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Invasion, 1775

Carleton's first eight years as governor of Canada were almost entirely occupied with civil administration. The next four were equally occupied with war; so much so, indeed, that the Quebec Act could not be put in force on the 1st of May 1775, as provided for in the Act itself, but only bit by bit much later on. There was one short session of the new Legislative Council, which opened on the 17th of August. But all men's minds were even then turned towards the Montreal frontier, whence the American invasion threatened to overspread the whole country and make this opening session the last that might ever be held. Most of the members were soon called away from the council-chamber to the field. No further session could be held either that year or the next; and Carleton was obliged to nominate the judges himself. The fifteen years of peace were over, and Canada had once more become an object of contention between two fiercely hostile forces.

The War of the American Revolution was a long and exceedingly complicated struggle; and its many varied fortunes naturally had a profound effect on those of Canada. But Canada was directly engaged in no more than the first three campaigns, when the Americans invaded her in 1775 and '76, and when the British used her as the base from which to invade the new American Republic in 1777. These first three campaigns formed a purely civil war within the British Empire. On each side stood three parties. Opponents were ranged against each other in the mother country, in the Thirteen Colonies, and in Canada. In the mother country the king and his party government were ranged against the Opposition and all who held radical or revolutionary views. Here the strife was merely political. But in the Thirteen Colonies the forces of the Crown were ranged against the forces of the new Continental Congress. The small minority of colonists who were afterwards known as the United Empire Loyalists sided with the Crown. A majority sided with the Congress. The rest kept as selfishly neutral as they could. Among the English-speaking civilians in Canada, many of whom were now of a much better class than the original camp-followers, the active loyalists comprised only the smaller half. The larger half sided with the Americans, as was only natural, seeing that most of them were immigrants from the Thirteen Colonies. But by no means all these sympathizers were ready for a fight. Among the French Canadians the loyalists included very few besides the seigneurs, the clergy, and a handful of educated people in Montreal, Three Rivers, and Quebec. The mass of the habitants were more or less neutral. But many of them were anti-British at first, while most of them were anti-American afterwards.

Events moved quickly in 1775. On the 19th of April the 'shot heard round the world' was fired at Lexington in Massachusetts. On the 1st of May, the day appointed for the inauguration of the Quebec Act, the statue of the king in Montreal was grossly defaced and hung with a cross, a necklace of potatoes, and a placard bearing the inscription, Here's the Canadian Pope and English Fool--Voila le Pape du Canada et le sot Anglais. Large rewards were offered for the detection of the culprits; but without avail. Excitement ran high and many an argument ended with a bloody nose.

Meanwhile three Americans were plotting an attack along the old line of Lake Champlain. Two of them were outlaws from the colony of New York, which was then disputing with the neighboring colony of New Hampshire the possession of the lawless region in which all three had taken refuge and which afterwards became Vermont. Ethan Allen, the gigantic leader of the wild Green Mountain Boys, had a price on his head. Seth Warner, his assistant, was an outlaw of a somewhat humbler kind. Benedict Arnold, the third invader, came from Connecticut. He was a horse-dealer carrying on business with Quebec and Montreal as well as the West Indies. He was just thirty-four; an excellent rider, a dead shot, a very fair sailor, and captain of a crack militia company. Immediately after the affair at Lexington he had turned out his company, reinforced by undergraduates from Yale, had seized the New Haven powder magazine and marched over to Cambridge, where the Massachusetts Committeemen took such a fancy to him that they made him a colonel on the spot, with full authority to raise men for an immediate attack on Ticonderoga. The opportunity seemed too good to be lost; though the Continental Congress was not then in favor of attacking Canada, as its members hoped to see the Canadians throw off the yoke of empire on their own account. The British posts on Lake Champlain were absurdly undermanned. Ticonderoga contained two hundred cannon, but only forty men, none of whom expected an attack. Crown Point had only a sergeant and a dozen men to watch its hundred and thirteen pieces. Fort George, at the head of Lake George, was no better off; and nothing more had been done to man the fortifications at St Johns on the Richelieu, where there was an excellent sloop as well as many cannon in charge of the usual sergeant's guard. This want of preparation was no fault of Carleton's. He had frequently reported home on the need of more men. Now he had less than a thousand regulars to defend the whole country: and not another man was to arrive till the spring of next year. When Gage was hard pressed for reinforcements at Boston in the autumn of 1774 Carleton had immediately sent him two excellent battalions that could ill be spared from Canada. But when Carleton himself made a similar request, in the autumn of 1775, Admiral Graves, to his lasting dishonor, refused to sail up to Quebec so late as October.

The first moves of the three Americans smacked strongly of a well-staged extravaganza in which the smart Yankees never failed to score off the dunderheaded British. The Green Mountain Boys assembled on the east side of the lake. Spies walked in and out of Ticonderoga, exactly opposite, and reported to Ethan Allen that the commandant and his whole garrison of forty unsuspecting men would make an easy prey. Allen then sent eighty men down to Skenesborough (now Whitehall) at the southern end of the lake, to take the tiny post there and bring back boats for the crossing on the 10th of May. Then Arnold turned up with his colonel's commission, but without the four hundred men it authorized him to raise. Allen, however, had made himself a colonel too, with Warner as his second-in-command. So there were no less than three colonels for two hundred and thirty men. Arnold claimed the command by virtue of his Massachusetts commission. But the Green Mountain Boys declared they would follow no colonels but their own; and so Arnold, after being threatened with arrest, was appointed something like chief of the staff, on the understanding that he would make himself generally useful with the boats. This appointment was made at dawn on the 10th of May, just as the first eighty men were advancing to the attack after crossing over under cover of night. The British sentry's musket missed fire; whereupon he and the guard were rushed, while the rest of the garrison were surprised in their beds. Ethan Allen, who knew the fort thoroughly, hammered on the commandant's door and summoned him to surrender 'In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!' The astonished commandant, seeing that resistance was impossible, put on his dressing-gown and paraded his disarmed garrison as prisoners of war. Seth Warner presently arrived with the rest of Allen's men and soon became the hero of Crown Point, which he took with the whole of its thirteen men and a hundred and thirteen cannon. Then Arnold had his own turn, in command of an expedition against the sergeant's guard, cannon, stores, fort, and sloop at St Johns on the Richelieu, all of which he captured in the same absurdly simple way. When he came sailing back the three victorious commanders paraded all their men and fired off many straggling fusillades of joy. In the meantime the Continental Congress at Philadelphia, with a delightful touch of unconscious humor, was gravely debating the following resolution, which was passed on the 1st of June: That no Expedition or Incursion ought to be undertaken or made, by any Colony or body of Colonists, against or into Canada.

The same Congress, however, found reasons enough for changing its mind before the month of May was out. The British forces in Canada had already begun to move towards the threatened frontier. They had occupied and strengthened St Johns. And the Americans were beginning to fear lest the command of Lake Champlain might again fall into British hands. On the 27th of May the Congress closed the phase of individual raids and inaugurated the phase of regular invasion by commissioning General Schuyler to 'pursue any measures in Canada that may have a tendency to promote the peace and security of these Colonies.' Philip Schuyler was a distinguished member of the family whose head had formulated the 'Glorious Enterprise' of conquering New France in 1689.1 So it was quite in line with the family tradition for him to be under orders to 'take possession of St Johns, Montreal, and any other parts of the country,' provided always, adds the cautious Congress, that 'General Schuyler finds it practicable, and that it will not be disagreeable to the Canadians.'

A few days later Arnold was trying to get a colonelcy from the Convention of New York, whose members just then happened to be thinking of giving commissions to his rivals, the leaders of the Green Mountain Boys, while, to make the complication quite complete, these Boys themselves had every intention of electing officers on their own account. In the meantime Connecticut, determined not to be forestalled by either friend or foe, ordered a thousand men to Ticonderoga and commissioned a general called Wooster to command them. Thus early were sown the seeds of those dissensions between Congress troops and Colony troops which nearly drove Washington mad.

Schuyler reached Ticonderoga in mid-July and assumed his position as Congressional commander-in-chief. Unfortunately for the good of the service he had only a few hundred men with him; so Wooster, who had a thousand, thought himself the bigger general of the two. The Connecticut men followed Wooster's lead by jeering at Schuyler's men from New York; while the Vermonters added to the confusion by electing Seth Warner instead of Ethan Allen. In mid-August a second Congressional general arrived, making three generals and half a dozen colonels for less than fifteen hundred troops. This third general was Richard Montgomery, an ardent rebel of thirty-eight, who had been a captain in the British Army. He had sold his commission, bought an estate on the Hudson, and married a daughter of the Livingstons. The Livingstons headed the Anglo-American revolutionists in the colony of New York as the Schuylers headed the Knickerbocker Dutch. One of them was very active on the rebel side in Montreal and was soon to take the field at the head of the American 'patriots' in Canada. Montgomery was brother to the Captain Montgomery of the 43rd who was the only British officer to disgrace himself during Wolfe's Quebec campaign, which he did by murdering his French-Canadian prisoners at Chateau Richer because they had fought disguised as Indians.2 Richard Montgomery was a much better man than his savage brother; though, as the sequel proves, he was by no means the perfect hero his American admirers would have the world believe. His great value at Ticonderoga was his professional knowledge and his ardor in the cause he had espoused. His presence 'changed the spirit of the camp.' It sadly needed change. 'Such a set of pusillanimous wretches never were collected' is his own description in a despairing letter to his wife. The 'army,' in fact, was all parts and no whole, and all the parts were mere untrained militia. Moreover, the spirit of the 'town meeting' ruled the camp. Even a battery could not be moved without consulting a council of war. Schuyler, though far more phlegmatic than Montgomery, agreed with him heartily about this and many other exasperating points. 'If Job had been a general in my situation, his memory had not been so famous for patience.'

Worn out by his worries, Schuyler fell ill and was sent to command the base at Albany. Montgomery then succeeded to the command of the force destined for the front. The plan of invasion approved by Washington was, first, to sweep the line of the Richelieu by taking St Johns and Chambly, then to take Montreal, next to secure the line of the St Lawrence, and finally to besiege Quebec. Montgomery's forces were to carry out all the preliminary parts alone. But Arnold was to join him at Quebec after advancing across country from the Kennebec to the Chaudiere with a flying column of Virginians and New Englanders.

Carleton opened the melancholy little session of the new Legislative Council at Quebec on the very day Montgomery arrived at Ticonderoga--the 17th of August. When he closed it, to take up the defense of Canada, the prospect was already black enough, though it grew blacker still as time went on. Immediately on hearing the news of Ticonderoga, Crown Point, and St Johns at the end of May he had sent every available man from Quebec to Montreal, whence Colonel Templer had already sent off a hundred and forty men to St Johns, while calling for volunteers to follow. The seigneurial class came forward at once. But all attempts to turn out the militia en masse proved utterly futile. Fourteen years of kindly British rule had loosened the old French bonds of government and the habitants were no longer united as part of one people with the seigneurs and the clergy. The rebels had been busy spreading insidious perversions of the belated Quebec Act, poisoning the minds of the habitants against the British government, and filling their imaginations with all sorts of terrifying doubts. The habitants were ignorant, credulous, and suspicious to the last degree. The most absurd stories obtained ready credence and ran like wildfire through the province. Seven thousand Russians were said to be coming up the St Lawrence--whether as friends or foes mattered nothing compared with the awful fact that they were all outlandish bogeys. Carleton was said to have a plan for burning alive every habitant he could lay his hands on. Montgomery's thousand were said to be five thousand, with many more to follow. And later on, when Arnold's men came up the Kennebec, it was satisfactorily explained to most of the habitants that it was no good resisting dead-shot riflemen who were bullet-proof themselves. Carleton issued proclamations. The seigneurs waved their swords. The clergy thundered from their pulpits. But all in vain. Two months after the American exploits on Lake Champlain Carleton gave a guinea to the sentry mounted in his honor by the local militia colonel, M. de Tonnancour, because this man was the first genuine habitant he had yet seen armed in the whole district of Three Rivers. What must Carleton have felt when the home government authorized him to raise six thousand of His Majesty's loyal French-Canadian subjects for immediate service and informed him that the arms and equipment for the first three thousand were already on the way to Canada! Seven years earlier it might still have been possible to raise French-Canadian counterparts of those Highland regiments which Wolfe had recommended and Pitt had so cordially approved. Carleton himself had recommended this excellent scheme at the proper time. But, though the home government even then agreed with him, they thought such a measure would raise more parliamentary and public clamor than they could safely face. The chance once lost was lost for ever.

Carleton had done what he could to keep the enemy at arm's length from Montreal by putting every available man into Chambly and St Johns. He knew nothing of Arnold's force till it actually reached Quebec in November. Quebec was thought secure for the time being, and so was left with a handful of men under Cramahe. Montreal had a few regulars and a hundred 'Royal Emigrants,' mostly old Highlanders who had settled along the New York frontier after the Conquest. For the rest, it had many American and a few British sympathizers ready to fly at each others' throats and a good many neutrals ready to curry favor with the winners. Sorel was a mere post without any effective garrison. Chambly was held by only eighty men under Major Stopford. But its strong stone fort was well armed and quite proof against anything except siege artillery; while its little garrison consisted of good regulars who were well provisioned for a siege. The mass of Carleton's little force was at St Johns under Major Preston, who had 500 men of the 7th and 26th (Royal Fusiliers and Cameronians), 80 gunners, and 120 volunteers, mostly French-Canadian gentlemen. Preston was an excellent officer, and his seven hundred men were able to give a very good account of themselves as soldiers. But the fort was not nearly so strong as the one at Chambly; it had no natural advantages of position; and it was short of both stores and provisions.

The three successive steps for Montgomery to take were St Johns, Chambly, and Montreal. But the natural order of events was completely upset by that headstrong Yankee, Ethan Allen, who would have his private war at Montreal, and by that contemptible British officer, Major Stopford, who would not defend Chambly. Montgomery laid siege to St Johns on the 18th of September, but made no substantial progress for more than a month. He probably had no use for Allen at anything like a regular siege. So Allen and a Major Brown went on to 'preach politicks' and concert a rising with men like Livingston and Walker. Livingston, as we have seen already, belonged to a leading New York family which was very active in the rebel cause; and Livingston, Walker, Allen, and Brown would have made a dangerous anti-British combination if they could only have worked together. But they could not. Livingston hurried off to join Montgomery with four hundred 'patriots' who served their cause fairly well till the invasion was over. Walker had no military qualities whatever. So Allen and Brown were left to their own disunited devices. Montreal seemed an easy prey. It had plenty of rebel sympathizers. Nearly all the surrounding habitants were either neutrals or inclined to side with the Americans, though not as fighting men. Carleton's order to bring in all the ladders, so as to prevent an escalade of the walls, had met with general opposition and evasion. Nothing seemed wanting but a good working plan.

Brown, or possibly Allen himself, then hit upon the idea of treating Montreal very much as Allen had treated Ticonderoga. In any case Allen jumped at it. He jumped so far, indeed, that he forestalled Brown, who failed to appear at the critical moment. Thus, on the 24th of September, Allen found himself alone at Long Point with a hundred and twenty men in face of three times as many under the redoubtable Major Carden, a skilled veteran who had won Wolfe's admiration years before. Carden's force included thirty regulars, two hundred and forty militiamen, and some Indians, probably not over a hundred strong. The militia were mostly of the seigneurial class with a following of habitants and townsmen of both French and British blood. Carden broke Allen's flanks rounded up his centre, and won the little action easily, though at the expense of his own most useful life. Allen was very indignant at being handcuffed and marched off like a common prisoner after having made himself a colonel twice over. But Carleton had no respect for self-commissioned officers and had no soldiers to spare for guarding dangerous rebels. So he shipped Allen off to England, where that eccentric warrior was confined in Pendennis Castle near Falmouth in Cornwall.

This affair, small as it was, revived British hopes in Montreal and induced a few more militiamen and Indians to come forward. But within a month more was lost at Chambly than had been gained at Montreal. On the 18th of October a small American detachment attacked Chambly with two little field-guns and induced it to surrender on the 20th. If ever an officer deserved to be shot it was Major Stopford, who tamely surrendered his well-armed and well-provided fort to an insignificant force, after a flimsy resistance of only thirty-six hours, without even taking the trouble to throw his stores into the river that flowed beside his strong stone walls. The news of this disgraceful surrender, diligently spread by rebel sympathizers, frightened the Indians away from St Johns, thus depriving Major Preston, the commandant, of his best couriers at the very worst time. But the evil did not stop there; for nearly all the few French-Canadian militiamen whom the more distant seigneurs had been able to get under arms deserted en masse, with many threats against any one who should try to turn them out again.

Chambly is only a short day's march from Montreal to the west and St Johns to the south; so its capture meant that St Johns was entirely cut off from the Richelieu to the north and dangerously exposed to being cut off from Montreal as well. Its ample stores and munitions of war were a priceless boon to Montgomery, who now redoubled his efforts to take St Johns. But Preston held out bravely for the remainder of the month, while Carleton did his best to help him. A fortnight earlier Carleton had arrested that firebrand, Walker, who had previously refused to leave the country, though Carleton had given him the chance of doing so. Mrs. Walker, as much a rebel as her husband, interviewed Carleton and noted in her diary that he 'said many severe Things in very soft & Polite Termes.' Carleton was firm. Walker's actions, words, and correspondence all proved him a dangerous rebel whom no governor could possibly leave at large without breaking his oath of office. Walker, who had himself caused so many outrageous arrests, now not only resisted the legal arrest of his own person, but fired on the little party of soldiers who had been sent to bring him into Montreal. The soldiers then began to burn him out; whereupon he carried his wife to a window from which the soldiers rescued her. He then surrendered and was brought into Montreal, where the sight of him as a prisoner made a considerable impression on the waverers.

A few hundred neighboring militiamen were scraped together. Every one of the handful of regulars who could be spared was turned out. And Carleton set off to the relief of St Johns. But Seth Warner's Green Mountain Boys, reinforced by many more sharpshooters, prevented Carleton from landing at Longueuil, opposite Montreal. The remaining Indians began to slink away. The French-Canadian militiamen deserted fast--'thirty or forty of a night.' There were not two hundred regulars available for a march across country. And on the 30th Carleton was forced to give up in despair. Within the week St Johns surrendered with 688 men, who were taken south as prisoners of war. Preston had been completely cut off and threatened with starvation as well. So when he destroyed everything likely to be needed by the enemy he had done all that could be expected of a brave and capable commander.

It was the 3rd of November when St Johns surrendered. Ten days later Montgomery occupied Montreal and Arnold landed at Wolfe's Cove just above Quebec. The race for the possession of Quebec had been a very close one. The race for the capture of Carleton was to be closer still. And on the fate of either depended the immediate, and perhaps the ultimate, fate of Canada.

The race for Quebec had been none the less desperate because the British had not known of the danger from the south till after Arnold had suddenly emerged from the wilds of Maine and was well on his way to the mouth of the Chaudiere, which falls into the St Lawrence seven miles above the city. Arnold's subsequent change of sides earned him the execration of the Americans. But there can be no doubt whatever that if he had got through in time to capture Quebec he would have become a national hero of the United States. He had the advantage of leading picked men; though nearly three hundred faint-hearts did turn back half-way. But, even with picked men, his feat was one of surpassing excellence. His force went in eleven hundred strong. It came out, reduced by desertion as well as by almost incredible hardships, with barely seven hundred. It began its toilsome ascent of the Kennebec towards the end of September, carrying six weeks' supplies in the bad, hastily built boats or on the men's backs. Daniel Morgan and his Virginian riflemen led the way. Aaron Burr was present as a young volunteer. The portages were many and trying. The settlements were few at first and then wanting altogether. Early in October the drenched portagers were already sleeping in their frozen clothes. The boats began to break up. Quantities of provisions were lost. Soon there was scarcely anything left but flour and salt pork. It took nearly a fortnight to get past the Great Carrying Place, in sight of Mount Bigelow. Rock, bog, and freezing slime told on the men, some of whom began to fall sick. Then came the chain of ponds leading into Dead River. Then the last climb up to the height-of-land beyond which lay the headwaters of the Chaudiere, which takes its rise in Lake Megantic.

There were sixty miles to go beyond the lake, and a badly broken sixty miles they were, before the first settlement of French Canadians could be reached. There was no trail. Provisions were almost at an end. Sickness increased. The sick began to die. 'And what was it all for? A chance to get killed! The end of the march was Quebec --impregnable!' On the 24th of October Arnold, with fifteen other men, began 'a race against time, a race against starvation' by pushing on ahead in a desperate effort to find food. Within a week he had reached the first settlement, after losing three of his five boats with everything in them. Three days later, and not one day too soon, the French Canadians met his seven hundred famishing men with a drove of cattle and plenty of provisions. The rest of the way was toilsome enough. But it seemed easy by comparison. The habitants were friendly, but very shy about enlisting, in spite of Washington's invitation to 'range yourselves under the standard of general liberty.' The Indians were more responsive, and nearly fifty joined on their own terms. By the 8th of November Arnold was marching down the south shore of the St Lawrence, from the Chaudiere to Point Levis, in full view of Quebec. He had just received a dispatch ten days old from Montgomery by which he learned that St Johns was expected to fall immediately and that Schuyler was no longer with the army at the front. But he could not tell when the junction of forces would be made; and he saw at once that Quebec was on the alert because every boat had been either destroyed or taken over to the other side.

The spring and summer had been anxious times enough in Quebec. But the autumn was a great deal worse. Bad news kept coming down from Montreal. The disaffected got more and more restless and began 'to act as though no opposition might be shown the rebel forces.' And in October it did seem as if nothing could be done to stop the invaders. There were only a few hundred militiamen that could be depended on. The regulars, under Colonel Maclean, had gone up to help Carleton on the Montreal frontier. The fortifications were in no state to stand a siege. But Cramahe was full of steadfast energy. He had mustered the French-Canadian militia on September 11, the very day Arnold was leaving Cambridge in Massachusetts for his daring march against Quebec. These men had answered the call far better in the city of Quebec than anywhere else. There was also a larger proportion of English-speaking loyalists here than in Montreal. But no transports brought troops up the St Lawrence from Boston or the mother country, and no vessel brought Carleton down. The loyalists were, however, encouraged by the presence of two small men-of-war, one of which, the _Hunter_, had been the guide-ship for Wolfe's boat the night before the Battle of the Plains. Some minor reinforcements also kept arriving: veterans from the border settlements and a hundred and fifty men from Newfoundland. On the 3rd of November, the day St Johns surrendered to Montgomery, an intercepted dispatch had warned Cramahe of Arnold's approach and led him to seize all the boats on the south shore opposite Quebec. This was by no means his first precaution. He had sent some men forty miles up the Chaudiere as soon as the news of the raids on Lake Champlain and St Johns had arrived at the end of May. Thus, though neither of them had anticipated such a bolt from the blue, both Carleton and Cramahe had taken all the reasonable means within their most restricted power to provide against unforeseen contingencies.

Arnold's chance of surprising Quebec had been lost ten days before he was able to cross the St Lawrence; and when the habitants on the south shore were helping his men to make scaling-ladders the British garrison on the north had already become too strong for him. But he was indefatigable in collecting boats and canoes at the mouth of the Chaudiere, and at other points higher up than Cramahe's men had reached when on their mission of destruction or removal, and he was as capable as ever when, on the pitch-black night of the 13th, he led his little flotilla through the gap between the two British men-of-war, the Hunter and the Lizard. The next day he marched across the Plains of Abraham and saluted Quebec with three cheers. But meanwhile Colonel Maclean, who had set out to help Carleton at Montreal and turned back on hearing the news of St Johns, had slipped into Quebec on the 12th. So Arnold found himself with less than seven hundred effectives against the eleven hundred British who were now behind the walls. After vainly summoning the city to surrender he retired to Pointe-aux-Trembles, more than twenty miles up the north shore of the St Lawrence, there to await the arrival of the victorious Montgomery.

Meanwhile Montgomery was racing for Carleton and Carleton was racing for Quebec. Montgomery's advance-guard had hurried on to Sorel, at the mouth of the Richelieu, forty-five miles below Montreal, to mount guns that would command the narrow channel through which the fugitive governor would have to pass on his way to Quebec. They had ample time to set the trap; for an incessant nor'-easter blew up the St Lawrence day after day and held Carleton fast in Montreal, while, only a league away, Montgomery's main body was preparing to cross over. Escape by land was impossible, as the Americans held Berthier, on the north shore, and had won over the habitants, all the way down from Montreal, on both sides of the river. At last, on the afternoon of the 11th, the wind shifted. Immediately a single cannon-shot was fired, a bugle sounded the fall in! and 'the whole military establishment' of Montreal formed up in the barrack square--one hundred and thirty officers and men, all told. Carleton, 'wrung to the soul,' as one of his officers wrote home, came on parade 'firm, unshaken, and serene.' The little column then marched down to the boats through shuttered streets of timid neutrals and scowling rebels. The few loyalists who came to say good-bye to Carleton at the wharf might well have thought it was the last handshake they would ever get from a British 'Captain-General and Governor-in-chief' as they saw him step aboard in the dreary dusk of that November afternoon. And if he and they had known the worst they might well have thought their fate was sealed; for neither of them then knew that both sides of the St Lawrence were occupied in force at two different places on the perilous way to Quebec.

The little flotilla of eleven vessels got safely down to within a few miles of Sorel, when one grounded and delayed the rest till the wind failed altogether at noon on the 12th. The next three days it blew upstream without a break. No progress could be made as there was no room to tack in the narrow passages opposite Sorel. On the third day an American floating battery suddenly appeared, firing hard. Behind it came a boat with a flag of truce and the following summons from Colonel Easton, who commanded Montgomery's advance-guard at Sorel:

SIR,--By this you will learn that General Montgomery is in Possession of the Fortress Montreal. You are very sensible that I am in Possession at this Place, and that, from the strength of the United Colonies on both sides your own situation is Rendered Very disagreeable. I am therefore induced to make you the following Proposal, viz.:--That if you will Resign your Fleet to me Immediately, without destroying the Effects on Board, You and Your men shall be used with due civility, together with women & Children on Board. To this I shall expect Your direct and Immediate answer. Should you Neglect You will Cheerfully take the Consequences which will follow.

Carleton was surprised: and well he might be. He had not supposed that Montgomery's men were in any such commanding position. But, like Cramahe at Quebec, he refused to answer; whereupon Easton's batteries opened both from the south shore and from Isle St Ignace. Carleton's heaviest gun was a 9-pounder; while Easton had four 12-pounders, one of them mounted on a rowing battery that soon forced the British to retreat. The skipper of the schooner containing the powder magazine wanted to surrender on the spot, especially when he heard that the Americans were getting some hot shot ready for him. But Carleton retreated upstream, twelve miles above Sorel, to Lavaltrie, just above Berthier on the north shore, where, on attempting to land, he was driven back by some Americans and habitants. Next morning, the 16th, a fateful day for Canada, the same Major Brown who had failed Ethan Allen at Montreal came up with a flag of truce to propose that Carleton should send an officer to see for himself how well all chance of escape had now been cut off. The offer was accepted; and Brown explained the situation from the rebel point of view. 'This is my small battery; and, even if you should chance to escape, I have a grand battery at the mouth of the Sorel [Richelieu] which will infallibly sink all of your vessels. Wait a little till you see the 32-pounders that are now within half-a-mile.' There was a good deal of Yankee bluff in this warning, especially as the 32-pounders could not be mounted in time. But the British officer seemed perfectly satisfied that the way was completely blocked; and so the Americans felt sure that Carleton would surrender the following day.

Carleton, however, was not the man to give in till the very last; and one desperate chance still remained. His flotilla was doomed. But he might still get through alone without it. One of the French-Canadian skippers, better known as 'Le Tourte' or 'Wild Pigeon' than by his own name of Bouchette because of his wonderfully quick trips, was persuaded to make the dash for freedom. So Carleton, having ordered Prescott, his second-in-command, not to surrender the flotilla before the last possible moment, arranged for his own escape in a whaleboat. It was with infinite precaution that he made his preparations, as the enemy, though confident of taking him, were still on the alert to prevent such a prize from slipping through their fingers. He dressed like a habitant from head to foot, putting on a tasselled bonnet rouge and an etoffe du pays (grey homespun) suit of clothes, with a red sash and bottes sauvages like Indian moccasins. Then the whaleboat was quietly brought alongside. The crew got in and plied their muffled oars noiselessly down to the narrow passage between Isle St Ignace and the Isle du Pas, where they shipped the oars and leaned over the side to paddle past the nearest battery with the palms of their hands. It was a moment of breathless excitement; for the hope of Canada was in their keeping and no turning back was possible. But the American sentries saw no furtive French Canadians gliding through that dark November night and heard no suspicious noises above the regular ripple of the eddying island current. One tense half-hour and all was over, The oars were run out again; the men gave way with a will; and Three Rivers was safely reached in the morning.

Here Carleton met Captain Napier, who took him aboard the armed ship Fell, in which he continued his journey to Quebec. He was practically safe aboard the Fell; for Arnold had neither an army strong enough to take Quebec nor any craft big enough to fight a ship. But the flotilla above Sorel was doomed. After throwing all its powder into the St Lawrence it surrendered on the 19th, the very day Carleton reached Quebec. The astonished Americans were furious when they found that Carleton had slipped through their fingers after all. They got Prescott, whom they hated; and they released Walker, whom Carleton was taking as a prisoner to Quebec. But no friends and foes like Walker and Prescott could make up for the loss of Carleton, who was the heart as well as the head of Canada at bay.

The exultation of the British more than matched the disappointment of the Americans. Thomas Ainslie, collector of customs and captain of militia at Quebec, only expressed the feelings of all his fellow-loyalists when he made the following entry in the extremely accurate diary he kept throughout those troublous times:

'On the 19th (a Happy Day for Quebec!), to the unspeakable joy of the friends of the Government, and to the utter Dismay of the abettors of Sedition and Rebellion, General Carleton arrived in the Fell, arm'd ship, accompanied by an arm'd schooner. We saw our Salvation in his Presence.'


1 See, in this Series, The Fighting Governor.
2 See The Passing of New France, p. 118.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Father of British Canada, A Chronicle of Carleton, 1915

 

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