Canada – The Second American Invasion

ALL true Canadians will be glad to learn that a great and long-standing national reproach has now been fittingly removed. During no less than one hundred and twenty-seven years—from 1775 to 1902-nothing had been done to mark the spot where Canada stood at bay against the combined assault of Montgomery and Arnold on Quebec. Yet this assault was the turning point in the most momentous crisis which our country has ever been called upon to face. The American invaders had overrun the whole colony. They had taken every post along the frontier. Montreal, Sorel, Three Rivers and the long line of the St. Lawrence were all at their mercy. Quebec alone was left—the last hope of British arms, the last stronghold of British power in those troublous times, and the one sure promise of any British Dominion remaining in the Western World. On Quebec hung the fate of half a continent, as well as the distinctively Canadian name and fame of many million people in the future. One false move by Carleton, one successful act of treachery in the beleaguered town, one moment of weakness among the little garrison, one battle lost against Montgomery, and all would have been over. But Quebec stood fast, and Canada was saved.

Four generations after this field of honour had been fought and won the first practical proposal was made to commemorate our victorious defenders. At a meeting of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, on the 19th of March, 1902, it was resolved ” That the time has come for the erection of historic tablets at Près-de-Ville and the Sault-au-Matelot, in the Lower Town of Quebec, relating to the events of the 31st December, 1775, which were so important to the destiny of Canada.”

As such memorials would be battlefield monuments the Dominion Government was petitioned by the Society for means to erect suitable historic tablets at these places. The request was generously answered, and acceptable memorials in statuary bronze have been erected, one on the rock where Montgomery was defeated and killed, and the other on the St. James Street end of the Molsons’ Bank, as near as possible to the site of the Sault-au-Matelot barricade, where Arnold was defeated and over 400 of his men made prisoners. Both tablets were placed in position on the 29th of December, 1904, just two days before the 129th anniversary of the assault.

In the present connection all that is necessary is such a brief general sketch of the operations at Quebec as will give the reader some idea of the reasons for the erection of the tablets and for the special wording of the two inscriptions.

When the American Congress had decided on an invasion of Canada Montgomery was sent by Lake Champlain to attack Montreal. Meanwhile Arnold marched from Cambridge in Massachusetts by the Voyageur trail, up the Kennebec river and across the height of land, to the head waters of the Chaudière. He then went along the Chaudière to Ste. Marie. From there he followed the road to Levis, where he arrived in full view of Quebec on the 8th of November, after his long and arduous march. Having crossed the St. Lawrence in whatever canoes could be found he appeared on the present Cove Fields on the 14th, was fired on, and at once retired up to Pointe aux Trembles, where the arrival of Montgomery from Montreal was awaited. The Kennebec route was not an unknown one; for in 1760 Captain Montrésor passed over it with dispatches from Murray to Amherst, and made a good map, of which Arnold obtained a copy fifteen years later.

Montgomery carried all before him, taking Sorel, Montreal and Three Rivers. Carleton, who was in Montreal, knowing the importance of Quebec, and that for divers reasons Montreal could not then be defended, destroyed the Government stores and started with several schooners to descend the St. Lawrence. Being held up by head winds he took a boat, and, being paddled past the enemy’s batteries at Sorel in the dead of night, arrived on the 19th November at Quebec, where Colonel MacLean, who had preceded him, was actively preparing for defence.

He at once issued orders that—” the suspected and all who are unwilling to take up arms – in its defence must leave the town within four days.” This cleared the place of foreigners and traitors. On the 30th of November there were only 127 British regulars in garrison. But these—together with the crews of two small men-of-war, the Lizard and Hunter, and of several merchantmen that happened to be in port, as well as 230 ” Royal Emigrants ” and the loyal inhabitants, who willingly enrolled themselves—raised the force at his disposal to t 800 men. The Quebec merchants, to their lasting honour, were the first to volunteer ; and no one did better service among the citizen soldiery. The defences were strengthened and barricades erected and armed in the Lower Town in Sault-au–Matelot Street and the present Sous-le-Cap ; also at Près-de-Ville, just beneath the centre of the Citadel cliff.

Montgomery arrived on the 1st of December with his army, which raised the attacking force to 2000 men. The enemy then proceeded to take possession of St. Roch’s, and erected batteries on the high ground commanding St. John’s and St. Louis’ Gates. The town was well provisioned for the winter ; so Carleton, profiting by Murray’s experience, would run no risk. The siege begin with a considerable amount of daily bombardment and shooting at our sentries. But Montgomery, find ing his guns did little harm, resolved to storm the town by night. This decision was reported to Carleton by a prisoner who escaped from the besiegers, so the garrison kept continually on the alert for the expected attack.

To frighten the inhabitants, but without avail, MMontgomery’s general orders of the. 15th of December were sent into the town. A copy is now to be found in the Dominion Archives at Ottawa (Q. 12, page 3o) :


Near Quebec.

15th December, 1775.

Parole—Connecticut. Countersign—Adams.

The General having in vain offered the most favourable terms of accommodation to the Governor and having taken every possible step to prevail on the inhabitants to desist from seconding him in his wild scheme of defence, nothing remains but to pursue vigorous measures for the speedy reduction of the only hold possessed by the Ministerial troops in the Province. The troops, flushed with continual success, confident of the justice of their cause, and relying on that Providence which has uniformly protected them, will advance to the attack of works incapable of being defended by the wretched garrison posted behind them, consisting of sailors unacquainted with the use of arms, of citizens incapable of the soldier’s duty, and a few miserable emigrants. The General is confident a vigorous and spirited attack must be attended with success. The troops shall have the effects of the Governor, garrison, and of such as have been acting in misleading the inhabitants and distressing the friends of liberty, to be equally divided among them, each to have the one hundredth share out of the whole, which shall be at the disposal of the General and given to such soldiers as distinguished themselves by their activity and bravery, and sold at public auction. The whole to be conducted as soon as the city is in our hands and the inhabitants disarmed.

The General at Headquarters:


Major of Brigade.

The detachment, about 600 strong, which was to attack Près-de-Ville assembled at 1 o’clock a.m. of the 31st December, at the enemy’s headquarters, Holland House, and, headed by Montgomery, marched across the Plains of Abraham, and descended into the beach path, now Champlain Street. Those who were to make the attack by the suburbs of St. Roch’s, headed by Arnold, were about 700 strong. Another party, under Livingstone, was sent to make a feint against the walls south of St. John’s Gate, and try to force the entrance ; but these soon withdrew. The plan was that Montgomery and Arnold were to meet at the foot of Mountain Hill and storm the Upper Town.

A heavy north-east snowstorm was raging at four o’clock that dark morning when Montgomery descended the cliff and advanced along the narrow ledge which was flanked to the left by the perpendicular crags of Cape Diamond and to the right by the St. Lawrence.

The Pres-de-Ville barricade and blockhouse, at the narrowest part of the road, was defended by Captain Chabot, Lieut. Picard, 30 French-Canadian militiamen, Captain Barnesfare and 15 seamen, Sergeant Hugh McQuarters of the Royal Artillery (with several small guns), and Mr. Coffin ; so in all. This post was on the alert and saw the head of the column approach and halt some fifty yards from the barricade. A man then came forward to reconnoitre. On his return the column continued its advance, when it was received by cannon and musketry. The first discharge killed Montgomery, his aides-de-camp, and ten men. Thereupon the rest of his 600 turned and fled, pursued by the bullets of the Canadians till there was nothing more to fire at. The story of carpenters sawing the pickets, which Montgomery then tore down with his own hands, took shape in the imagination of a Major Meigs, who was one of Arnold’s party. No one behind the leading sections knew what had happened. The slain, left as they fell, were buried by the drifting snow, whence their frozen bodies were dug out later in the day.

Arnold’s column penetrated the barricade across Sous-le-Cap street, situated beneath the Half-Moon battery ; but was stopped by the second barricade, at the end of that narrow lane, quite close to where Molsons’ Bank is now. This second barricade was defended by Major Nairne, Dambourges and others, who held the enemy in check until Captain Laws, coming from Palace Gate with a strong party, took them in rear and caused the surrender of 427 in all. This completed the victory of the British arms. Arnold was put out of action early in the fight by a ball from the ramparts near Palace Gate, and was carried to the General Hospital.

General Wooster took command, and the besiegers were reinforced to over their original strength ; but no further assaults were made. Batteries were erected at Levis, but did little damage. A fire-ship was sent against the shipping in the Cul-de-Sac, the site of the Champlain market, but without effect. The blockade lasted until the arrival of the British man-of-war Surprise on the 6th of May, 1776, when the garrison, thus rein-forced, at once made a sortie, only to find that the Americans had already decamped in the utmost confusion, leaving their dinners, artillery, ammunition and baggage behind. On the arrival of more vessels and troops Carleton advanced to Three Rivers, beat the enemy there, and then continued his march without a check to Montreal. In a few more days the last of the invaders had been driven off the soil of Canada for good and all.

Both inscriptions were approved by the Society’s Patron, the then Governor-General, the Earl of Mint:), who took the keenest personal interest in the whole undertaking, from first to last. The tablets, in shield form, are of statuary bronze, with the lettering in relief. The large one, on the rock under Cape Diamond, measures six feet three inches by five feet nine inches, and weighs about 1000 pounds.

The wording is designed to bring out the notable fact that there were only fifty men on the British side, defending this barricade against Montgomery, who had a force at least ten times as strong. These fifty are described as ” undaunted,” because, apart from their gallantry in repelling the assault, they had been long exposed to the invaders’ threat of treating them with the utmost rigour of war if they persisted in their allegiance. They are also said to have been ” safeguarding Canada,” because, although they could not have foreknown so great a destiny, they were then a part of the real and the only safeguard of the Dominion we live in now.

The tablet on the Molsons’ Bank measures two feet ten inches by two feet six inches and weighs about 200 pounds. Its inscription is as follows


The men of the Sault-au-Matelot barricade are called ” Her old and new defenders ” because the different racial elements of both the old and new régimes were here “uniting” for the first time in history, and thus “guarding” and “saving” the Canada of their own day and of ours. Among them were Frenchmen, French-Canadians, Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotchmen, Welshmen, Channel Islanders, Newfoundlanders, and those “Royal Emigrants” who were the forerunners of the U. E. Loyalists. And on this sacred spot each and all of these widely different ancestors of the present “Canadians” took their dangerous share of empire-building, in the very heart of a crisis which must then have seemed to offer them no other reward than the desperate honour of leading the forlorn hope in a great cause all but lost for ever.