Sunday, March 10, 2019

Episode 087 Canada, Spring 1776

Last week the British finally evacuated Boston.  The British, however were still holding Quebec.  The Americans could not take the city.  If they could not take control before British reinforcements arrived in the spring, Canada would almost certainly remain British.

When we last left Canada in Episode 79, General Richard Montgomery had been killed and Colonel Benedict Arnold injured, and most of their army captured in the failed attempt to take the city of Quebec on January 1, 1776.

Following the battle, Arnold, who found out about his promotion to general in late January, ran the continued siege of Quebec from his hospital bed.  His force of only a few hundred men was smaller than the force of defenders inside the city.  He begged for reinforcements but received almost none.  Remember at the end of 1775, General Washington’s army around Boston almost dissolved completely as enlistments came to an end with no end in sight for that siege either.  As a result, little more than General Arnold’s tenacity and refusal to give up was keeping the siege alive.

Only General Guy Carleton’s lack of faith in his troops, kept him from marching out of city and crushing what remained of the Continental Army in Canada.  To be fair, most of Carleton’s defenders were civilian militia. The Continentals had captured most of his regulars at St. Jean.  Carleton expected large numbers of reinforcements in the spring.  He was content to sit tight inside the walls of Quebec and await relief.

Arnold Fighting With Other Officers

As if Arnold’s lack of troops and having to command from a hospital bed was not enough of a handicap, he also had to deal with the fact that almost all of the officers under his command hated him.  Arnold had made enemies of Colonel Easton, Colonel Warner, and Major Brown during the capture of Fort Ticonderoga nearly a year earlier.  All of these officers had backed Arnold’s rival Ethan Allen.  Arnold had actually physically beaten up Easton the year before, something I described  back in Episode 60.  They had been under the command of General Montgomery.  After his death, they came under Arnold’s command.  None of them were happy about it.

Sketch of the city of Quebec following the New Year's Eve 1775 attack (from Wikimedia)  

Adding to the hostile subordinates was the fact that Arnold also now had General David Wooster as his immediate superior in Montreal.  Wooster and Arnold were both brigadier generals now, but Wooster had seniority, giving him authority over Arnold. Wooster also remained Arnold’s oldest wartime enemy.  Recall that a day or two after Lexington, Captain Arnold of the New Haven militia had to threaten to attack the New Haven powder house by force of arms to get the powder his men needed before marching to Boston.  The councilman he had threatened to attack was, of course, now his superior officer, General Wooster.

Fortunately, for Arnold, he still had a friend in Maj. General Philip Schuyler, who was still in overall command of the Northern Army.  Congress almost took away this one Arnold ally, when it removed Schuyler from command of Canada, replacing him with General Charles Lee.  Those orders only lasted a few weeks though, before Congress decided Lee was of better use in New York City.  But Congress had limited Schuyler’s command to New York.  It would send a new commander, John Thomas in a few months. I’ll discuss Thomas in an upcoming episode.  For the moment though Wooster was the senior officer in theater.

Local Support

A big part of the plan was for patriots to raise local militia to fight alongside the Continental Army to overthrow the British.  The Continental Congress never had the resources to send thousands of soldiers to Canada to overthrow the government.  Without local cooperation, success seemed unlikely.

The locals, though, did not seem terribly interested.  The British had recruited hundreds of Scottish Highlander immigrants living in Canada.  These were the primary forces defending Quebec.

Locals around Quebec, however, had no great interest in joining either side.  Most were French Catholics who had lost the French and Indian War a over a decade earlier.  They did not have the same militia traditions found in New England and had never had elected leaders.  Overall, British rule had been good to them.  After France surrendered Canada to Britain, they retained their right to practice their Catholic faith, keep their private property, and continue their lives pretty much as it had been.  The recently passed Quebec Act, which outraged the other colonies, benefited Quebec greatly by opening up the Ohio Valley to their control.

Benedict Arnold 
Most locals simply wanted to avoid the suffering brought on by war, and feared picking the wrong side.  That could mean losing their property, or even their lives.  Had the Continentals captured Quebec, it’s likely that more Canadians would have thought they could win and jumped on the bandwagon.  But the failure to capture Quebec made the likely outcome that London would send a large number of reinforcements in the Spring and push the Continentals out of the region.  No one would want to be seen as a supporting treason against the King once the regulars reestablished control.

The Continentals had done their best when they entered Canada they brought a letter from Congress To the Oppressed Inhabitants of Canada in both English and French translations.  The letter explained that they came as friends, to help liberate Canada from British tyranny.  But most Canadians, as I said, were not feeling particularly oppressed.  Things actually seemed to be improving for them under British rule.

The British, of course, countered with pamphlets of their own, saying, Look, we just gave all you French speaking Catholics a whole bunch of rights that you did not have even when France ruled here.  We just gave you authority over the Ohio Valley.  Now, take a look at all the horrible things the colonists have been saying about the threat of French Popery and see how they treat Catholics in their own colonies.  Do you really want to side with them?  For the most part, the French Canadians did their best to sit out the war.

It did not help that the Continentals had no cash, but were demanding food, clothing, shelter, and other supplies from the Canadians.  Sure, they handed out paper currency, or sometimes just written notes which might or might not be repaid at some point in the future, but who knows if those would be worth anything?  Some Canadians started accepting Continental currency at a discount, to account for the risk that it might turn out to be worthless at some point.  Rather than deal with that reality, General Arnold simply issued an edict saying that anyone who refused to take Continental currency at face value would be considered an enemy of the cause and treated as such.  After that, most locals simply did there best to avoid doing any business with the Continental Army.

General Wooster had also done his best to damage any possible good relations with the locals.  From his command in Montreal, Wooster arrested any locals who seemed insufficiently patriotic. Some he held locally, but most he shipped off to Albany where they would be someone else’s problem to feed and care for.  In Albany, Gen. Schuyler received a steady stream of prisoners, most of whom he saw as no real threat.  Many of them has simply expressed displeasure at some of Wooster’s policies.  Schuyler began paroling many and allowing them to return home.  It was Wooster’s complaint about these paroles that made public the animosity between him and Schuyler.

Moses Hazen

The Continentals did raise some local support though.  Colonel James Livingston of New York was authorized to recruit the First Canadian Regiment in the fall of 1775 as the Continentals were making their way toward Quebec.  Although he claimed to  have raised 1000 recruits, it appears his regiment never had more than 200 active soldiers during the campaign.  But his claims may have given motivation to start recruiting for a second Canadian Regiment under Moses Hazen.

Although he lived in Montreal, Hazen’s sympathy for the patriot cause probably had its roots in the fact that he was born and raised in Massachusetts.  He had come to Canada as a colonial officer during the French and Indian War, participating in several major battles to push France out of Canada.  He even purchased a Lieutenant’s commission in the regular army, retiring on half pay at the end of the war.

After the war, Hazen settled in Montreal where he became a prominent local government leader and businessman.  By the time of the invasion, he owned large tracts of land around St. Jean and elsewhere.

Sir Guy Carleton
When Arnold first attacked St. Jean back in early 1775, Hazen seemed to back the British, reporting to Governor Carleton and working with the British to organize defenses against the invaders.  When General Montgomery planned to retake St. Jean in the fall, Hazen visited General Schuyler to try to convince him that the defenses were too strong and that they should not attack.

While Schuyler listened at first, he eventually decided that Hazen was giving him false intelligence and had him arrested.  When Carleton’s forces moved against the patriots, they abandoned their prisoner.  But the British now did not trust Hazen either and imprisoned him in Montreal.  In November, when Carleton had to retreat back to Quebec, Hazen once again fell into the hands of the patriots.  This time, Hazen decided to get on board wholeheartedly with the patriot cause.  He assisted in the failed attack on Quebec in January 1776.  Afterwards, Congress gave him a commission as colonel and authorized him to recruit the Second Canadian Regiment for the Continental Army.  Hazen had only raised about 250 soldiers for his regiment by March 1776, where his men were serving under General Wooster in Montreal.

I’m giving this background on Hazen because he will eventually go on to become a general in the Continental Army and be involved in many other events.  But that is getting ahead of ourselves.

For now, in the spring of 1776, Arnold is commanding a few hundred men surrounding Quebec, which seems to be going nowhere. Wooster has a few hundred more men at Montreal and is worried about Indian attacks or local uprisings that may challenge his control of the region.  Similarly, Schuyler remains in Albany, responsible for the entire region, and now seems primarily concerned about possible Indian uprisings as well.

Although the patriots had forced Governor Carleton into a defense of Quebec, giving him no control of anything outside the city, there were still British garrisons elsewhere in Canada.  Along the east coast, British authority remained unchallenged in Halifax and the whole area around the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Everyone fully expected a relief fleet from Britain to arrive in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the spring.  That force would attempt to make its way up the St. Lawrence River to break the Siege of Quebec.  The only questions were how large the relief force would be, and how much resistance the Continentals could put up to stop them.

Also, further to the west, small garrisons of British regulars remained in places like Detroit and Green Bay.  While these small garrisons were no threat themselves, the officers at those garrisons were encouraging local tribes to consider going to war against the Continentals.

For the tribes, war was an opportunity for plunder.  It also made them more valuable in the eyes of the British, meaning they could get more gifts or favorable treaty terms in the future.  So the threat of Indian attack from the western tribes also seemed like a very clear and present danger once the spring fighting season began.

Congressional Committee

Following the January defeat at Quebec, the Continental Congress sent an investigative committee headed by Benjamin Franklin to investigate the failure to take Quebec.  Committee finally arrived in March,1776.  Where they met with Generals Schuyler, Wooster and Arnold, all separately, as well as other locals to assess the viability continuing the Quebec Campaign.

In the end, the Committee agreed with Arnold’s view that Congress’ failure to provide the necessary money and manpower had made victory there impossible.  The Committee wrote to Congress requesting £20,000.  Congress, of course, had nowhere near that much hard currency.  They were printing paper notes as fast as they could, but did not have gold and silver.

When Congress could not provide the necessary money and manpower, the Committee recommended pulling out of Canada and taking a defensive posture in Northern New York.  Franklin’s Committee spent nearly two months in the region.  They came away with a good impression of Arnold, and seemed to agree that Wooster was not up to the job.

Battle of Saint Pierre

During the months following Quebec, both sides mostly waited to see who would get reinforcements first.  But Arnold could not remain idle.  If he did not have the resources for combat, he could at least have his army preparing for battle by taking better positions and entrenching them.

In March 1776, Arnold ordered a small contingent of artillery to set up a battery at Pointe-Lévis, directly across the St. Lawrence river from Quebec.  The location gave the Continentals a range of fire that would cover Quebec’s harbor as well as any shipping trying to move up or down river.  It would help to keep Quebec isolated from receiving supplies, but more importantly could fire on any British reinforcements seeking to relieve Quebec.

Map of Quebec City (from Wikimedia)
Local French loyalists living in the area, sneaked into Quebec and informed General Carleton.  Despite his concerns, Carleton was still in no mood to risk his position by sending his army outside the city walls.  Instead, he gave instructions to the informant to deliver to Louis Liénard de Beaujeu, another French Canadian loyalist.  Beaujeu came from a French noble family and had personally served as an officer against the British army during the French and Indian War.

When the war ended and Britain took control of Quebec, Beaujeu, who has been born in Canada and owned vast properties in the region, threw in his lot with the British.  He helped to end animosities between Indian tribes and the British government now controlling all of Canada.  When the Continentals invaded Quebec, Beaujeu remained loyal to the British government.

Under Carleton’s instructions, Beaujeu raised about 170 French Canadian volunteers to attack the battery before it could be completed.  Beaujeu sent an advance force of 46 men to Saint-Pierre to establish a base of operation as the home of a local loyalist and militia commander.

Because the local population was so divided, local French-Canadians favoring the Continentals got word of the plans and notified Gen. Arnold.  Not wanting to wait for an attack, Arnold immediately dispatched 80 Continental soldiers to confront the loyalist attack force.  Hazen, who was at this time still operating independently as a recruiter for the Continentals, also raised about 150 local patriot militia to fight alongside Arnold’s detachment on Continentals.

On March 25, the combined patriot force discovered the loyalist advance force at Saint-Pierre, and surrounded the home that they had occupied.  The loyalists barricaded themselves inside the home, leading to a firefight.  The patriots had a small field cannon with them, making their job much easier.

Both sides killed about six enemy, and probably about a dozen wounded on each side (as usual, records are vague and contradictory).  A few of the loyalists escaped, but most surrendered and were taken prisoner.  For the locals, this really was a family feud.  Most of the French Canadians on either side knew each other.  Many were related.

In the end, not wanted to create further hard feelings with the locals, the patriots released the prisoners on the promise that they would not again take up arms against the patriots.  Beaujeu, realizing he had lost about a quarter of his force, the element of surprise, and the morale of his men, gave up his attempt to take the battery.  He had to go into hiding to avoid capture and arrest by the Continental Army.

Wooster Takes over Quebec

In April 1776, Gen. Wooster decided that he should take control of the army around Quebec.  By this time, Arnold had mostly recovered from his leg wound and was back to preparing the army for the spring offensive.  Wooster, however, made it clear to the junior general, that Wooster was now in charge and he would not be taking any advice from Arnold.

David Wooster
In frustration, Arnold requested to leave Quebec and took over Wooster’s old command at Montreal.  Some accounts say his horse took a fall, causing him to re-injure his wounded leg, and that was the reason for him leaving Quebec.  But I’m inclined to believe it was Wooster.  He could not stand the man and definitely did not want to take direct orders from him everyday.  The fact that Arnold did not leave Quebec in January when he had a life threatening leg injury indicates he would not leave just because of a much more minor injury that did not even break a bone.

Wooster launched an artillery barrage against Quebec from the Plains of Abraham.  The problem was, he only had a few guns, far fewer than the defenders.  Wooster spent a few days taking pot shots at the city, but clearly would have no impact other than wasting the dwindling supply of Continental ammunition.  One defender mockingly noted that the attack, only killed one young boy in his home, wounded one sailor, and injured one turkey.  The attackers did set a few buildings on fire, but this in no way seriously threatened the defense of the city.

After that pointless attack, Wooster settled in to wait for something to happen.  Like Carleton, Wooster would do much of anything else unless he received more reinforcements.  As a result, both armies sat and waited.

- - -

Next  Episode 88: British War Plans for 1776

Previous Episode 86: The Evacuation of Boston

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Further Reading


James Livingston:

Moses Hazen:

Letter from Continental Congress  to the oppressed inhabitants of Canada, May  29, 1775:

Americans win the battle of Saint Pierre:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Codman, John Arnold’s Expedition To Quebec,  New York, MacMillan Co., 1901.

Hill, George Benedict Arnold: A Biography, Boston: E.O. Libby & Co. 1858.

Kingsford, William The History of Canada, Vol. 6,  Toronto: Roswell & Hutchinson, 1887.

Smith, Justin Our Struggle for the Fourteenth Colony: Canada, and the American Revolution, Vol. 2, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1907.

Winsor, Justin (ed) Arnold's expedition against Quebec. 1775-1776: The Diary of Ebenezer Wild, Cambridge: John Wilson & Son, 1886.

Withington, Lothrop (ed) Caleb Haskell's diary. May 5, 1775-May 30, 1776. A revolutionary soldier's record before Boston and with Arnold's Quebec expedition, Newburyport: W.H. Huse, 1881.

Würtele, Fred C. Blockade of Quebec in 1775-1776 by the American revolutionists (les Bastonnais) Vol 1) Quebec: Daily Telegraph Job Printing House, 1905.

Würtele, Fred C. Blockade of Quebec in 1775-1776 by the American revolutionists (les Bastonnais) Vol 2) Quebec: Daily Telegraph Job Printing House, 1906..

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)

Anderson, Mark The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony: America’s War of Liberation in Canada, 1774–1776, University Press of New England, 2013.

Cubbison, Douglas R. The American Northern Theater Army in 1776, Jefferson, NC: Macfarland & Co. 2010 (book recommendation of the week).

Hatch, Robert Thrust for Canada, New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1979.

Fleming, Thomas 1776: Year of Illusions, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1975.

Lefkowitz, Arthur S. Benedict Arnold's Army: The 1775 American Invasion of Canada During the Revolutionary War, El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2008.

Martin, James Benedict Arnold: Revolutionary Hero, New York: NYU Press, 1997.

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution, New York: Viking Penguin, 2012.

Randall, Willard Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, William Morrow & Co. 1990.

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