Chapter 242
The Rebellion of 1837-38

Table of Contents

Title Page
203 The Island Lighthouse.
204 Two Western Piers.
227 The Island in the Forties.
236 Front Street of Old.
237 Canadian Lake Navigation
238 1766 to 1809.
239 Six Eventful Years, 1809-15
240 A New Era, 1816 to 1819
241 A Progressive Enterprise, 1819 to 1837.
242 The Rebellion of 1837-38
243 Complaining Travellers
244 The Trade of the Lake Still Continues to Expand
245 The Royal Mail Line, 1840 TO 57
246 Storms and Shipwrecks -- Great Destruction of Life and Property -- The Commercial Distress in 1857.
247 Gloomy Anticipations for the Spring Trade
248 The Niagara Steamers, 1874-78.
249 Niagara Falls Line - 1883 to 1893.
250 Hamilton Steamboat Co. '87-'93
251 The General History of the Lake Shipping Continued
252 New Steamers
253 Lorne And Victoria Parks.
254 Toronto Ferry Co. 1890-93.
255 Royal Canadian Yacht Club.
256 Canadian Pacific Steamers.
257 The Rochester Route -1889-'93
258 The Ottawa Steamers, 1864-93
259 The R. & O. Company.
260 Tabulated Statements of Various Vessels from 1678 to the Present Time.
Table of Illustrations

Events on the Lakes -- Captains Drew and Arnold -- The Capture of the Caroline.

In the early days of December, 1837, occurred at Toronto the first outbreak of the Canadian rebellion, which was speedily crushed in that portion of the province. Though such was the case, a number of the insurgents betook themselves to a small island, well covered with the Niagara river, almost opposite the then village, now town, of Chippawa, about three miles above the Falls, called Navy Island. Here they were under the command of William Lyon Mackenzie and an American named Van Rennselaer. Their design was the invasion of Canada by the lake. Mackenzie had formed what he called a Provisional Government, and there is no doubt that he and his followers thought they would be able to effect a landing on the Canadian shore.

The Steamer Caroline
It was an absolute necessity though, for the success of such an enterprise, that these self-styled " Patriots" should secure the services of a river steamer. Fortune favors the brave, it is said. In this instance it certainly favored the foolhardy. Imbedded in the ice, near Buffalo, was just such a vessel as they required. She is described as "a little steamer of forty-six tons, called the Caroline, belonging to one William Wells, of Buffalo, and originally constructed by the man afterwards known as Commodore Vanderbilt." The owner was only too pleased to hire out his boat, but he had an eye to possible loss; so, before the "Patriots" could obtain possession of the steamer, they were obliged to find a sufficient guarantee to Wells that he should be protected against any loss in case his vessel should be captured or destroyed. After events showed the prudence of Mr. Wells in adopting this precaution. The guarantee asked was forthcoming, and the Caroline placed under the command of a resident in Buffalo, Gilman Appleby, who had been a sailor upon the lake. On December 28th the steamer reached Navy Island, and immediately began the transport thither from the American side of supplies and munitions of war, among which was included a small cannon. These proceedings at once became known to the troops on the Canadian shore, who were under the command of Colonel Macnab. It was deemed important, says a trustworthy authority, " to know all that could be learned, in view of a possible attempt to utilize the steamer to land the fillibusters on the Canadian shore. Two men were despatched in a small open boat to watch the Carolines movements and to report the same to the Colonel in command. One of these was Captain Andrew Drew, an officer in the Royal Navy, who had recently been entrusted with the direction of the (Canadian) naval department." The other was the Deputy Sheriff of the Niagara District, Alexander McLeod. Regardless of danger, they proceeded in a small boat round Navy Island, until they obtained a view of the river's eastern channel. There they perceived the Caroline at anchor, apparently laid up for the night. On their return journey they were fired at several times and their boats injured, but they themselves escaped unscathed. As soon as they made their report to Colonel Macnab, it was decided by him that coute qui, coute the steamer must not only be captured but destroyed, and that this must be effected at night. On the following day, December 29th, the Caroline continued the proceedings of the previous day, and the Patriots kept up a fire of musketry on the Canadian troops also. Loud murmurs were heard among the officers of the militia at what they considered the inactivity of Colonel Macnab, but before the day closed they became aware that their commanding officer was fully alive to the exigencies of the situation. As soon as it was dark preparations began to be made for the expedition which was under command of Captain Drew and consisted of seven boats, each one holding eight men, besides the officer in command. It is all but impossible to say who the officers were, each having charge of a boat, no two authorities agreeing on the subject. The orders given to Captain Drew were short and peremptory, " to take and destroy the Caroline wherever he could find her."

Sir Alan Napier MacNab, Bart.
The flotilla got away from Chippewa and reached the Caroline about midnight. When within a dozen yards of the fated vessel they were perceived by the sentry, who, in response to his challenge, was told by the party they were " Friends." The sentinel then asked for the countersign, and on receiving the decidedly ambiguous answer from Captain Drew, "I will give it you when I get on board," was aware that his visitors meant hostilities. He instantly alarmed the rest of the crew, but it was too late.

The Caroline was taken possession of without, as one historian puts it, "anything deserving the name of a serious conflict." The crew and passengers, thirty-three in all, were literally driven out at the point of the sword; and though one or two of the former showed fight and succeeded in wounding Lieutenant McCormick and two more of their assailants, the whole performance did not occupy many minutes.

Once the Canadians had possession of the vessel it was soon decided what to do with her. She was to be burnt and allowed to drift as she was burning down the stream and go over the Falls. She was set fire to by Captain Richard Arnold who lived in Toronto for many years afterwards, and died there on June 18th, 1884. No living soul was on board her, and before she reached the cataract she went to pieces, only fragments of her going down the mighty sheet of water. An amusing account of the Rebellion is given in a parody on " John Gilpin," published in 1838, W. L. Mackenzie supplying the place of John Gilpin. The verses relating to the destruction are as follows:--

Rennselaer then took the command
Of those degraded wretches,
For some had neither coat nor hat,
And some not even breeches.

To Navy Island then they went,
And there made a great splutter--
A constitution printed off,
And many threats did utter.

Alas ! for Yankee modesty,
It really is quite shocking,
Some ladies made the rebels shirts,
And some, too, sent them stocking.

Of many acts, which by our men
Right gallantly were done,
I've spun my verse to such a length
I can relate but one.

And that the very gallant act
Of Captain Andrew Drew,
Whose name must be immortalized--
Likewise his daring crew.

A Yankee steamer oft had tried
The rebels aid to bring.
This English seaman swore that he
Would not allow the thing.

The captain and his gallant crew,
Whose names I wot not all,
From Schlosser cut the steamboat out,
And sent her o'er the Fall.

Oh then the Yankees stormed outright,
And spoke of reparation.
A mighty flame then rose through
this Tobacco-chewing nation.

Captain Drew's exploit was rapturously applauded throughout Upper Canada, and in the following April, when the St. George's Society of Toronto dined together as usual on the evening of the 23rd, the toast of the "Royal Navy" was received with great enthusiasm. It was responded to by Captain Marryatt, the famous novelist, who, after he had returned thanks for the honor done to him in coupling his name with the toast proposed, gave, as an additional volunteer toast, " Captain Drew and his brave comrades who cut out the Caroline." The gallant Captain's proposal was received with loud acclamations.


For the next four or five months there were no naval events of any consequence in connection with the rebellion; but, on the 29th of May, an occurrence took place in the upper part of the St. Lawrence, at a place called Wells' Island, which caused quite as much excitement as the burning of the Caroline. It was there that the British steamboat, Sir Robert Peel, was seized by an armed band of men, between thirty and forty in number, under a braggart named William Johnson, who had blackened their faces and in other ways disfigured themselves for that purpose. After plundering the boat and ill-treating the passengers, among whom were several ladies, they took the vessel out into the river, set her on fire, and burned her to the waters' edge. There were about eighty passengers, who saved scarcely an article. A Mr. Holditch, of Port Robertson, lost $6,000, and Captain Bullock, of the Neptune, was also a heavy loser.

In the following November took place what is always known as the Battle of the Windmill. A number of desperadoes on board the steamer United States and the two schooners Charlotte, of Toronto, and Charlotte, of Oswego, attempted to invade Canada at Prescott. The project failed utterly, and also resulted in serious loss of life among the invaders. The notorious Johnson was again to the fore, be having command of one of the two schooners. In this engagement the following lake steamers, which had been armed in consequence of the rebellion, played an active park They were the Experiment, Queen Victoria and Cobourg, under Captains Dick, Sutherland and Colcleugh. The Transit, also, under Captain Richardson, did good service during the rebellion in transporting troops and carrying despatches.

The notorious Johnson has been mentioned more than once already. In the summer of 1838 he got himself into trouble with the United States authorities on a charge of piracy, and only narrowly escaped the fate he so richly deserved; but, as an American paper at the time remarked, "good rope could be better employed." Johnson was accused, among other crimes, of having used United States territory on the St. Lawrence in furtherance of his plans, he being a British subject. While a fugitive from justice, he issued the following proclamation:--

"To all whom it may concern.

"I, William Johnson, a natural born citizen of Upper Canada, certify that I hold a commission in the Patriot Service of Upper Canada as Commander-in-Chief of the naval forces and flotilla. I commanded the expedition that captured and destroyed the steamer Sir Robert Peel. My headquarters was on an island in the St. Lawrence. I yet hold possession of that station. I act under orders. The object of my movements is the independence of the Canadas.

"Signed this tenth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight.


This boaster introduced a great deal of matter that was wholly irrelevant and which it is unnecessary to reproduce.

The end of 1838 saw the end of the rebellion, and matters, both on the lakes and on land, resumed their normal condition.


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This electronic edition is based on the original in the collection of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston.