Изображения страниц


MAY, 1841.



The arrest of Alexander McLeod, a subject of the British province of Upper Canada, at Lockport, in the State of New York, with the purpose of bringing him to trial, on a charge of arson and murder, alleged to have been committed by him within the limits of the State, while acting under the military command of a British naval officer, then in the service of the colonial government, has given rise to a very important diplomatic question, between the governments of the two countries. The question has awakened a deep interest, particularly in Great Britain, and at one period, it excited serious apprehensions that it might lead to differences which would not be settled without a resort to hostile measures. This apprehension was so general in England, as to produce a sensible effect on the commercial transactions between the two countries, and the alarm spread throughout Europe. So far was even the American Minister in London impressed with the danger of a sudden outbreak of hostilities, that it is understood that he despatched a messenger to the American squadron in the Mediterranean, advising the commanders of the national vessels in that sea, to provide for their own safety, by shaping their course homeward.

In this country the danger of serious consequences to result from this affair was not felt to be so imminent. The public were aware, however, that a difficult question had arisen between the two governments, and it was understood that a demand had been made by that

of Great Britain, which might not be fully acceded to, though the precise nature of the demand, and of the reply, were until recently but imperfectly understood. Various conversations in the British parliament had made known the general grounds taken by that Government, but it was not known in what form their claim had been presented to our own, or in what manner the claim had been met. The recent publication of the correspondence between the British Minister and our Secretary of State, with the instructions of the latter to the Attorney General of the United States, puts an end to this uncertainty, and lays before the public the whole history of the transaction. The importance of this correspondence, as both forming a part of the history of the day, and as discussing an interesting question of national law, induces us to publish it at length. The view taken of all the questions presented, in the letter of Mr. Webster, is so full and clear, that it leaves no room for comment. It only remains for us to give a brief history of the transactions, in which the affair now in question had its origin.

In December 1837, on the defeat of the party in Upper Canada, who had taken up arms against the colonial government, William Lyon Mackenzie and Dr. Rolf, two principal leaders of the insurrection, made their escape to the State of New York. They immediately proceeded to the city of Buffalo, where a strong popular feeling had been manifested in favor of the insurrection. There, after two or three preliminary meetings, a large popular assembly was held on the 12th of December, at the theatre, where were assembled 2,000 people, and large numbers were unable to gain admittance to the theatre, for want of room. Mackenzie was present, and made a speech, recounting his exploits, and strongly exciting the feelings of the assembly against the British authorities. The speech was received with bursts of applause, and resolutions were entered into to aid the cause of the colonial insurrection, by encouraging the enlistment of men, and by contributions in money. Shortly afterwards, a party was organized, consisting partly of refugee Canadians, but chiefly of Americans, for the invasion of the province. As they could not openly embody themselves in the United States, and were too feeble to maintain a position in Canada, within reach of the military force embodied there, they adopted the expedient of taking possession of Navy Island, a small uninhabited island in Niagara river, belonging to Canada, and situated a few miles above Niagara Falls. It is only half a mile from the Canada shore, but is in a great measure secured from invasion from this quarter by the rapidity of the current; yet it is easily accessible by boats and vessels from the American shore. Here a provisional government was established, and Mackenzie was placed at its head. Rensselaer Van

Rensselaer, an American citizen from Albany, was appointed military commander. Proclamations were issued, inviting the discontented of the human race to flock to the standard of Canadian liberty, and offering rewards for military services, in lands to be conquered in Canada. Paper money was issued, redeemable from the resources of the government, when it should acquire any, and in this medium purchases were made of munitions of war, and provisions for the rapidly-increasing army, except so far as these were not gratuitously furnished. Batteries were erected, in which cannon stolen from the arsenals of the State of New York were mounted, for the defence of he island, and for bombarding the town of Chippewa, on the opposite shore. The force on the island increased so rapidly, that they talked loudly of crossing over to the neighboring continent, and the colonial governor assembled a body of volunteer militia at Chippewa, under Colonel McNab, for the defence of the colony, with threats of making a hostile descent upon the island.

The only resources of the newly established governmet were the voluntary enlistment of adventurers, the gratuitous contributions of those citizens who favored their cause, the credit of their paper currency, and the arms and munitions of war, of which the public arsenals were freely plundered by their adherents. By the 20th of December, they were reported to number 7 or 800 men, with 12 or 15 cannon, and their numbers were daily increasing, by parties of men flocking to the island, from various parts of the State of New York. It was announced in a Buffalo paper, that on the night of Dec. 19, the state arsenal at Batavia was entered, and 500 stand of arms and several pieces of ordnance were stolen therefrom. On the night of the 20th, the watch house at Buffalo was forcibly entered, and the state arms which were deposited there for safe keeping, were taken away. It was stated in the Rochester Daily Advertiser of Dec. 25, that 40 or 50 men left that place on the night of the 23d, for Navy Island, and that during the nights of the 21st and 22d, three pieces of ordnance were taken from their places, in or near Rochester, and were probably carried to Navy Island; two of which belonged to the State, and one to the United States.

A body of 200 colonial volunteers was stationed in the village of Chippewa, opposite to the island, which had been evacuated by the inhabitants. On the night of the 26th the volunteers commenced the erection of a battery at Chippewa. On the following morning a cannonade was opened upon it from the island, and it was abandoned, and nearly destroyed. The work on the battery was resumed on the following night, and the cannonade was again opened upon it on the next day. The rapid increase of the army of the islanders, naturally excited alarm in the minds of the loyal inhabitants of the col

ony. On the entire suppression of the insurrection in the western district of Canada, a considerable volunteer force, with a number of regular troops, were embodied at Chippewa, and it was rumored that an assault was about to be made upon the island. It was also currently reported, that the islanders were meditating a descent upon some part of the Canadian territory.

In the mean time, very little effort had been used by the authorities of New York, to prevent this invasion of the neighboring province, or the plunder of the State arsenals. On the 21st of December, Mr. Forsyth, the Secretary of State, by direction of the President of the United States, wrote to the United States Attorney for the northern district of New York, stating the information he had received of the public meetings at Buffalo, and of the presence of Mackenzie and Rolf there, soliciting men and munitions of war, and instructing him in case there should be any violations of the law susceptible of proof, to commence legal proceedings against the persons concerned. It does not appear that any measures of a repressive character were adopted, in consequence of these instructions. Mr. Garrow, the U. S. Marshal, arrived at Buffalo on the 22d. It was stated that he met a party of men marching towards Navy Island with a field piece, but that he had no power to stop it.

While these things were going on, and the public attention was eagerly turned towards this growing body of invaders, in expectation of some decisive event, a constant intercourse was kept up between them and the American shore. To facilitate this intercourse, and to derive a revenue from the crowds of persons who were flocking to the island, the steamboat Caroline, belonging to William Wells, a citizen of Buffalo, under the command of Capt. Appleby, was employed as a regular passage boat, between the island and the American port of Schlosser, nearly opposite, a few miles above Niagara Falls. She was cut out of the ice, and put in a condition to enter upon this service, of which the Canadian commander, Colonel McNab, received immediate notice, and he promptly resolved to destroy her on the first opportunity. On the 29th, this steamer proceeded down to Navy Island, and thence passed over to Schlosser, where she arrived at 3 o'clock, P. M.

She subsequently made two trips to Navy Island and back on the same afternoon, carrying over passengers, at 25 cents each, and conveying also, as alleged by the British officers, munitions of war, and a cannon for the use of the invaders of the island. She was moored to the wharf at night, and in addition to the crew, ten in number, who slept on board the vessel, several persons who had resorted to Schlosser from curiosity, or from some other motive, went on board to lodge, and retired to rest in the cabin. A single man of the crew remained on deck to watch. At midnight he gave the alarm

that several boats were approaching from the opposite side of the river, and by the time the unarmed crew and lodgers were aroused from their slumbers, the boat was boarded by a party of armed men, they were driven on shore, the boat was towed out from the harbor, set on fire, and suffered to drift down the river over the cataract of the Niagara. One person, Amos Durfee, a citizen of Buffalo, was found dead on the wharf, shot through the head by a musket ball, and three men were wounded by blows from the assailants. It was at first supposed and currently reported, that there were several persons on board the steamer when she went over the falls; but it did not appear from subsequent proof, that any person was missing. Col. McNab reported the exploit to Lieut. Gov. Head, as performed under his orders, in the most gallant manner, by Capt. Drew, of the royal navy, with a party of volunteers. Capt. Drew reported that he had three men wounded, "and the pirates about the same number killed," and that finding it impossible to get the vessel across the river in consequence of the rapidity of the current, she was set on fire, and abandoned.

This event produced a strong sensation and some alarm on the frontier. The sheriffs of Erie and Niagara called out the militia of their respective counties, who assembled to the number of 2,000 men. Many ardent spirits were ready for an immediate invasion of the provinces. But this zeal soon subsided. The current of recruits to Navy Island was sensibly checked. Reflecting men perceived the necessity of being better prepared to preserve the peace of the country-of being able to put some restraint upon the eagerness of our own citizens to embark in the war against Canada, as well as to guard against the retaliatory measures of the colonial government. Gov. Marcy, of New York, addressed a message to the legislature, denouncing the invasion of the territory of the Union, and the outrage upon the persons and property of our citizens, and at the same time gave assurances that the authorities of the State and of the United States had "felt an anxious solicitude to maintain the relations of peace and strict neutrality with the British Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada." General Arcularius, Commissary General of New York, was sent to Navy Island for the purpose of recovering the property belonging to the State, which had been abstracted from the arsenals, and appropriated to the service of the infant government. On the 3d of January he arrived at the headquarters of Gen. Van Rensselaer, and made a demand of the surrender of the cannon and arms which he claimed as the property of the State. The latter took time to consider the demand, and on the following day sent an answer, declining to comply with it. The Commissary General, to be prepared in season against another proba

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »