The Confederate Saloon of Victoria, Canada

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Victoria - harbor view, 1859 Image source - Library of Congress

When gold was found in the Fraser River valley in western Canada in 1858, droves of gold miners abandoned California to try their luck on new ground. Within days the population of tiny Victoria, capitol of New Caledonia (now British Columbia), grew from 300 to 5,000, the majority young men eager for riches. Overnight what had been a tiny colonial outpost became a boomtown. It wasn’t just miners who followed the gold north. Hundreds of others came to the outpost on Vancouver Island, chasing the prosperity of a gold strike.

Among those who relocated to Victoria was a carpenter named Louis James Shapard. Born in Tennessee and raised in Texas, Shapard had left his motherless children with their grandmother and relocated to California in the 1850s, looking for work and a new start. Victoria must have seemed like an easier place to find jobs than San Francisco and about 1858 he moved to the growing city. Shapard was described by one acquaintance as a “good talker” who easily gathered friends. Despite having moved away, he was a passionate partisan for the South and when the Civil War broke out he became an ardent supporter of the new nation.

Shapard wanted to pay tribute to the Confederacy in a public way and in November of 1862, he found an opportunity. Victoria planned a grand celebration for the birthday of Prince Edward of Wales, Queen Victoria’s son, who was reaching his majority. Shapard rented a boot-blacking shop on a main street and hoisted a flag – the Confederate Stars and Bars. Supporters of the Union cause were outraged. About half of the population of the city were Americans, fairly evenly divided in their allegiances, so there were plenty to both applaud and decry Shapard’s display. The US Counsel to the province, an old friend of Abraham Lincoln’s named Allen Francis, rushed to lodge a formal protest with the province’s governor.

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Section of letter from US Counsel Francis Image source - WA Historical Society

The authorities insisted there was nothing they could do. Britain was, after all, officially neutral in the War. In a fit of pique, Union supporters pulled down their US flags. Some speculated that Shapard’s work as a part-time police constable had insulated him from punishment. By early afternoon Shapard felt he had made his point. He pulled the Stars and Bars down and turned it over to the police. Almost immediately the Stars and Stripes was hoisted on buildings and ships across town. The local newspaper reported that by the end of the day “scarcely anything was heard upon the subject.”

In August of 1863 Shapard found a new way to show his support for the Confederacy; he and a partner opened a bar and named it The Confederate Saloon. Sited on a central street, the saloon quickly became the place for Southern sympathizers to meet. Naturally, Shapard wanted to raise the Stars and Bars again. Having given his first flag to the police, Shapard obtained a new one, sewn by Southern ladies living in Victoria. Shapard made a point to raise the flag promptly every day at 9 am and take it down at sunset. Once again, the bold display of the rebel flag aggravated Union supporters and several made threats to remove the flag. Shapard was happy to enrage his opponents; advertisements for the saloon plugged the flag’s importance. His patriotism even extended as far as his children – his son, born in June of 1864, was christened Lee Jackson Shapard.

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Advertisement Image source - Royal BC Archives

The Confederate Saloon became a popular hang-out, and not only for those with ties to the South. One writer said the free lunches and “excellent rye whiskey cocktails” ensured steady traffic. Shapard also allowed gambling in private rooms. Since this was illegal in Victoria, he paid bribes to a local policeman to ensure there was no trouble. Eventually the bribe taking policeman was caught and Shapard and his partner, who served as bookkeeper, testified in court for several days outlining the payments.

The saloon became the central meeting place of a group of Confederate sympathizers who called themselves “The Southern Association.” Numbering about 50, the association included most of the well-known Southern expatriates in Victoria. Wanting to support the CSA, the group considered a number of a schemes to assist the rebellion. Much of their planning concentrated on a daring maritime raid. The group hoped to seize a ship and use it to commandeer a shipment of gold and silver leaving San Francisco’s branch of the US Mint. The association went so far as to apply to Jefferson Davis for a letter of marque, which would give them the legal right to act as privateers. Despite two requests, no one in the Confederate government responded.

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Image source - Official Records of Union and Confederate Armies

The failure to procure a letter of marque didn’t comfort US Counsel Francis. He wrote several warning letters to Washington, keeping them abreast of the plans. A four-gun, sidewheel steamer based in Puget Sound, the USS Shubrick, was considered a likely target. As a similar effort had been foiled in San Francisco harbor, Francis and the Union Army took the threats very seriously. Though many plans were hatched by the Southern Association, none attracted enough financial or official support to be enacted and the association, in the end, did no damage to the Union war effort.

Eventually the provocation of the Saloon’s flag was too much for some of the Northerners in town. A ship captain named Stratton had been particularly pointed in letting Shapard know he had plans to remove the flag. But when a group professing Southern sympathies came in one night and cheerfully bought the bar owner drink after drink, he suspected nothing. That evening Shapard, for the first time, failed to take the flag down at sunset. When the friendly young men finally left and Shapard went out in the dark for his flag, it was gone. Shapard suspected Stratton had been behind the trick but could prove nothing.

When Richmond fell and the Union supporters in Victoria held a noisy celebration, Shapard reacted in anger. He found Stratton at a bar near the Saloon and called him out. The two men began to fight, spilling from the bar into the street. Their bout turned so violent that Stratton’s beard, which he claimed to have never shaved, was pulled out by the roots! Eventually the men were separated and charges against them dropped. Though legend has it that Stratton’s beard never grew back in, he did get the last laugh. He had indeed put the group of friendly, drink-buying young men up to distracting Shapard the night the flag was stolen. The Confederate Saloon’s Stars and Bars had been turned over to US Counsel Francis, who mailed it off to Washington as a “prize.”

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Shapard and Stratton's fight Image source - University of British Columbia

The failure of the Confederacy was soon followed by the death of the Confederate Saloon. Shapard had begun calling in debts in March of 1865, saying he planned to soon leave the country and wanted all of his customers to settle their bills. Not certain his debtors would comply, he threatened them with public shaming. That tactic may not have worked. By November of 1865 Shapard’s partner, Alfred A. Townsend, had declared bankruptcy. Shapard and his family were already gone. His saloon days behind him, he returned to carpentry, taking a job in San Jose, California working on the railroad. He and his family then relocated to Arizona, where Louis J. Shapard died in 1896.

As a side note – it seems quite likely that Shapard’s wife, Jane Fisher, was also a part of Victoria’s history. Her name first appears in local records as a passenger on the Tynemouth, a ship that sailed from London with a “cargo” of young women settlers. Known as one of the “bride ships,” the Tynemouth brought 60 women recruited in London to address the imbalance of males and females in the growing colony. The arrival of what a local newspaper described as “an invoice of young ladies” was eagerly anticipated in Victoria and many of the women married not long after their arrival. If Jane indeed was on that ship, she would have been among the first to marry.
 
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