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The Father of British Canada: a Chronicle of Carleton by William Wood, CHAPTER IV. INVASION 1775 (4)

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 Cherefully 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. '

 



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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 Cherefully 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. '

 


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