1837- Caroline Affair

Niagra Falls

The Caroline was an American steamship that had been aiding rebels in Canada. Canadian militia, on orders of the British, seized the Caroline in American waters. They set the ship on fire, and sent it hurling over the Niagra Falls. These actions strained US relations with Great Britian almost to the point of war


The war of 1812 and the subsequent negotiations between Great Britain and the United States resolved the disputes between the two countries. However, there were those in the United States who still coveted the lands of Canada. In Canada itself there were those who dreamed of independence from Great Britain. In 1837 a failed rebellion took place against British rule. Part of the rebellion centered in French speaking Quebec. In Ontario, many of the leaders of the rebellion were American immigrants to Canada. Their leader was Scottish Bron, William Mackenzie. The revolt was quickly put down. MacKenzie fled to Buffalo, where he convinced a number of Americans to join his cause. A group of MacKenzie's supporters then occupied an island on the Canadian side of the border, a mile above Niagara Falls.

On December 29, 1837 an American Steamboat, the Caroline, carried a group of reinforcements to the island. Fifty Canadian militia men crossed the river to the American side and attacked the Caroline. They drove off the American crew and destroyed the ship. The incident caused a period of tension between the United States and Great Britain. President Van Buren, however, was intent on maintaining good relations with the Great Britain. He sent General Winfield Scott to the area to maintain order and calm tensions. Scott had no troops at his disposal, since the U. S. Army was all tied up in the Seminole War. Skillfully, through the strength of his personality, Scott was able to calm tensions.