“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 government.”
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 City.
“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 additional punishment.
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 Church.”
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.
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