An Impartial and Authentic Account of the Civil War in the Canadas/Chapter X
Description of the Niagara River, and of the surrounding country — Occupation of Navy Island — Van Renssellaer — Increase of Force — M'Kenzie's Proclamations — Militia on the Frontier — Head quarters at Chippewa — Destruction of the Caroline — Affidavits — Governor Marcy's Message — President's Message thereon — Action of Congress — Effects of the Outrage — Its character investigated — Communication to the British Minister.
In accordance with the plan which we have pursued in other cases ;173 we commence this Chapter with a topographical description of the scene of the transactions which it is designed to record, illustrating the same with the sketch placed at the head of the chapter.
The river Niagara connects together lakes Erie and Ontario, flowing from the former to the latter in a direction nearly due north. It is a portion of that great chain of waters flowing from the great western lakes to the ocean, and comprising lake Winnipeg, the lake of the Woods, lakes Superior, Huron, Erie, Ontario, and the river St. Lawrence. Though one chain of waters, the "great river of Canada" is known at different parts of its course under different names. Between lakes Superior and Huron, it is called the Sault Ste. Marie, or falls of St. Mary ; between lakes Huron and Erie, we have the river St. Clair, expanding into the lake St. Clair, and when it again contracts, taking the name of the Detroit river ; between Erie and Ontario, it is called, as already stated, the Niagara; below lake Ontario to the ocean, it is called the St. Lawrence ; though, until very lately, that portion lying between Montreal and the last named lake, was called the Cataraqui, or Iroquois.174
Besides connecting the lakes, it divides the British from the United States' territory ; the province of Upper Canada ... on its left or western shore, the state of New York on the right or east.
The whole length of the river is about thirty-six miles and a half; namely, twenty-three miles and a half from lake Erie to the falls, and thirteen from the falls to lake Ontario. The fall of the river in that distance is 334 feet, distributed as follows.
|Lake Erie to the rapids||23||15|
|The falls to Queenston||6||104|
|Queenston to Ontario||7||2|
Buffalo, which was the principal scene of our last chapter, stands at what may be called the neck of lake Erie, on the New York shore. It owes its importance to the great Erie canal connecting the waters of the Hudson with lake Erie at this point ; hence it is the great emporium of the lake trade. Its population is probably about equal to the present population of Toronto, as it contained 8668 inhabitants in the year 1830, and the rate of increase which it exhibits is much larger. It is tolerably well built, and exhibits all the bustle of an American trading town, some of its inns being capable of accommodating from 100 to 200 lodgers. Some idea of the extent of its trading may be formed from the fact, that in 1836, a bankruptcy occurred there to the extent of 1,000,000 of dollars. In 1814, the town was burned by the British, one house only being left — a circumstance which may help to account for the recent exhibition of sympathy with the Canadians.
About three miles below Buffalo, on the same shore, stands Black-rock, which is a mere village. To Buffalo, however, it is of considerable importance, as it affords a safer shelter to the lake craft owned there, Buffalo being open to the lake, and lying extremely low. There is a good deal of ship-building carried on here for the lake trade, and there is a constant communication with the British shore by means of a ferry. Black-rock was partially destroyed during the late war, but has since lost all vestiges of that event.
On the British shore, nearly opposite to Buffalo, stands fort Erie. It was blown up during the war, and has not been thoroughly repaired since. Here the English were repulsed by the Americans in 1814.
The village of Waterloo stands nearly opposite to Black-rock, but is a place of small note. The islands in this part of the river are of no importance ; they are Bird Island at the entrance, Squaw Island further up, and Strawberry Island, on approaching Grand Island. The river along this part of its course is broad and smooth.
Grand Island, which divides the Niagara river into two channels, is twelve miles long, and seven miles broad at its widest part, containing nearly 18,000 square acres. It belongs to the State of New York. Some years ago an enthusiastic Jew, named Mordecai Noah, the editor of a newspaper in the city of New York, formed the plan of planting a Jewish settlement here. It did not succeed, however, as the quiet pursuits of agriculture have no attraction for that trading race.
In the eastern channel of the river is the mouth of the Tonnewanta creek, twelve miles of which form a portion of the Erie canal.
Immediately below, and north of Grand Island, lies Navy Island, where M'Kenzie and his friends, with their allies from Buffalo, fixed their camp. Navy Island belongs to the British, and contains no more than 320 acres of surface. It is covered with wood, and lies low towards the eastern channel, rising to about 8 or 10 feet towards the western or British side. This arises from the western stream being somewhat swifter than the other, so that it has in a manner worn away the banks, and rendered them precipitous. This circumstance, together with the fact of its being covered by Grand Island, belonging to a friendly, or at least a neutral power, rendered it of all other places, the best suited to the purpose of the insurgent patriots. First, there was great facility of communication with the New York shore, by which they were enabled to receive men, arms, ammunition and provisions without difficulty or risk ; second, the stream was swift enough, and moreover the Island near enough to the rapids, to render the approach of a hostile force almost out of the question, except from Grand Island, where a political difficulty stood in the place of a physical difficulty — Grand Island belonging to the United-States, could not be occupied by a hostile British force.
Chippewa is a village, situated at the mouth of a river or creek of that name. It is within the range of guns or mortars from Navy Island. Close to this place, a battle was fought in the summer of 1814, which, like all the American engagements where the rifle was used, was severe. Both sides claimed victory, but the Americans had rather the advantage.
At Chippewa, there is a remarkable spring, or rather part of a stream of water, emitting sulphuretted hydrogen gas, which readily ignites on the application of a lighted candle. It is called the burning spring. The most singular feature of this gaseous stream is, that it appears at several places in the State of New York, as well as in Upper Canada, being unbroken by the great river which separates the two countries.175
Fort Schlosser, a fort no longer, and scarcely a village, but merely what the Americans call a landing, (that is, a steam-boat wharf, near some great thoroughfare or place of traffic,) is on the eastern shore. It is from this landing, that the camp at Navy Island was supplied. The lake craft venture no lower than Fort Schlosser ; there is, however, a ferry to Chippewa, and the passage is safe by daylight, and to experienced hands, even to Goat Island.
At the distance of about a mile and a quarter from Chippewa, are the falls of Niagara. The river is here divided into two channels by Goat Island, which is within the territory of the United States. The British fall, though irregular in its form, approaches to that of a semicircle, and is for that reason, called the Horse-shoe fall. Its height is about 150 feet. The American fall is somewhat lower down the river, which gives it a greater fall, namely, 162 feet ; its form is that of a vast curtain. The two falls stretch across the river in a diagonal direction, making the whole circle, comprising the falls, the island, the Canada shore, and the ferry below, to occupy about a mile and a quart-er, and forming one of the most magnificent panoramas in the world.
From Chippewa to Queenston, about seven miles below the cataract, the land rises rather than falls; whilst, at the same time, the bed of the river has a fall in that distance of upwards of 300 feet ; it follows, that Queenston heights are at least that height above the bed of the river. Here, however, the high land suddenly terminates in a ridge, stretching east and west through the state of New York, and the province of Upper Canada, and at right angles with the Niagara river. Just below the heights, are the villages of Queenston on the Canada side, and Lewistown or that of New York. On the height, there is a monument erected to the memory of Sir Isaac Brock, who fell at the battle of Queenston. This monument is in appearance not unlike the column erected to the Duke of York at the Carlton entrance to St. James's Park. It commands one of the most extensive prospects in the world; the eye ranging over the Niagara district, to the west ; deep into the state of New York, to the eastward ; and commanding the ocean-horizon of Lake Ontario, to the north. The view of the heights from the river below is also magnificent in the extreme.
It is conjectured, that the cataract once fell over this ridge. Certain it is, that in every part of the river, between Queenston and the falls, the banks, as already stated, bear the appearance of having been cloven; and as the fall has retired within the memory of man, and is indeed continually wearing away the rocks, it comes quite within the range of geological calculation to say at what period the falls may have been so much lower down. On this subject, more will be said at a proper place.
It now only remains to state, that at the mouth of the Niagara river, both the Americans and the British maintain a fort on their respective territories. Fort George, on the English side, is situated close to the town of Newark, sometimes called Niagara, which was burned by the Americans during the last war. It is now, however, in a thriving condition. Fort George seems to be kept open only to frown on Fort Niagara, where the United States' government have a garrison.
Let us now return to M'Kenzie and his party. On the 15th of December, they took possession of Navy Island, which has been already described. Their force, at this time, amounted to about 500 men. They had with them, four pieces of artillery, namely, three brass six-pounders, and one nine-pounder. They were fully supplied with small arms, and with ammunition, both for their musketry and artillery ; and in every respect, they appear, by the published accounts, to have been in a condition to defend their post, until they were prepared to effect a landing on the main shore. Of the force on Navy Island it was computed, though on what evidence we have not discovered, that half consisted of Canadians, and the other half of American citizens. Among the latter, was Mr. Van Renssellaer, son of the patroon of Albany, who is the largest landed proprietor in the State of New York.176 This gentleman was precisely the person they wanted. He had been educated, partly at a private military academy, near Philadelphia, and partly at the celebrated public academy at West point, on the Hudson ; and is stated by those who knew him as a boy, to have been of a bold, dashing, and somewhat reckless character ; always delighting in those adventures which involved some personal danger, and carry with them a certain degree of schoolboy-glory. This disposition, cooled down by the sobriety of manhood into energy of character, is of all others, the quality wanted in an insurgent chief; and, it is not to be wondered at, that to him the military command was assigned, whilst M'Kenzie himself acted as the chairman pro tempore of the provisional government.
Having thus established themselves on the island, their force increased from day to day. On the 16th they were joined by thirty-six men, with a six-pound brass field piece, two bales of ball cartridge, one barrel of powder, and from 50 to 100 pounds of shot. These, it is stated, came from the government forces at Chippawa. The arms which we described in the last chapter as having been taken from the various arsenals within reach of Buffalo, and those collected from private sources also, found their way to the Island. By the 23rd of December, they had on the Island twelve pieces of artillery and one mortar, with abundance of ammunition. Various accounts were current in the papers relative to the number of persons on the Island ; the most probable statement is, that at this time the enrolled and organized force was 523, besides a number of persons employed in various ways.
On the same day, Mr. Jesse Lloyd, one of those for whom a reward had been offered, arrived at the Island, in company with several others. They had undergone severe hardships from hunger, exposure, and fatigue, having coasted down Lake Erie for upwards of forty miles in an open boat, with high winds and intense cold. Mrs. M'Kenzie also joined her husband at the same time, having obtained a pass from the governor.
We have already described the character and position of Navy Island, and especially the difficulty, amounting almost to impossibility, of approaching it from the Canadian shore. This difficulty was, if possible, still further increased by the expedient adopted by the garrison. The Island we have seen is covered with immense trees ; those standing on the side opposite the Canadian shore, were thrown down with their bushy tops towards the river, thus making a barrier almost impenetrable to an invading force. Within this outwork a ditch was dug, and behind this ditch, the batteries and raised works were thrown up. In all these arrangements, more than ordinary attention was paid to the point of the Island which was naturally the weakest ; namely, the southern point, lying towards Grand Island, upon which boats might easily drop without danger of being swept into the rapids. On the approachable side, the defences were especially attended to by Mr. Van Renssellaer, and the point was moreover constantly guarded with the utmost vigilance. The side of the Island opposite to the American shore was less vigilantly watched, though by no means neglected. Indeed, the constant intercourse which was going on prevented the possibility of a surprise from that quarter, even had their enemies been so minded.
On the 19th of December, a proclamation was issued, offering both land and money to those who would assist in working out the independence of Upper Canada. The proclamation offering these inducements runs as follows :—
Three hundred acres of the most valuable lands in Canada, will be given to each volunteer who may join the patriot forces now encamped on Navy Island, U. C. Also, one hundred dollars in silver, payable on or before the 1st of May next.
By order of the committee of the provincial government. W.L.Mackenzie,
Chairman, Pro Tem.
Navy Island, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 1837.
Sir Francis Head called this a scheme for robbing the bank ; but that is his usual mode of speaking and writing. There is no evidence of any such design on the part of M'Kenzie or his associates. What they hoped — what they were expressly in open rebellion for, was to establish a democratic government. Having done this, they would have ample means of fulfilling the contract stated in the above proclamation, by a vote of the legislature. The implied condition of the above proclamation ; namely, in the event of success, would be understood by every one joining the insurgent patriots. No one would join the camp on Navy Island without understanding that he took the chance of success or failure. The chronological falsehood of Sir Francis Head in relation to the proclamation, we have already pointed out.177
About this time, a more important proclamation wns issued, explanatory of the objects of the insurgent patriots. We have not a formal copy of this proclamation in our possession,178 so that we must depend upon the extracts which the Canadian and American papers have furnished, which, fortunately, are sufficiently copious for our purpose. This proclamation, after calling upon the reformers of Upper Canada to rendezvous on Navy Island, or otherwise assist in establishing the independence of the province, states, that the force embodied on the Island is well supplied with artillery, small arms, ammunition, provisions, and other necessaries — the contributions of their friends in the state of New York.
The Canadian patriots are strictly enjoined not to commit any excesses upon the property of the royalists or upon their persons, upon pain of the severest punishments.
The proclamation (or one of the proclamations, for there appeal's to be more than one,) alleges that "Sir F. B. Head having been sent to this country with promises of conciliation and justice, and having violated his oath of office in the properly carrying out the legitimate objects of his mission, had become guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. A reward of five hundred pounds is therefore offered for him, 'that he may be dealt with as may appertain to justice.'"
The ulterior objects for which the force on Navy Island is embodied, are set forth in the proclamation as follows : —
Perpetual peace, founded on a government of equal rights to all, secured by a written constitution, sanctioned by yourselves in a convention to be called as early as circumstances will permit.
Civil and religious liberty, in its fullest extent, that in all laws made or to be made, every person be bound alike — neither shall any tenure, estate, charter, birth, or place, confer any exemption from the ordinary course of legal proceedings and responsibilities whereunto others are subjected.
The abolition of hereditary honours, of the laws of entail and primogeniture, and of hosts of pensioners who devour our substance.
A Legislature composed of a Senate and House of Assembly, chosen by the people.
An Executive to be composed of a Governor and other officers elected by the public voice.
A Judiciary chosen by the Governor and Senate, and composed of the most learned, honourable, and trustworthy of our citizens. The laws to be rendered cheap and expeditious.
A free trial by jury — Sheriffs chosen by you, and not to hold office, as now, at the pleasure of our tyrants. The freedom of the press. Alas for it now ! The free presses in the Canadas are trampled down by the hands of arbitrary power.
The vote by ballot — free and peaceful township elections.
The people to elect their court of requests, commissioners and justices of the peace — and their militia officers, in all cases whatsoever.
Freedom of trade — every man to be allowed to buy at the cheapest market, and sell at the dearest.
No man to be compelled to give military service, unless it be his choice.
Ample funds to be reserved from the vast natural resources of our country to secure the blessings of education to every citizen.
A frugal and economical government, in order that the people may be prosperous and free from difficulty.
An end for ever to the wearisome prayers, supplications, and mockeries, attendant upon our connexion with the lordlings of the Colonial Office, Downing-street, London.
The opening of the St. Lawrence to the trade of the world, so that the largest ships might pass up to Lake Superior, and the distribution of the wild lands of the country to the industry, capital, skill, and enterprise of worthy men of all nations.
These objects, it will be perceived, are in accordance with the constitution reported at the Churchville meeting,179 both being based on the provisions of the several constitutions of the United States, which are popular at least with one section of the reformers of Upper Canada.
In the meantime, the governor of Upper Canada was making active preparations for the defence of the frontier, and, perhaps, for an attack on the Navy Island camp. The volunteers and militia were marched to the Niagara river, with directions to occupy the whole line from Chippawa to Fort Erie, making Chippawa, which was the point especially open to attack from the Island, the head-quarters of the forces.
At Chippawa, breastworks were thrown up, for the purpose of mounting a battery to open a cannonade upon the Island. This work appears to have been frequently demolished by the guns from the Island, and never to have been brought to a state of efficiency.
The following extracts from the Montreal Herald, and other papers, will give an idea of the progress of both parties up to about Christmas-day.180
The following is given as an extract from a private letter, dated Hamilton, 25th December.
Matters wear a warlike aspect on the frontier. Accounts of the increasing forces of M'Kenzie on Navy Island have been such, that all efforts are making to strengthen our numbers from Niagara to Chippawa and up to Fort Erie. Yesterday it was said 500 volunteers, accompanied by the royal artillery, went over from Toronto, and this morning at half-past ten, under the command of Colonel M'Nab, about 800 men left this in sleighs, and an hour afterwards 300 followed, all bound for the seat of war. The 24th regiment are expected at Niagara to-night, and by to-morrow we shall number on the frontier not less than 4000 men. So confident do our militia feel, that the opinion is freely expressed of regret that troops should come up ; they wish it to be said 'we saved our country without a soldier!' The force of the enemy is variously estimated, and it is impossible to get at the truth. I apprehend, however, they are strong, perhaps 1200, with 10 or 15 pieces of artillery, (some say 16 pieces) ; M'Kenzie's situation is most favourable for him, but the determination of our government is to dislodge him.
The above extract rather exaggerates the force on both sides ; in a subsequent statement, which we shall give presently, the force of the government is stated at 3000, whilst that of M'Kenzie is said to be 528, which agrees with what we have already given from another source. Under any circumstances, the government was to the patriot force as six to one, so that had it not nave been for the strong position the latter occupied, they must have been annihilated.
The following extracts are from the paper already quoted, and purport to be from private letters, dated Toronto, 28th December.
I have just seen a gentleman from Chippawa, who was at Buffalo, where he was pressed by a party of M'Kenzie's men, and taken to Navy Island, and there detained for several days ; but being sent with a detachment to Young's Island for whiskey, he seized an opportunity of making his escape, and joined his own friends at Chippawa. In consequence of the intelligence which he conveyed to our party, they immediately commenced firing shells on the Island, and it is now blazing away with a fury not to be abated. Upon our first firing, M'Kenzie returned twenty rounds from his pieces, but not one shot reached our shore. His force is 9 field pieces and 528 men.
Dr. Morrison was fully committed for trial yesterday by the Commissioners, as was also Col. Vonegmont. A messenger who has just come over from Niagara says, M'Kenzie has been firing away all yesterday with his six pounders, to endeavour to prevent our party from erecting batteries ; however, without doing any damage except killing a horse. We are not yet prepared for an attack, but will be in a short time. Captain Drew, R. N., and Captain M'Donell, late of the 79th, went out in a boat to reconnoitre ; they were fired upon, but no injury was done to them or the boat.
Mr. Ruttan was elected Speaker pro tem.
There are now 4000 men on the frontier, including 200 Indians. Col. Chisholm marched overland from Hamilton to the frontier with boats, oars, &c.
In another letter, dated on the following day, it is stated that "Duncombe has escaped to Detroit. M'Kenzie's forces have rather increased at Navy Island ; by looking at the map you will perceive it is next to impossible to attack him ; should any accident happen to any of the boats, they would immediately be precipitated over the Falls, I am inclined to think they intend doing so. One of the steamers came over this morning to take over all the row-boats that can be procured here.
"The Traveller landed Captain Harris's company of the 24th at Queenston yesterday, and will leave this to go downwards this evening. Mr. Bethune returned this morning from Albany ; but I have not learned the result of his mission, as every thing here is kept as secret as possible. It is well understood here that the respectable Americans are determined to put down the excitement at Buffalo. Sir Francis did not go over yesterday (as had been reported) to meet Governor Marcy, of the State of New York ; but Judge Jones went."
A third letter, dated Niagara, 28th December, runs as follows:
No attack made on either side yet. Yesterday, when our party commenced throwing up their breastworks, the rebels fired on them with their six pounders, killed one horse, and almost destroyed Usher's house. The force at Chippawa is now nearly 3000 men. One company of the 24th arrved by the Traveller this morning, and proceeded to Chippawa. Preparations are now making to storm the Island.
It thus appears that the first fortnight of the occupation of Navy Island was passed by both parties in strengthening their forces and position. Neither party seemed disposed to make a decided movement. The royalists did not deem it wise, even with three or four thousand men, and an abundant supply of artillery, to attempt to dislodge the insurgent patriots by assault. One of the above extracts states that shells were thrown on the Island, and that it "was blazing away with a fury not to be abated ;" this, however, was not true. The shells may have been thrown, but there was certainly no great damage done ; indeed, during 30 days, the casualties on the Island amounted to only one man killed ; and this, be it observed, with a hostile force of eightfold, or at least sixfold strength, perpetually watching when and where to put in a shot.
On the other hand, the force on Navy Island was too small to make any attempt upon the Canadian shore ; they therefore confined themselves to the defensive. Thus, both parties did little more, up to this time, than look at each other.
About this time. Sir Francis Head made application to Mr. Marcy, the governor of the State of New York, in a formal manner, to deliver up William Lyon M'Kenzie, on the ground that he stood charged with felony, in having robbed the mail. It should be observed, that there is a very proper arrangement between the two governments, that actual criminals shall be mutually given up, but of course this arrangement does not extend to political offences. The governor of New York perceived at once that this was an unworthy and dishonourable trick of Sir Francis Head, a mere dishonest and disgraceful quibble to get possession of a political offender. He therefore replied, that the charge of felony evidently merged in the larger offence of high treason, and indeed merely arose out of it, and that therefore he could not consent to the governor's demand. He further stated, that Navy Island being a part of the British territory, M'Kenzie, being there, was not within his jurisdiction, but was in that of the British authorities.
The open honesty and true dignity of this reply contrasts most conspicuously with the meanness of Sir Francis Head's demand. Governor Marcy might have contented himself by answering, "Mr. M'Kenzie is not within the United States' territory ;" but he appears to have deemed it his duty to read his brother Excellency a lesson respecting the disingenuousness of his conduct.
An event now occurred which produced, as indeed it could not fail to do, the greatest possible excitement, not merely on the frontier in the neigbourhood of its occurrence, but also in the more distant parts of the Union, and even at Washington, the seat of the federal government.
It appears that about the 28th of December, a small steamboat, called the Caroline, had been cut out of the ice at Buffalo, where she was frozen up, to be employed in conveying passengers and goods to and from Buffalo, Fort Schlosser, and Navy Island. She had been so employed during the 29th of December, that is, "as a ferry-boat, between Navy Island and the American shore;" and at night was securely moored at Fort Schlosser, being made fast to the wharf, with a gangway thereto.
The American accounts state, that on the night in question, the taverns at Schlosser being full, several persons went on board the Caroline to lodge — an occurrence not uncommon in the United States. The number who thus went on board was twenty-three, and with the Captain and crew made up about thirty-three persons, who were on board at the time of the attack about to be related.
About midnight, the Caroline was boarded by an armed party from the Canada shore, who had crossed over to Fort Schlosser in four or five boats, and an indiscriminate attack was made upon the persons on board the boat. How many were killed does not appear in the accounts, but of the thirty-three on board at the time, only twenty-one could be mustered next day, and of these, one was dead, having been shot on the wharf. After the persons on board had been dispersed or killed, the boat was set on fire, cut adrift, and towed into the current, whence she drifted over the falls of Niagara. Of the twelve missing, two only were ascertained to have been made prisoners ; so that it was inferred that the rest were carried over the falls, either dead or alive, on board the burning steamer.
Such is the plain narrative of this most questionable transaction, stripped of all doubtful and immaterial allegations ; we shall now give such documents as will enable the reader to judge of the true character of the occurrence, as well as of the feelings which it excited, abstaining for the present from every thing in the shape of comment.
The first in order as well as in importance, is the affidavit of the master of the boat, followed by the testimony of nine other witnesses who were on board at the time.
Gilman Appleby of the city of Buffalo, being duly sworn, says, that he left the port of Buffalo on the morning of the 29th instant, in the steam-boat Caroline, owned by Mr. Wells of Buffalo, and bound for Schlosser upon the east side of the Niagara river, and within, the United States. That this deponent commanded the said Caroline, and that she was cleared from Buffalo with a view to run between said Buffalo and Schlosser, carrying passengers, freight, Sec. ; that this deponent caused the said Caroline to be landed at Black Rock on her way down, and while there, this deponent caused the American flag to be run up, and that soon after leaving Black Rock harbour, a volley of musketry was discharged at the said Caroline from the Canada shore, but without injury.
That the said Caroline continued her course down the Niagara river unmolested, and landed outside of certain scows or boats attached to Navy Island, where a number of passengers disembarked, and as this deponent supposes, certain articles of freight were landed. That from this point, the said Caroline ran to Schlosser, arriving there about three o'clock in the afternoon. That between this time and dark the said boat made two trips to Navy Island, landing as before. That at about the hour of six in the afternoon, this deponent caused the said boat to be landed at Schlosser, and made fast with chains to the dock at that place. That the crew and officers of the Caroline numbered ten, and that in the course of the afternoon twenty three individuals, all of whom were citizens of the United States, came on board and requested this deponent and other officers of the boat to permit them to remain on board during the night, as they were unable to get lodgings at the tavern near by. These requests wore acceded to, and the persons thus coming on board retired to rest, as did also the crew and officers of the Caroline, except such as were stationed to watch during the night. That about midnight this deponent was informed by one of the watch, that several boats filled with men were making towards the Caroline from the river, and this deponent immediately gave the alarm, and before he was able to reach the deck, the Caroline was boarded by some seventy or eighty men, all of whom were armed. That they immediately commenced a warfare with muskets, swords and cutlasses, upon the defenceless crew and passengers of the Caroline, under a fierce cry of "God damn them, give no quarter — kill every man — -fire! fire!
That the Caroline was abandoned without resistance, and the only effort made by either the crew or passengers seemed to be to escape slaughter, that this deponent narrowly escaped, having received several wounds, none of which however are of a serious character ; that immediately after the Caroline fell into the hands of the armed force who boarded her, she was set on fire, cut loose from the dock, was towed into the current of the river and then abandoned, and soon after descended the Niagara falls. That this deponent has made vigilant search for the individuals, thirty-three in number, who are known to have been upon the Caroline at the time she was boarded, and twenty-one only are to be found, one of whom, to wit, Amos Durfee of Buffalo, was found dead upon the dock, having received a shot from a musket, the ball of which penetrated the back part of the head and came out at the forehead. James H. King, and Capt. C. F. Harding were seriously though not mortally wounded ; several others received slight wounds. The twelve individuals who are missing, this deponent has no doubt were either murdered upon the boat or found a watery grave in the cataract of the falls ; and this deponent further says, that immediately after the Caroline was got into the current of the stream and abandoned as before stated, beacon lights were discovered upon the Canada shore near Chippewa, and after sufficient time had elapsed to enable the boats to reach that shore, this deponent distinctly heard loud and vociferous cheering at that point. That this deponent has no doubt that the individuals who boarded the Caroline were a part of the British forces now stationed at Chippewa.
This affidavit was followed by the following attestation : —
Charles F. Harding, James H. King, Joshua H. Smith, William Seaman, William Kennedy, William Wells, John Leonard, Sylvanus Staring and John C, Haggerty being sworn, several depose and say, that they have heard the foregoing affidavit of Gilman Appleby read ; that they were on the Caroline at the time she was boarded as stated in said affidavit, and that all the facts sworn to by said Appleby as occurring after the said Caroline was so boarded as aforesaid, are correct and true.
The following extracts from another account, furnished apparently by the persons whose names head the above list, afford some further details. The whole narration bears evident marks of being coloured by the excited feelings of the writer and of his authorities. The portions omitted are such as bear upon their face the stamp of improbability : —
On Friday afternoon, the steam-boat Caroline, Capt. Appleton, came down from Buffalo to Schlosser, with passengers, and subsequently passed over to Navy Island, with a party of gentlemen, who wished to visit the island. Before dark she again returned to Schlosser, where she was to lay during the night.
The tavern accommodations at the place being limited, and a large number of persons having collected there out of curiosity, under the expectation that an attack would be made during the night upon the island, all the berths in the boat were made up (20), and 15 or 20 mattresses spread upon the floor.
These were all filled, as the steward and captain assert, and several besides were known to be asleep under the awning upon the deck. The whole number on board could not have been less than 45 or 50. Some 10 or 20 of them are missing. They were without doubt murdered, and have gone over the Falls.181
At twelve o'clock all appeared in a profound slumber. A few minutes after that hour, however, the boat was attacked by what afterwards appeared to be five eight-oared boats, each contained from 10 to 15 regular British troops in sailor uniform.
Captain Harding, of Buffalo, commandant of a schooner on Lake Erie, was awoke by the tumult below, and immediately upon discovering his danger, he rushed for the companion-way. Before, however, he reached the deck he was met by a soldier, whose arms re caught hold of, making the remark that it was not possible he would attack an unarmed man ; but he had scarcely made the remark, when he was struck a blow upon the head with a sabre, which laid bare his skull for several inches, and knocked him again back into the cabin. * * * He fell upon the body of a black man, who had been killed by the murderers ; he soon, however, regained his feet, leaped from the stem window, and swam to the shore. Captain Harding had on a fur cap, with a thick front-piece, which doubtless saved his life.
Captain King, of Buffalo, after having reached the deck, had a sabre aimed at his head. To guard the blow, he raised his right arm, and the sabre fell upon his shoulder, leaving a frightful gash. Another blow followed, which nearly severed his arm at the wrist. He, however, escaped, but is not expected to live.
Captain Appleby also reached the deck, but was knocked overboard by a blow upon the head from a musket. Although severely stunned, Captain Appleby succeeded in swimming to the shore.
The engineer escaped from the boat, but in his retreat he received a stab from a bayonet.
Two hands leaped from a window, and escaped unharmed.
Captain Case, who owns the Caroline, also escaped uninjured, as did also two or three others.
* * * * *
When the work of slaughter and death was complete, the murderers plundered the boat, broke up the cabin furniture, set her on fire, towed her out into the river, and permitted her to float over the Falls.
When she reached the centre of the river, she was a solid mass of fire. The flames continued to ascend with terrific sublimity until she reached the rapids on the west side of Goat Island. She then broke in pieces, and in a moment all was total darkness.
Several gentlemen who witnessed the heart-rending spectacle, affirm, that while the boat was in flames they saw persons moving upon the deck. While this may be so, we hope it may only have been the workings of their imaginations.
As soon as the fire on the boat was visible, the murderers gave three cheers for Victoria, a large transparent signal was raised at Chippewa, to guide the direction of the boats to the harbour, and reiterated shouts were distinctly heard from the British troops.
* * * * *
When the boats were returning, a fire was opened upon them from the island, but as the night was dark the result was not known.
In the course of Saturday forenoon, Mr. West, of this city, crossed over to the Canada side below the Falls, for the purpose of ascertaining whether any bodies had floated upon shore. After encountering the fiery glances of forty or fifty savages stationed at this point, he was escorted into the officers' apartment, and bluntly told that no bodies had been discovered, and he was at liberty immediately to return.
He did return, and on his way back observed in the eddy many portions of the wreck, and a pai-t of the body of one of the murdered inmates of the unfortunate steam-boat.
The accounts of the aggressors differed from the above chiefly in this — that the persons on board the Caroline were armed and fully prepared, and that she carried the British flag, a circumstance of small importance, as we shall presently perceive.
The following is Colonel M'Nab's account of the transaction written immediately after its occurrence : —
Head Quarters, Chippewa,
Saturday Morning, 3 o'Clock.
I have the honour to report for the information of his excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, that having received positive information that the pirates and rebels at Navy Island, had purchased a steam-boat called the Caroline, to facilitate their intended invasion of this country, and being confirmed in my information yesterday by the boat, which was under British colours, appearing yesterday at the Island, I determined upon cutting her out, and having sent Captain Drew of the royal navy, he, in the most gallant manner, with a crew of volunteers, whose names I shall hereafter mention, performed the dangerous service which was most handsomely effected. In consequence of the heavy current, it was found to be impossible to get the vessel over to this place, and it was therefore necessary to set her on fire. Her colours are in my possession.
(Signed) A.N. M'Nab.
P.S. We have two or three wounded, and the pirates have the same number killed.
Passing over the illiterate style of the above composition, and assuming it to be true as far as it goes, the only point established by it is, that the boat was under British colours. At the same time we may observe, that the fact would not be proved by the Colonel having a flag in his possession, or even by such having been taken on board the boat, though the latter would warrant a presumption that they were intended to be used.
The following is the report of the officer who commanded on the occasion.
Head Quarters, Chippewa, 30th Dec. 1837.
Sir, — I Have the honour to inform you, that in obedience to your commands to burn, sink, or destroy the piratical steam-vessel which had been plying between Navy Island and the American shore the whole of yesterday, I ordered a look-out to be kept upon her, and at about five, P. M. of yesterday, when the day had closed in, Mr. Harris of the royal navy, reported the vessel to me as having moored off Navy Island. I immediately directed five boats to be armed and manned with forty-five volunteers, and at about eleven o'clock, P.M., we pushed off from the shore for Navy Island, when not finding her there as expected, we went in search, and found her moored between an Island and the main shore.
I then assembled the boats off the point of the Island, and dropped quietly down upon the steamer ; we were not discovered until within twenty yards of her, when the sentry upon the gangway hailed us, and asked for the countersign, which I told him we would give when we got on board; he then fired upon us, when we immediately boarded, and found from twenty to thirty men upon her decks, who were easily overcome, and in two minutes she was in our possession. As the current was running strong, and our position close to the Falls of Niagara, I deemed it most prudent to bum the vessel ; but previously to setting her on fire, we took the precaution to loose her from her moorings, and turn her out into the stream, to prevent the possibility of the destruction of anything like American property. In short, all those on board the steamer who did not resist were quietly put on shore, as I thought it possible there might be some American citizens on board. Those who assailed us were of course dealt with according to the usages of war.
I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of the officers and men who accompanied me, their coolness and bravery shows what may be expected from them, when their country requires their services ; where all behaved so well it would be invidious in me to particularize any one, but I may be excused for mentioning the gallant conduct of Lieutenant Shepherd M'Cormack, of the Royal Navy, who nobly seconded me, and had to encounter several of the pirates in the fore part of the vessel, by which I regret to say he has received five desperate wounds; we have also two others wounded, and I regret to add that five or six of the enemy were killed. A return of our wounded I beg to subjoin.
Your obedient humble servant,
Commander, Royal Navy.
P. S. — I beg to add that we brought one prisoner away, a British subject, in consequence of his acknowledging that he had belonged to Duncomb's army, and was on board the steamer to join M'Kenzie upon Navy Island.
RETURN OF THE WOUNDED.
Lieutenant Shepherd M'Cormack, R. N. Desperately.
Captain Warren, . . . . . . . . . . . Slightly,
John Arnold, . . . . . . . . . . . . . Severely,
The following statement is from a Toronto paper, of violent anti-popular politics, called the Christian (!) Guardian : —
A small steamer, the Caroline, owned by persons in Buffalo, was purchased or hired by the Navy Island pirates, and employed in conveying to them men, arms, ammunition, and provisions, carrying a British flag when in the port of the United States. On the evening of Friday last, while lying at Schlosser, a party of men under the command of Lieut. Drew, R.N., was dispatched with boats to cut her out and bring her over to Chippewa, if practicable. On nearing the Caroline, a sentry on her deck demanded the countersign from the men in the boats, and as they were unacquainted with it, they were immediately fired upon. The fire was returned, the steamer boarded in gallant style, several of her defenders killed, some wounded, and others taken as prisoners. The steamer was then towed out, but the rapidity of the current rendering it impossible to convey her to Chippewa, she was set on fire and left to the mercy of the stream, by which she was soon carried over the Niagara Falls. A friend in a letter informs us, that the spectacle was indescribably magnificent and sublime, as she passed in a sheet of flame down the rolling rapids above the cataract. — We are happy to say that this bold enterprise was effected by the Canadian militia without the loss of a single life on their side. A few were wounded ; we hope not dangerously. Particulars will be given hereafter.
Much diversity of opinion seems to exist as to the right of her Majesty's subjects to attack this vessel in an American port. To us the act was clearly a justifiable one under the circumstances ; and we doubt not that such will be the decision of the American government, who will never consent to become the protectors of pirates. Great efforts are of course being made to create excitement in the states ; but with a righteous cause, and with due reliance upon the Lord of Hosts, the Canadas have no need to fear the issue.
Whatever justification the attack may be susceptible of, it will easily be imagined, it was, on the first blush, calculated to produce the greatest possible excitement in the minds of the people of the United States. The tone of the newspapers of the various towns in the State of New York, was that of the strongest indignation. They spoke of it as a cowardly, murderous, and unprovoked attack, rendered doubly odious by being perpetrated in the dead of the night. They also treated it as a wanton breach of international law, and, pro tanto, a commencement of national hostilities. They called upon the authorities, both of the state in which it occurred, and of the general government, to take especial cognizance of the outrage, and to demand reparation of the British authorities ; and failing this, they urge the people themselves to take the matter into their own hands, and avenge their murdered fellow-citizens. One address says, "it is not to be settled by diplomatic protocolling, but by blood;" another urges a measure of retaliation, "an eye for an eye — a life for every life."
The funeral of Durfee the stage-driver,182 who was shot on the wharf, which took place on the Sunday following the outrage, could not fail to augment the excitement. A gentleman, named Smith, addressed the assembled thousands in a sort of funeral oration, expatiating on the enormity of the outrage, and the breach of national law which it involved. A Buffalo paper described the address as a feeling and patriotic appeal, and from the few passages quoted, it appears to have been couched in better taste than such orations usually are.
Meetings were also held to express the indignation and abhorrence which the transaction was calculated to excite ; and for some time the state of the public mind was such as to lead to the inference, that the outrage would work considerable benefit to the occupants of Navy Island ; and indeed, immediately after the occurrence, their force was considerably augmented.
The affidavits which were made at the time, together with such other evidence of the documentary kind, evidence for instance of the ownership of the boat, of the citizenship of the crew and passengers, of the exact nature of her employment, and so forth, were immediately forwarded to Albany, and to Washington. On the 2nd of January the following special message was transmitted to the legislature of the State of New York, then in session by Mr. Marcy, the governor.
I received last evening, after my annual message was prepared, information of an occurrence which I hasten to communicate to you.
The territory of this state has been invaded, and some of our citizens murdered, by an armed force from the province of Upper Canada.
By the documents accompanying this communication, it will be perceived that the steam-boat Caroline, owned by one of our citizens, while lying at Schlosser on the Niagara river, within the limits of this state, on the night of the 29th of December last, was forcibly seized by a party of 70 or 80 armed men in boats, which came from, and returned to, the Canada shore. The crew and other persons in this steam-boat, amounting to thirty-three, were suddenly attacked at midnight after they had retired to repose, and probably more than one-third of them wantonly massacred. The boat was detached from the wharf to which it had been secured, set on fire, taken into the middle of the river, and by the force of the current carried over Niagara Falls. Twelve of the persons who were on board of it are missing, and there is ground to fear that they were killed by the invaders in their attack upon it, or perished in its descent over the cataract. Of those who escaped from the boat, one was killed on the wharf, and several others were wounded.
I am warranted in assuring you, that the authorities not only of this state, but of the United States, have felt an anxious solicitude to maintain the relations of peace and strict neutrality with the British provinces of Upper and Lower Canada at all times, since the commencement of the civil disturbances therein, and have in all respects done what was incumbent upon them to do to sustain these relations. The occurrence to which I have alluded, is an outrage that has not been provoked by any act done, or duty neglected, by the government of this State or of the Union. If it should appear that this boat was intended to be used for the purpose of keeping up an intercourse between this state and Navy Island, which is now held by an assemblage of persons in defiance of the Canadian government, this circumstance would furnish no justification for the hostile invasion of our territory, and the destruction of the lives of our citizens.
The general government is intrusted with the maintenance of our foreign relations, and will undoubtedly take the necessary steps to redress the wrong, and sustain the honour of the country.
Though I have received no official information of the fact, I have good reason to believe that the local authorities of this state have taken prompt and efficient means, not only to protect our soil from further invasion, but to repress any retaliative measures of aggression which our citizens under the impulse of deeply excited and indignant feelings, might rashly resolve to adopt ; and that the patriotic militia in the vicinity of the scene of the outrage have obeyed with alacrity the call which has been made upon them for these purposes.
It will probably be necessary for this state to keep up a military force for the protection of our citizens and the maintenance of peace, until an opportunity is given to the general government to interpose with its power. In that event, I apprehend that it will be necessary for you to provide by law for the payment and maintenance of such forces as the occasion may require.
I shall doubtless receive, within a short time, official information of what the local authorities have done, and shall be better enabled to form an opinion of what will be necessary on the part of this state, to preserve our rights and the public tranquillity. I shall then communicate further with you on the subject, and suggest such matters in relation to it, as may require your consideration.
W. L. MARCY.
Albany, January 2, 1838.
The above message is conspicuous for that good sense, and calmness of judgment which the public documents of that country usually exhibit. The facts are stated without the slightest attempt at exaggeration. In this respect the message affords a remarkable contrast to every document put forward by Sir Francis Head, who seems to be unable to state the simplest fact without attempting at least to colour it. Mr. Marcy admits [...]
173. See Chaps ii. v. and viii.
174. The waters of Canada will be more completely described in a Chapter exclusively devoted to the subject.
175. For a considerable distance, the banks on both sides of the river are, in point of geological character, the counterpart of each other ; the most conspicuous features being as fresh as though they had only just been cloven by the emption of the waters of the lake above.
176. For an account of the family of Van Renssellaer, and of the title of patroon, see Washington Irving's Sketch Book, and Knickerbocker's History of New York.
177. Chap. viii. p. 141.
178. (March 28tn.) We have delayed the completion of this chapter, in the expectation that certain returns promised by Sir George Grey, being in continuation of papers No. 72, 80, 99, and 100, would have been printed in time for us to make use of them. The printers, however, can wait no longer, so that we are compelled to depend on the documents within our reach, which we believe are nearly all that will be printed in the parliamentary paper now expected. Should it afford any additional particulars, they will be introduced in a subsequent chapter.
179. See chap. vii. p. 118.
180. Allowing two or three days for the progress of the news to Toronto, and through the press.
181. The whole number was thirty-three, and those who were ultimately missing, ten, or perhaps only nine. The following summary of the loss is from a Buffalo paper : — "Of the thirty-three persons on board the Caroline, nine are missing. Whether they made their escape or were killed, it is impossible to say. It is not ascertained with absolute certainty that any, except Durfee, was killed. He was found lying on his back on the dock, with a ball through his forehead. The seizure and burning of the Caroline was a most flagrant, outrageous violation of territory, and the death of Durfee was a murder. There may be palliating circumstances, but if there are we have yet to learn them."
The remarks made at page 141, respecting the language applied to the aggressions committed during a revolt, apply to the above case. Though the affair was a "flagrant outrage," it wants the essential feature of murder.
182. Anglicé, coachman.
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