The first night on which the Caroline began her voyages the British fitted out an expedition to capture her. Instead of making a descent on Navy Island within British territory, they boarded the steamer at Schlosser, on the American side, and thus violated our territory. The boat at the time of this invasion was filled with people, many of whom were there for idle curiosity, including a number of boys. In the melee of capture one American citizen was killed and several others wounded. They cut the boat from its moorings, set it on fire, and it drifted down the cataract. It was reported and generally believed that when the vessel went over the cataract it had a small number of wounded Americans on board.
The publication of this affair created the greatest excitement from one end of the country to the other. This occurred on December 29, 1837, but the news did not reach Washington until January 4th. On the evening of that day General Scott was to dine with President Van Buren and a number of other distinguished gentlemen. The entire party had arrived, but the President failed to appear. After a time he came in and spoke inaudibly to Henry Clay, one of the guests, and then said to General Scott: “Blood has been shed; you must go with all speed to the Niagara frontier. The Secretary of War is now engaged in making out your instructions.” General Scott left at once, and passing through Albany, met William L. Marcy, the Governor of New York, who with his adjutant general (McDonald) accompanied him to the scene of the troubles. The United States troops at this time were all either in Florida or on the Western frontiers. General Scott, in passing through New York, had ordered some small detachments of army recruits to follow him. Governor Marcy was with him ready to answer his requisitions for militia, and he had the aid of the officers commanding on Lake Erie and the Detroit frontier and on the Niagara, Lake Ontario, and St. Lawrence. All United States marshals and other civil officers of the Government were ordered to support and aid him. He passed from one place to another, going where his services could be needed, exhorting the people to observe the neutrality proclamation of the President; and where he found them obstinate and determined, he notified them in terms which could not be mistaken that any attempt to violate this proclamation would be met by resistance from the Government, which would promptly overpower them.
Pending these troubles, a steamer called the Barcelona was taken from the harbor of Buffalo in January, 1838, and passed down the river, with a view to aid the insurgents on Navy Island. Scott, on learning of this, sent an agent who made terms to employ the Barcelona for the service of the Government. The vessel then proceeded back to Buffalo, where it was intended to use her on Lake Erie; but the Canadian authorities had determined to destroy her. As the vessel passed near Grand Island, within the jurisdiction of the United States, some armed British schooners had taken position, aided by land batteries, to open fire on her. This was on January 16th. General Scott and Governor Marcy stood on the river bank watching events. Batteries on the American side were put in preparation to return the fire of the British.