“The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony: America’s War of Liberation in Canada, 1774 – 1776,” Mark R. Anderson
During the American Revolution, several American
armies crossed the border into Canada. Did the Canadians see them as liberators
or as invaders, and did Canadians view the Americans as spreading democracy or
anarchy between Anglo and French Canadians?
Mark R. Anderson discussed these issues at the
November 19 meeting of the American Revolution Roundtable of Richmond. Anderson
is the author of The Battle for
the Fourteenth Colony: America’s War of Liberation in Canada, 1774-1776. His
book is the co-winner of the Roundtable’s 2014 Book Award.
“When I started my research on this topic, I
thought it would be cut and dry---a difference between Canada and the United
States over culture and religion,” said Anderson. “However, as I did the
research, I discovered a much more complex story than I first thought.”
Anderson said he found two major themes which
hadn’t been addressed in previous writings on this topic. One was the American
effort to spread democratic government to Canada and the other was the effort
to offer Quebec an alternative to British rule.
Quebec became a part of British Canada in 1763
when France ceded the territory as part of the treaty to end the French and
Indian War. Although most Quebec residents spoke French and practiced
Catholicism, most of Quebec’s wealthy merchants and political leaders who ran
the government spoke English and were Protestants.
For approximately 10 years many French Canadians
complained about their treatment under this government, and in 1774 Quebec
Governor Guy Carleton persuaded London to grant more rights. In what became
known as the Quebec Act, Great Britain granted more political power to wealthy
French Canadians and to the Roman Catholic Church. Naturally many Anglo
Protestant Canadians disliked the Quebec Act because they lost some of their
economic, political and religious power.
“The Quebec Act created a hybrid government,”
said Anderson. Up until then there was a real question as to whether Quebec
would get its own legislature. In fact not even the French Canadian elite
wanted a legislature where the French Canadian masses could dominate it.
Instead the French elite wanted more representation within the existing
Anderson also noted that the Quebec Act had an
influence on Great Britain’s other North American colonies. For example when
invitations were issued in 1774 to attend the First Continental Congress,
Quebec received an invitation.
After Lexington and Concord triggered all-out
war the Second Continental Congress gave Philip Schuyler permission to take his
army across the border from New York into Canada, provided his army didn’t
alienate the Canadians. Later in 1775 Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold
also took their armies across the Canadian border with similar congressional
instructions, and launched a two-pronged attack to capture Montreal and Quebec
“Initially the Canadian patriots worked with the
Americans,” said Anderson. “However, the Continental Congress didn’t back the
military campaign with enough money, supplies and support of political activity
for Canadians to form their own government. As a result, the Americans came
north as an invasion and didn’t build a good enough Canadian coalition.”
Anderson closed his remarks by calling the
American war in Canada a “very complex story”. He said the Americans tried to
“sell” the Canadians on the American Revolution serving as a way to end
“Canadian oppression” under the British. In Anglo Protestant areas such as
Montreal the people rallied to the American cause.
However thanks largely to the leadership of
Quebec Governor Guy Carleton, Great Britain was very successful in neutralizing
the vast population of French Canadians. As a result, Carleton was able to save
Quebec City during the campaign against Montgomery and Arnold, and to re-supply
Quebec City via the British Navy.
“Carleton was the key to bringing along the
French Canadians,” said Anderson. “He kept working with them but he never
relied on them.”
Carleton cemented his relationship with
Canadians by the way he handled Canadian supporters of the Americans after the
Americans were defeated at Quebec City and had retreated. Instead of killing
people who supported the Americans and burning pro-American villages, Carleton
simply dismissed the public officials who backed the Americans and issued no
During the question and answer period, Anderson
was asked to name his “heroes and villains” among America’s early war efforts
to win over Canada. The first “hero” whom Anderson cited and the one whom he
described in greatest detail was Benedict Arnold.
“The whole attack on Quebec would have
completely fallen apart after the death of Montgomery if not for Arnold,” said
Anderson. “Even after getting wounded in a boot he initiates a second regiment
to form a defense. During the campaign he also did a good job of showing
Canadians that his troops weren’t invaders and that they respected the Catholic
As for “villains”, Anderson’s main culprit was
the Second Continental Congress.
“They authorized an invasion they couldn’t
support. They even adjourned their session shortly after authorizing the
invasion,” laughed Anderson.
Anderson is a retired U.S. Air Force officer who
currently serves as a civilian military consultant to the U.S. government. He
earned his B.A. degree in history from Purdue University and his M.A. in
military studies from American Military University. He currently lives in
Colorado Springs, CO.