legislative session, N. T. Caton (1832-1916) of Walla Walla, Speaker of the House, presented a petition from islanders requesting the formation of a new "San Juan County."
"...Following procedure, after the third reading, the bill was immediately voted upon and approved unanimously by all members present. And little more than a week later, on October 31, 1873, islanders officially became residents of San Juan County."
Treat yourself to an indepth look at the formation of San Juan County and read Weber/Roochvarg's essay on historylink.org