The Invasion of Quebec in 1775

Canada and the American Revoluition

An artist's interpretation of of the Siege of Quebec, during the American Revolution, in 1775

An artist's interpretation of the Siege of Quebec, during the American Revolution, in 1775

In 1763, following the surrender of New France, the former French colony was turned over to Great Britain and renamed the Province of Quebec.

The acquisition of what would eventually become Canada by the British Empire officially marked the end of the French and Indian War.

The Quebec Act and the American Revolution

In 1774, the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act, which allowed the Quebecois to keep their Roman Catholic religion and the French Civil Code. The British also extended the boundaries of Quebec to include the Ohio and Illinois Country. As a result the Quebec Act is regarded by historians as one of the triggers of the American Revolution.

Following the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, the invasion of Quebec was one of the first major military operations undertaken by the Continental Army. The objective of the campaign was to capture the province of Quebec and convince the French-speaking population to join the American Revolution, on the side of the Thirteen Colonies.

The troops committed to the campaign were divided into two forces; one under the command of General Richard Montgomery, and the second under the command of Benedict Arnold.

In the spring of 1775, the American Revolution began with the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and ground to a halt as colonial militia units trapped the British in Boston, laying siege to the city.

Planning the Invasion of Quebec

The idea for invading Quebec came following the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. The fort was necessary to prevent the British from dividing the colonies. At the same time, it was also noted that Quebec was poorly defended. However, when it became clear that Guy Carleton, the Governor of Quebec, was improving the defences of Fort St. Johns, near Montreal, Congress decided to act. General Phillip Schuyler was ordered to begin planning the invasion.

The primary thrust of the expedition was to be led by General Schuyler, who would advance up Lake Champlain to Montreal. The units under his command consisted of men from New York, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Schuyler was known for being overly cautious, however, and by mid-August the colonists began receiving intelligence indicating that Governor Carleton had further strengthened the fortifications around Montreal.

The Battle of Fort St. Johns

On August 25, while Schuyler was trying to arrange an alliance with the local tribes, his second-in-command, General Richard Montgomery received intelligence that the British were building ships at Fort St. Johns. Without authorization, Montgomery moved the entire force to a forward position at Ile aux Noix, on the Richelieu River.

In the meantime, Schuyler advanced to within sight of Fort St. Johns. A brief skirmish took place between the Americans and the First Nations, who withdrew when they realized that the fort’s garrison would not fight.

Following this brief battle, Schuyler became ill and turned command over to Montgomery, who laid siege to Fort St. John on September 17.

Benedict Arnold and the Invasion of Quebec

Meanwhile, Benedict Arnold had been given 1,100 men and orders, from General Washington, to capture Quebec City. Arnold was able to deliver his men to their objective; however, Arnold faced continual trouble almost from the beginning of the campaign. His march up the Kennebec River was slowed by numerous difficult portages. Additionally, many of Arnold’s boats leaked, spoiling of much of the expedition’s food and gunpowder.

By the time Arnold’s men reached the St. Lawrence River, only half of his fighting force remained .On November 14, Arnold assembled his troops on the Plains of Abraham with a white flag to accept the city’s surrender. However, lacking field artillery and facing a walled city, Arnold had no choice but to withdraw. Arnold and Montgomery linked up at Pointe aux Tremble on December 2, after the capture of Montreal.

The Siege of Quebec City

On December 31, Montgomery and Arnold attacked Quebec City. However, lacking any tactical advantage, and striking in a blizzard, Montgomery was killed and Arnold was wounded. Their remaining forces were quickly routed by Governor Carleton.

Despite this, Arnold maintained a mostly ineffectual siege of Quebec City. In March, 1776 Arnold was replaced by General Wooster. By the end of the month, the American army encamped outside Quebec City had grown to 3,000 men, despite the small pox epidemic sweeping the camp.

On May 6, a small flotilla of British ships arrived at Quebec City with supplies and 3,000 men. The Americans believed that there were only 300 men at Trios Rivier, and as a result walked into the teeth of an entrenched British army. Over 200 men and all of the American ships were captured. The incident marked the end of the American occupation of Quebec.

The Aftermath of the Invasion

The invasion of Quebec proved to be a disaster for the Continental Army. However, the actions of Benedict Arnold during the retreat to Fort Ticonderoga were widely credited with preventing the British from launching a full counter-offensive until 1777.

Sources

Burt, Alfred LeRoy. The Old Province of Quebec. Toronto: Ryerson Press; Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1933. Reprinted Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1968.

Lahaise, Robert and Vallerand, Noël. Le Québec sous le régime anglais : les Canadiens français, la colonisation britannique et la formation du Canada continental. Outremont, Québec : Lanctôt, 1999.

Neatby, Hilda. Quebec : the revolutionary age 1760-1791. Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1966.

Alden, John R (1969). A history of the American Revolution. Knopf. ISBN 0-306-80366-6.

Coffin, Victor (1896). The Province of Quebec and the Early American Revolution. University of Wisconsin Press.

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