World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Caroline affair

The Destruction of the Caroline by George Tattersall

The Caroline affair (also known as the Caroline case) was a series of events beginning in 1837 that strained relations between the United States and Britain.


  • Events 1
  • Anticipatory self-defense 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


A group of Canadian rebels, led by William Lyon Mackenzie, seeking a Canadian republic, fled to the United States after leading the failed Upper Canada Rebellion in Upper Canada (now Ontario). They took refuge on Navy Island on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, which separates the two countries (between Ontario and New York) and declared themselves the Republic of Canada under MacKenzie's "general" Rensselaer Van Rensselaer (nephew of General Stephen Van Rensselaer). American sympathizers supplied them with money, provisions, and arms via the steamboat SS Caroline.

On December 29, 1837, Canadian loyalist Colonel Sir Allan MacNab and Captain Andrew Drew of the Royal Navy commanding a party of militia, acting on information and guidance from Alexander McLeod that the vessel belonged to Mackenzie, crossed the international boundary and seized the Caroline, chased off the crew, towed her into the current, set her afire, and cast her adrift over Niagara Falls, after killing one black American named Amos Durfee in the process. His body was later exhibited in front of a recruiting tavern in Buffalo, New York.

US newspapers falsely reported "the death of twenty-two of her crew" when in fact, only Durfee was killed. Public opinion across the United States was outraged against the British. President Martin Van Buren protested strongly to London, but was ignored.

On May 29, 1838, 13 raiders, mostly Canadian and American refugees from the 1837 rebellion, led by American William "Pirate Bill" Johnston,[1] retaliated by capturing, looting, and burning the British steamer Sir Robert Peel while she was in U.S. waters. President Martin Van Buren sent General Winfield Scott to prevent further incursions into Canada. However, there were several other attacks, the biggest being the Battle of the Windmill in November 1838.

Later that year, Irish-Canadian rebel Benjamin Lett murdered a loyalist, Captain Edgeworth Ussher, who had been involved in the incident.

The case was finally disposed of by U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, in the course of their negotiations leading to the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842. Secretary Webster admitted that the employment of force might have been justified by the necessity of self-defence, but denied that such necessity existed, while Lord Ashburton, although he maintained that the circumstances afforded excuse for what was done, apologized for the invasion of United States territory.[2]

Anticipatory self-defense

This incident has been used to establish the principle of "anticipatory self-defense" in international politics, which holds that it may be justified only in cases in which the "necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation". This formulation is part of the Caroline test. The Caroline affair is also now invoked frequently in the course of the dispute around preemptive strike (or preemption doctrine).

See also


  1. ^ Searching for a Pirate's Lost Lair. By Shaun J. McLaughlin. Thousand Islands Magazine, February 13, 2012.
  2. ^  

Further reading

  • Howard Jones; To the Webster-Ashburton Treaty: A Study in Anglo-American Relations, 1783-1843 University of North Carolina Press, 1977
  • Kenneth R. Stevens; Border Diplomacy- The Caroline and McLeod Affairs in Anglo-American-Canadian Relations, 1837-1842 University of Alabama Press, 1989; ISBN 0-8173-0434-7

External links

  • Wood, Christopher. The Caroline, Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law
  • The Caroline Case : Anticipatory Self-Defence in Contemporary International Law
  • The Caroline Incident during the Patriot War
  • Obituary of Neil MacGregor, one of the Upper Canada militiamen on the raid
  • The Avalon Project at Yale Law School: The Webster-Ashburton Treaty and The Caroline Case
  • , 1923, By L. N. FullerNorthern New York In The Patriot WarChapter 7, "British Steamer is Burned by Patriots" in
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.