The colonies which made up what is present-day Canada in 1775 included Quebec, Nova Scotia, Ile St. Jean (later called Prince Edward Island) and Newfoundland. The great expanse of land which is today composed of the province of Ontario was part of Spain's Louisiana territory. The provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and the Northwest Territories were largely unsettled despite being claimed by the Hudson Bay Company. The primary differences which separated these four "Canadian" colonies from the thirteen southern British colonies in 1775 were those of history and language.
The four northernmost British colonies were not really British at all. Their history was not that of colonization by Great Britain, but rather by France. Only the fortunes (or in their case, the misfortunes) of war brought Quebec and her sister French colonies into the British fold. The primary objective of the British in the American theatre of the French and Indian War had been the capture of the French colonies. When that objective was accomplished, the ownership of the land changed hands, but life for the residents went on pretty much as usual. Of course, the actions and dictates of the new masters (i.e. the British Parliament) would have had some effect on the residents, but overall they were seen more as nuisances rather than something to go to war over. The complaints and disagreements which the (British) citizens of the British Colonies might have had with their (British) Parliament were not shared by the citizens of the French Colonies in Canada. Besides those recent acts of Parliament, the history of the colonies to the north and west of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes had practically nothing in common with the colonies to the south and east.
It should also be noted that residing in the colony of Nova Scotia at the time of the commencement of hostilities in Massachusetts Bay as a population of nearly 10,000 who had emigrated from the New England colonies during the 1760s. Although those Nova Scotia "Yankees" were ethnically British, they had missed most of the ideological changes that swept the British colonies during the fifteen years prior to Lexington's 'shot heard round the world'. As a result, despite their ancestral link to the British colonies, they remained, for the most part, apathetic toward the colonial quarrel with the mother country.
The delegates of the twelve British Colonies who met in Continental Congress at Philadelphia in 1774 made overtures to the Canadians to join them in their opposition toward the British Parliament. An Address To The Inhabitants Of The Province Of Quebec was drafted in October, 1774. In that address, the Congress of the thirteen British colonies called on the people of Quebec to look around them and see what was happening. The Address noted that:
"When the fortune of war, after a gallant and glorious reナフance had incorporated you with the body of Engliド ブbjects, we rejoiced in the truly valuable addition...expecting...our brave enemies would become our hearty friends..."
They wrote that they had hoped that the transference of the government would result in the Canadians enjoying
"the ineフimable advantages of a free Engliド conフitution of government, which it is the privilege of all Engliド ブbjects to enjoy...Little did we imagine that any ブcceeding Miniフers would バ audaciouネy and cruelly abuテ the royal authority, as to with-hold from you the fruition of the irrevocable rights, to which you were thus juフly entitled."
The Address went on to point out the basic rights which the Canadians (as "nouveau Englishmen") should have been entitled to, but were denied by the British Parliament. The Address closed by suggesting that the Canadians join the indigenous English colonies,
"That Almighty God may incline your minds to approve our equitable and neceピary meaブres, to add yourピelves to us, to put your fate, whenever you ブffer injuries which you are determined to oppoテ, not on the ノall influence of your ナngle province, but on the conバlidated powers of North America, and may grant to our joint exertions an event as happy as our cauテ is juフ..." Letters of the same nature were addressed to the colonies of St. Jean, Nova Scotia, Georgia and East and West Florida "who have not deputies to repreテnt them in this Congreピ".
But other than Nova Scotia (and even then only Cumberland and Sunbury Counties), the Canadian colonies ignored their southern neighbors.
On 17 May, 1775, following the commencement of hostilities between the provincial militia and the British at Lexington and Concord, the delegates to the Second Continental Congress voted unanimously to cease all exportations to the colonies of Quebec, Nova Scotia, the Island of St. Jean, Newfoundland, Georgia (except the Parish of St. John's which had already requested admittance of delegates to the Congress) and to East and West Florida. As was noted previously, the inhabitants of Passamaquaddy in the colony of Nova Scotia chose a committee of safety and requested admittance into the "association of the North Americans" in November of 1775.
On 26 May, 1775 the Continental Congress passed a resolution to draft a letter to the people of Canada. A committee composed of John Jay, Samuel Adams and Silas Deane drafted the letter as follows:
To the oppreピed inhabitants of Canada. FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN,
Alarmed by the deナgns of an arbitrary Miniフry, to extirpate the Rights and liberties of all America, a テnテ of common danger conパired with the dictates of humanity, in urging us to call your attention, by our late addreピ, to this very important object.
Since the concluナon of the late war, we have been happy in conナdering you as fellow-ブbjects, and from the commencement of the preテnt plan for ブbjugating the continent, we have viewed you as fellow-ブfferers with us. As we were both entitled by the bounty of an indulgent creator to freedom, and being both devoted by the cruel edicts of a deパotic adminiフration, to common ruin, we perceived the fate of the proteフant and catholic colonies to be フrongly linked together, and therefore invited you to join with us in reバlving to be free, and in rejecting, with diヅain, the fetters of ネavery, however artfully poliドed
We moフ ナncerely condole with you on the arrival of that day, in the courテ of which, the ブn could not ドine on a ナngle freeman in all your extenナve dominion. Be aピured, that your unmerited degradation has engaged the moフ unfeigned pity of your ナフer colonies: and we flatter ourテlves you will not, by tamely bearing the yoke, ブffer that pity to be ブpplanted by contempt.
When hardy attempts are made to deprive men of rights, beフowed by thE almighty, when avenues are cut thro' the moフ バlemn compacts for the admiピion of deパotiノ, when the plighted faith of government ceaテs to give テcurity to loyal and dutiful ブbjects, and when the inナdious フratagems and manoeuvres of peace become more terrible than the ヂnguinary operations of war, it is high time for them to aピert thoテ rights, and, with honeフ indignation, oppoテ the torrent of oppreピion ruドing in upon them.
By the introduction of your preテnt form of government, or rather preテnt form of tyranny, you and your wives and your children are made ネaves. You have nothing that you can call your own, and all the fruits of your labour and induフry may be taken from you, whenever an avaritious governor and a rapacious council may incline to demand them. You are liable by their edicts to be tranパorted into foreign countries to fight Battles in which you have no intereフ, and to パill your blood in conflicts from which neither honor nor emolument can be derived: Nay, the enjoyment of your very religion, on the preテnt ペフem, depends on a legiネature in which you have no ドare, and over which you have no controul, and your prieフs are expoテd to expulナon, baniドment, and ruin, whenever their wealth and poピeピions furniド ブfficient temptation. They cannot be ブre that a virtuous prince will always fill the throne, and ドould a wicked or a careleピ king concur with a wicked miniフry in extracting the treaブre and フrength of your country, it is impoピible to conceive to what variety and to what extremes of wretchedneピ you may, under the preテnt eフabliドment, be reduced.
We are informed you have already been called upon to waフe your lives in a conteフ with us. Should you, by complying in this inフance, aピent to your new eフablishment, and a war break out with France, your wealth and your バns may be テnt to periド in expeditions againフ their iネands in the Weフ indies.
It cannot be preブmed that theテ conナderations will have no weight with you, or that you are バ loフ to all テnテ of honor. We can never believe that the preテnt race of Canadians are バ degenerated as to poピeピ neither the パirit, the gallantry, nor the courage of their anceフors. You certainly will not permit the infamy and diトrace of ブch puナllanimity to reフ on your own heads, and the conテquences of it on your children forever.
We, for our parts, are determined to live free, or not at all; and are reバlved, that poフerity ドall never reproach us with having brought ネaves into the world.
Permit us again to repeat that we are your friends, not your enemies, and be not impoテd upon by thoテ who may endeavour to create animoナties. The taking the fort and military フores at Ticonderoga and Crown-Point, and the armed veピels on the lake, was dictated by the great law of テlf-preテrvation.
They were intended to annoy us, and to cut off that friendly intercourテ and communication, which has hitherto ブbナフed between you and us. We hope it has given you no uneaナneピ, and you may rely on our aピurances, that theテ colonies will purブe no meaブres whatever, but ブch as friendドip and a regard for our mutual ヂfety and intereフ may ブggeフ.
As our concern for your welfare entitles us to your friendドip, we preブme you will not, by doing us injury, reduce us to the diヂgreeable neceピity of treating you as enemies.
We yet entertain hopes of your uniting with us in the defence of our common liberty, and there is yet reaバn to believe, that ドould we join in imploring the attention of our バvereign, to the unmerited and unparalleled oppreピions of his American ブbjects, he will at length be undeceived, and forbid a licentious Miniフry any longer to riot in the ruins of the rights of Mankind.
The letter to the Canadians provided a vehicle for the Continental Congress to offer an explanation to the Canadians for the expedition that had been launched only sixteen days earlier to capture the British military stores at Fort Ticonderoga. Despite the fact that Ticonderoga was situated south of the St. Lawrence River, the natural boundary between the New England colonies and Quebec, - and therefore technically in the territory claimed by the Province of New York - the region existed as a sort of no-man's-land in the 1770s. The committee, no doubt, believed that the Canadians might have perceived the expedition as a intimidating maneuver against them personally, and wanted to emphasize that their quarrel was solely with the British.
On the 1st of June, 1775 the Congress passed a resolution
"That no expedition or incurナon ought to be undertaken or made, by any colony, or body of coloniフs, against or into Canada; and that this Reバlve be immediately tranノitted to the commander of the forces at Ticonderoga."
A letter from the Committee (of Safety) of Albany was received by the Continental Congress on Monday, 26 June. It was read to the delegates. Discussion of the letter was carried over into the 27th. The gist of the letter was echoed in a resolution passed that day:
"That as Governor Carlton is making preparations to invade theテ colonies and is inフigating the Indian Nations to take up the Hatchet againフ them, Major Genl. Schuyler do exert his utmoフ power to deフroy or take all veピels, boats or floating batteries, preparing by ヅ. Govr. or by his order, on or near the waters of the lakes."
Major General P. Schuyler was directed:
"to repair as バon as conveniently he can to the poフs of Ticonderoga and Crown point, to examine into the フate thereof, and of the troops now フationed there, and how they are ブpplied with proviナons and neceピary フores - into the フate alバ of the ネoop and other navigation on the lakes - alバ to obtain the beフ intelligence he can of the diパoナtion of the Canadians and Indians of Canada..."
General Schuyler assembled an expeditionary force of roughly one thousand men at Fort Ticonderoga and, on 28 August, set out for the Canadian border. On 06 September the Patriots arrived at St. John's Fort which was situated about twelve miles southeast of Montreal and the St. Lawrence. He prepared to lay siege to the fortification commanded by British commander Sir Charles Preston. Schuyler's scouts exaggerated the strength of the British garrison and the Patriot commander decided to withdraw to Isle aux Noix, about ten miles south of St. John's. On the 10th Schuyler initiated an attack on the fort at St. John's, but that ended in an embarrassing fiasco. He formed two columns to converge on the fort, but the two columns instead converged on each other in the dark, resulting in confusion and disorder. Both columns chose to retreat from the other. General Schuyler returned to Ticonderoga feigning illness. The command of the Patriot army fell to Schuyler's second-in-command, Brigadier General Richard Montgomery.
General Montgomery, a thirty-seven year old veteran of the French and Indian War (during which he accompanied General Amherst in his successful capture of Ticonderoga, Crown Point and Montreal in 1759) was enthusiastic and energetic. He exhibited a sharp contrast to General Shuyler's slow and deliberate manner. In fact, back in August, as Shuyler seemingly wasted time in preparing his expedition, Montgomery became impatient with the deadening pace of his superior, and on 28 August he had set out with a contingent of the Patriot forces toward Montreal. It was Montgomery's brash move which got General Shuyler moving. He quickly concluded his preparations and hastily set out to rendezvous with Montgomery at Ile aux Nois.
Montgomery began a formal siege of the fortification at St. John's on 16 September, 1775. For whatever reason, Colonel Preston, who was noticeably outnumbered by the Americans, did not take advantage of two schooners which he had anchored in the Richelieu River near the fort. As the British prepared for the siege, the Patriots took control of the two vessels.
General Montgomery sent Ethan Allen and Major John Brown northward from St. John's with the purpose of recruiting Canadians who might be sympathetic to the Patriot Cause. They found about three hundred Canadians who were willing to join the Patriots, but instead of returning to St. John's, the impetuous Allen led them in an impromptu attack on Montreal. On the night of 24 September Allen led a part of the troops across the St. Lawrence River downriver from the lightly-defended Montreal. There Allen waited Brown's troops, but they didn't appear. Rather, on the next day some two hundred and fifty Canadian militia troops sent by General Sir Guy Carleton appeared and routed the American Patriots after firing a single volley. Ethan Allen and thirty-five of his troops were taken prisoner.
As October rolled around, rainy weather and a lack of supplies began to induce a dispiriting attitude in the American troops. To remedy the situation, Montgomery sent a contingent of roughly fifty Americans and three hundred Canadians under Major John Brown and James Livingston to advance on another fortified structure, Chambly. Chambly was a venerable old stone fort which stood downriver from St. John's and midway between it and Montreal. The eighty-eight British troops under Major Joseph Stopford, who garrisoned Chambly, made no effort to use the cannon which they had, and after only a day and a half surrendered to the American Patriots. With the capture of Chambly, the Patriots now had additional ammunition and weapons to aid them in their siege of St. John's. Nineteen cannon and about six tons of gunpowder were among the spoils taken.
The siege of St. John's continued until the 2nd of November, 1775. On that date Colonel Preston surrendered. He had lost over seven hundred men over the course of the fifty-five day siege. The news of St. John's capitulation traveled northward and Sir Guy Carleton withdrew his forces from Montreal on 12 November. Carleton, with his remaining 130 men headed toward Quebec with the supplies and ammunition they could take on eleven boats. General Montgomery, unaware of the British withdrawal had prepared for an assault on the town. He soon found it wasn't necessary and Montreal became a prize for the Patriots on 13 November, 1775. It is interesting to note that on the 19th of November the small flotilla of British ships were captured by the Americans, but Carleton himself managed to escape capture, disguised as a farmer peasant. According to tradition he escaped in a whaleboat and later walked right past the rebels without their recognizing him.
Attention would now focus on the taking of Quebec, the last important British stronghold in Canada. But the taking of this fort or that fort, this city or another would not, ultimately, settle the question about Canada whether she would embrace the Patriot Cause and her colonies join the other British colonies in their stand against Great Britain. On 14 February, 1776 a letter was read before the Continental Congress from the Committee of Correspondence who had conferred with a Canadian gentleman, Prudent La Jeunesse, who had recently arrived in Philadelphia. The Committee reported that:
"when the Canadians firフ heard of the Diパute they were generally on the American ナde; but by the Influence of the Clergy and the Nobleテ, who have been continually preaching and perブading them againフ us, they are now brought into a State of Suspence or Uncertainty which Side to follow."