The Confederate Saloon, 1863-1864
From my series on the history of saloons and hotel-bars of Victoria, 1851 - 1917
By Glen A. Mofford
The American Civil war had been raging for two years when Shapard and Townsend, opened the Confederate Saloon on August 1, 1863. The partners leased a modest two-story brick building on the north end of Langley near Yates Street in Victoria on Vancouver Island. William Shapard had been working in Victoria since arriving with his wife and daughter from San Francisco in 1858. He followed the news from home closely and watched as the political turmoil rapidly deteriorated into civil war. Shapard decided that he could not leave to enlist while his family were left to fend for themselves in Victoria, so he quit his job and opened his own saloon where he could educate others about the virtuous of the Southern cause. This article will take a look back into the brief but colourful history of the Confederate Saloon and its remarkable proprietor, William Shapard.
Shapard was a Southern sympathizer, and has been described as "keen, active and a good talker." But he could also be argumentative, stubborn and aggressive. Shapard and his partner Townsend ran the Confederate Saloon which, like many saloons of the 1860’s in Victoria, could stay open 24/7 with very few restrictions. The saloon became quite popular for its generous free lunches, excellent rye whiskey cocktails and its notorious gambling room where Cariboo miners, sealers, sailors, refugees from the southern states and local gamblers mixed and where fortunes were won and lost.
The saloon had attached a reading room that could also be used for clubs, organizations and private companies to hold their meetings, like the shareholders of the Muir Quartz Mining Company.
One could easily find the Confederate saloon as Shapard had erected a tall flag pole out front where he proudly flew the “Stars & Bars”, the flag of the Confederate States of America. It soon became a ritual, he hoisted the flag up the pole every morning precisely at nine o’clock and subsequently lowed the flag at sunset. He claimed the flag was on loan from the ‘Southern Ladies of Victoria’ who stitched it together in support of the Confederacy and to rally those with similar sympathy to his saloon
Victoria was made up of a wide range of nationalities in the 1860’s but most people came from the United States, Upper and Lower Canada or Great Britain. Those Americans loyal to the Union were not impressed with Shapard or his Confederate Saloon. They were especially infuriated by the Confederate flag which was like a red flag to a bull, and felt ‘something had to be done’ to quash this insult by Shapard and his rebel friends.
Tom Stratton was a loyal and passionate Unionist. He was a tall thin man with a long black beard which he continuously like to stroke while in conversation or when enjoying a beverage. Naturally Stratton and Shapard did not get along at all as can be seen in this brief but heated encounter they had on Langley Street, "One day” Stratton told Shapard, “If I could steal the Confederate flag I’d die a happy man.” To which Shapard retorted, "If you should steal that flag you will die, but whether happy or not I cannot say. At any rate the flag, when you steal it, shall be your shroud."
Stratton held a secret meeting with his friends and others loyal to the Union and a plan was hatched. They would send a group of five or six men into the Confederate saloon and pretend to be sympathetic with the Confederacy. They would catch Shapard and his friends off guard and steal the Confederate flag right from under Shapard’s nose.
One early afternoon Stratton set his plan in motion. He sent five of his friends into the Confederate saloon while Shapard was working behind the bar. They ordered a round and drank a toast to Jeff Davis and the Confederacy. Shapard joined in the toast as did the handful of Shapard’s friends who were already in the saloon. The conspirators continued to buy Shapard and his friends drinks and to share news and swap stories about the war. One drink led to another and as time wore on Shapard became quite relaxed with the new crowd which joined in with other regulars in the bar. Shapard, became so intoxicated that he forgot about lowering the flag at sunset and fell asleep as the next bartender went on shift. Meanwhile, one of Stratton’s men slipped outside and quickly lowered the flag which he then hid in his jacket.
Shapard woke the next day and as his wits slowly returned he walked out to the front of his saloon and found that his flag had been stolen. It didn’t take long for him to realize that he had been duped and after hearing a rumour that Stratton was boasting about stealing the flag, Shapard swore vengeance.
Shapard found Stratton sitting at Ringo’s Restaurant, not far from the Confederate Saloon. "You stole my flag", Shapard foamed. A fight ensued and blows were exchanged which quickly became an all-out brawl. When it finally ended the two combatants were bruised and bloodied and Stratton’s long black beard was in Shapard's left hand, pulled right off his chin during the altercation.
The flag was never found but it was revealed after the war that it had been turned over to the American embassy and sent to Washington, DC
Shapard left for San Francisco with his family in December 1865 or shortly afterwards. The two-story brick building that once housed the Confederate Saloon became a Post Office.
I never found out if Tom Stratton every grew a beard again.