The Canadian Rebellion broke out toward the latter part of 1837. It was a result of dissatisfaction among the people of Canada with the British Government. This discontent was not confined to the people of Upper Canada, but what existed in the Lower Province was quickly suppressed. It was a time of great excitement, and false rumors rapidly spread. There was then no telegraph in the country to circulate either falsehood or truth, and the latter was slower even than now in overtaking the former.
The "patriots" collected their forces on Navy island, about two miles above Niagara Falls, and from their headquarters issued proclamations which caused prompt action on the part of the Canadian Government. A call for 2,500 troops was issued by Governor Sir Francis Bond Head, for the purpose of putting down the Rebellion. The rebels were led by William Lyon Mackenzie, an ex-member of the Provincial Parliament, who after an unsuccessful outbreak a short distance north of Toronto, had fled to Buffalo dressed in woman's clothes. In Buffalo, in December, 1837, meetings were held, at which addresses were made by him and by Thomas Jefferson Sunderland, and others, all calculated to awaken sympathy for the "patriots" on the island. They had collected on Navy island, because of the convenience of access to the landing of Schlosser, or Schlosser's dock, as it was called. On this island there were assembled from 300 to 400 men, a considerable portion of whom were Americans. Their commander was Gen. Rensselaer Van Rensselaer, a son of Solomon Van Rensselaer, who was wounded at Queenston Heights.
In response to the call of Sir Francis Head the 2,500 men assembled on the banks of Niagara river near the mouth of Chippewa creek, opposite Navy island. In Buffalo the United States marshal appointed 30 deputies to prevent violations of the neutrality laws. The winter was an unusually mild one, and the steamer Caroline, belonging to William Wells, of Buffalo, went down to Navy island and ran back and forth between that island and Schlosser's dock, carrying men and supplies. The steamer Caroline had been built in Charleston, S. C., in 1822, of live oak, and was of about 45 tons burden. She had made two trips, and had tied up at the dock for the night, during which a force of Canadians cut her out, set her on fire and sent her over Niagara Falls. The trips of the Caroline had been watched by the British from their camp near the mouth of Chippewa creek, and Col. Allan McNab determined to cut off this method of supplying the "patriots" on Navy island. It was an extremely hazardous undertaking, owing to the fact that Schlosser's dock was so near the Falls that almost any mishap might precipitate the expedition itself over, instead of the steamer Caroline. Captain Drew, however, obtained permission from Colonel McNab to organize an expedition for the purpose of destroying the Caroline, and secured a company of young men to form it. In all seven boats were manned. This expedition proceeded up the river a short distance before crossing, and after passing the middle of the stream they were given orders as to the disposition of the Caroline. Two of the boats lost their way, but the other five kept together and pulled up to the wharf at Schlosser's.
The steamer Caroline had been added to the tonnage of Lake Ontario in 1824, and in various records of her history there is a wide difference as to her origin. Her birthright is claimed both at Kingston and Ogdensburg. She was built, however (as already related), at Charleston, S. C., of Norway pine, copper fastened. She came to Buffalo in 1835, and commenced running between that port and Port Robinson, on the Welland canal via Chippewa, commanded by Capt. James Ballentine. She was 46 tons burden, low pressure, with cross-head engine. At the commencement of the Canadian rebellion in December, 1837, she was chartered to transport supplies from Buffalo and Navy island, some three miles above Niagara Falls, which was the head- quarters of the Canadian refugees.
Niagara Falls Runs Dry. -- A circumstance occurred on the opening of navigation in 1837, that, so far as is known, never before took place. The Niagara river, between Fort Erie and Buffalo, was so wedged in with ice that the waters of the lake in consequence rose several feet, while the Niagara river fell so low that numerous rocks and islands, before invisible, made their appearance. The water of Chippewa creek were also lowered several feet.
Other Events of 1837. -- The steamer James Madison, Capt. R. C. Bristol, commenced plying between Buffalo and Chicago in 1837, and was the first boat to pass through Mackinaw straits on the opening of navigation that season. January: Schooner John Hollister fast in the ice on Lake Erie and abandoned by the crew. February: Steamer New England launched at Black Rock. March: Steamer Tiskillwa sunk by collision with the steamer Wisconsin near the Illinois river: several lives lost. May: Steamer Monroe ashore above Point Albino. Schooner Commodore Laurence damaged by lightning at Huron. Steamer New England damaged by collision with the piers at Buffalo. June: Schooner Tom Lemen launched at Cleveland: 90 tons burden. Steamer Cleveland launched at Huron: 600 tons burden. July: Steamers Niagara and Pennsylvania collide near Huron: 19, the Milwaukee launched at Grand island. Steam lighter The Badger launched at Milwaukee. Steamers New York and New England collide at Dunkirk. August: Steamer Buffalo launched at Buffalo Creek: 670 tons. Brig North Carolina capsized on Lake Michigan: several lives lost. Steamer Manhattan launched at Buffalo. Schooner Western Trader capsized and sunk off Cleveland. Schooner Adelaide launched at Ashtabula: 150 tons. Brig Rocky Mountains launched at Green Bay: 280 tons. The schooner Union, of Port Hope, totally wrecked, but none of her crew was lost. Schooner Henry Roop damaged by lightning at Ashtabula. Schooner Rainbow driven ashore and wrecked at Put-in-Bay island. Schooner Ceres sunk off Chagrin river. September: Steamer Illinois launched at Detroit: 755 tons: the largest boat on the lakes. Schooner Tippecanoe ashore near Cleveland. October: Schooner E. Jenny ashore near Cleveland. Steamer Erie launched at Erie. Steamer Boynton wrecked at Kingston. Steamer Com. Barrie damaged during a storm on Lake Ontario. Steamer Utica ashore at Presque Isle. Schooner Massachusetts wrecked near the Niagara river. November: Steamer Wisconsin launched at Conneaut. Schooner Toledo ashore at Gravelly bay. Schooners O. P. Starkey, Brandywine and Texas ashore at Buffalo.
The navigation of 1837 wound up with a very destructive gale, such as is rarely recorded, raging throughout the entire lake region. It came from west-southwest and at Buffalo much property and many lives were lost.
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.