Editors' note: This is the first of a five-part series on a little-heralded 19th-century war in this area.
The Patriots' War in the 19th century was mainly a Canadian issue, but the United States, especially Niagara County, was heavily involved in the brief and abortive conflict.
Niagara County sites, as well as Canadian Navy Island, played prominent roles in the conflict.
The only person hanged as a result of the rebellion was a U.S. citizen.
A U.S. ship, the Caroline, was burned and sent over the falls.
The Navy Island and Caroline involvement in the Patriots' War have been well documented on this side of the river, but there are many interesting Canadian connections just across the border, which are not as well known.
Canadian historian Colin K. Duquemin reveals many more interesting incidents of the Patriot's War in his book, "Niagara Rebels."
Perhaps the prime instigator in the rebellion was William Lyon Mackenzie, a Scottish immigrant who started a newspaper in Queenston, Ontario. His editorial stance was mild at first, but soon evolved into strong criticism of government practices and earned him the nickname, the "Firebrand."
He moved to York (now Toronto) in the fall of 1824 and continued citing grievances until he eventually led a rebellion in 1837. Failing there, he went to Buffalo to recruit an army to take Canada back from British control.
He issued a proclamation promising recruits 300 acres "of the most valuable land in Canada" and "$100 in silver payable on or before the 1st of May next." A sizable army was raised and they took over Navy Island, then occupied by only one family.
The late County Historian Clarence O. Lewis wrote that Lockport resident Maj. Benajah Mallory, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, was asked to take over the army. However, he refused because the action was disapproved by the U.S. government, which did not relish yet another war with Britain.
The Caroline, which was used to ferry arms and ammunition from Schlosser Landing to Navy Island, was attacked while docked at Schlosser on the night of Dec. 29, 1837. Commander Andrew Drew of the Canadian Army led seven boats with 45 men on the commando raid.
The Caroline's 10-man crew and about 32 others, who could not find lodging at Schlosser, were sleeping on the boat that night when it was captured. All fled to shore, but one American, Capt. Amos Durfee, was shot and killed in the melee. The Caroline was set afire and sent over the falls.
This caused an uproar in the United States and nearly precipitated an all-out war.
A Niagara County grand jury indicted Canadian Alexander McLeod for killing Durfee. McLeod was later caught in Lewiston, tried in Utica and freed on a technicality.
Mackenzie left the area to try to raise support in other parts of the state. Meanwhile, Navy Island was abandoned and the rebellion lost steam for a while.
It picked up again in mid-March, 1838, when a group called the Canadian Refugee Relief Association was formed in Lockport, and invasion plans began anew. The group included "General" Donald McLeod, a former sergeant in the British Army, and Col. James Morreau, a tanner from Girard, Penn.
Others who figured prominently in the invasion were lieutenants Benjamin Wait and Samuel Chandler, who, other than Morreau, suffered most from the abortive rebellion.
And there was the tale of Canadian Edward Seymour, who claimed he was "abducted" in Manchester (now Niagara Falls) and forced by Patriot forces to participate in the invasion.
A very brief skirmish took place in the Short Hills area of Canada, located at the end of Lundy's Lane not far from the falls. More about that next time.
Next: Seymour, an unwilling participant or a liar?
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||June 24 2003|