- Quebec During the American Invasion, 1775–1776: The Journal of François Baby, Gabriel Taschereau, and Jenkin Williams
At the commencement of the War for American Independence in 1775, the Americans invaded Quebec in hopes of persuading the citizens of that province to join the thirteen southern colonies in opposing British "tyranny." After initial military successes at Montreal in the fall, the Americans advanced to Quebec and laid siege to the city during the winter of 1775–76. In the spring, however, the defenders of Quebec, led by Governor Guy Carleton, were relieved by the arrival of military reinforcements from England, and the Americans were expelled from the province. As the invaders retreated up the St. Lawrence River, Carleton appointed two sets of commissioners to enquire into the lackadaisical behavior of the Canadian militiamen in opposing the rebels and to determine the extent of cooperation between the citizenry and the Americans. Edward William Greay, Pierre Panet, and Saint-Georges Dupré made up the commission at Montreal, and François Baby, Gabriel Elzéar Taschereau, and Jenkin Williams constituted [End Page 500] the commission at Quebec. Carleton instructed the commissioners to inquire into the loyalty of subjects accused of aiding the invaders, remove suspected militia officers, and rescind military commissions that had been given by the rebels.
The report of the Montreal commissioners has not survived, but the one by Baby, Taschereau, and Williams, written in French, was preserved. Donated by a private collector to Montreal University, it is found in the Archives Division. Two versions were published in the original French between 1927 and 1929, and were used extensively by the historian Gustave Lanctôt in 1967. The publication of the present work, ably edited by Michael P. Gabriel and translated by S. Pascale Vergereau-Dewey, marks the first time the journal has appeared in English. Gabriel, and the foreword writer, Louis Balthazar, correctly assert that this journal, so long unknown to historians, deserves publication for a wider audience. It reveals that some of the people of Quebec, especially among the habitants (the farming population), expressed considerable support for the American rebellion. To be sure, as seen in the evidence presented by the commissioners' report, the Canadians in 1775 were not completely convinced that their future was secure under existing British dominance.
Too much can be made of these indications of discontent, however. Although the commission documents indicate sporadic, erratic, and mostly passive assistance for the Americans among the habitants during the invasion, it was confined to a tiny part of that population. The British government, at the behest of Governor Carleton, had preempted discontent among the citizenry by enacting the Quebec Act in 1774, which allowed the Canadians to retain much of their French culture and customs. Canadian leaders, particularly the landed interests or seigneurs, were content with the new arrangements. Moreover, Canadians of all classes, deeply wedded to Catholic Christianity, had difficulty in overcoming their historic antipathy to the protestant "Bostonnais." They had no Enlightenment tradition or much of a commercial bourgeoisie to persuade them to throw in their lot with the Americans. Thus, they did not accept the rebels' promises of "liberty" and economic security in a political union.