The Upper Canada Rebellion

Cross-border Incidents

Wreck of the steamboat Caroline near Niagara Falls, 29 December 1837

Caption: Wreck of the steamboat Caroline near Niagara Falls, 29 December 1837

The militias of the Niagara Peninsula also mobilized, for Mackenzie and his supporters, with the assistance of American sympathizers, set up the provisional government of the Republic of Upper Canada on the small Navy Island on the Canadian side of the Niagara River approximately four kilometres upstream from the famous falls. The Caroline, a small American steamboat acquired by the Patriots, served as their supply vessel. On the evening of December 29 some 50 Canadian volunteers led by Captain Andrew Drew of the Royal Navy boarded the ship and took it in a few minutes on the American side of the border. Only one American supporter of Mackenzie was killed. The ship was torched and set adrift. The Caroline in flames as it approached the great falls must have been an unforgettable sight for inhabitants on both sides that evening. However, it did not plunge into the abyss, as several newspapers would claim, but crashed into a small island at the top of the falls and disintegrated.

Following this manifest violation of United States territory, the American diplomatic response was equally spectacular, and the ambassadors in Washington and London exchanged a few acerbic missives. The Americans, however, did have to admit that a number of their citizens had fomented the invasion of Upper Canada. President Martin Van Buren condemned their actions and ordered the regular troops of General Winfield Scott to patrol the American side of the border along the Niagara River. On January 13, 1838, realizing that they would be unable to invade Upper Canada, Mackenzie's men evacuated Navy Island. On January 9, to the west of the colony other Patriots who had left from Detroit shelled Amherstburg, but their ship drifted away before being boarded by Canadian militiamen. Thus ended the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion, a spirited but much less bloody rebellion than the one in Lower Canada.