McConnell Island, San Juan Archipelago, on left.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
Commander Wilkes had named the charming segment of land Brown Island in honor of 14 members of his crew with that surname. When the McConnell family took possession by squatting there in the 1880s their fame adhered to the place where they lived and it has been McConnell Island from then on.
'You'll have to lock things up or McConnell will come,' was the saying around West Sound. McConnell had a reputation for helping himself to anything he needed, whether it was sack loads of fruit from orchards or possessions left carelessly about.
There were two sons and a daughter in the family. It is difficult to separate the legends and apply them to individuals, for some lived respectably.
Kirk McLachlan remembered taking his horse to the island to help with some clearing. He entered the McConnell's boat house and saw it piled with boots and shoes. Next time he was there it was empty.
Smuggling was done in both directions across the Canadian border, beginning about 1893. On a return trip the boats were reported to carry opium and whiskey, sugar, and wool.
McLachlan recalled that one of the sons bought apples in the San Juans and sold them in British Columbia as produce of the Gulf Islands.
'We had to be careful to keep our names off the boxes he bought on this account,' McLachlan said.
More than once men of the family fell into the clutches of the law and served time. 'Old Man' McConnell apparently drowned near Oak Bay on Vancouver Island, the only trace left being his wrecked boat.
McConnell Island in later years was acquired by Professor Thomas Thompson of the U of Washington's oceanography department."
Lucile McDonald. The Story of the San Juans.
Deputy Collector Culver and Lieut. Ballinger sized a sloop at West Sound, Sunday night, belonging to Victor McConnell, and with which he has long been violating both the US and Canadian custom laws. The sloop was beached at the mouth of a little creek when seized and as it could not then be floated one of the men from the launch was left in charge of it and the officers returned for it from Friday Harbor about daylight Monday morning. The sloop was taken over to Port Townsend by the revenue launch, Monday, Mr. McConnell being taken over at the same time to make his explanations, if he has any, to the collector."
The San Juan Islander newspaper.
––An earlier post by local mariner Skip Bold, writing about the next inhabitants of McConnell Island, can be viewed here.
––Jack Thompson, son of Professor Thomas Thompson, wrote about the steamboat he and his brother Tommy operated from their summer home on McConnell Island. Click here.