Benedict Arnold Tried to Take Over Quebec City & Other Quebec Curios

"The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775" by John Trumbull, now in the Yale University Art Gallery.

On the tails of the (not so) little history of Quebec law comes a strange anecdote about those Americans. The Americans, revolutionary in more than a few ways, were griping just a little bit about being overtaxed following heavy economic losses after the Seven Years’ War. The Quebec Act, however, was the last straw, and, well, they became Independent with a Capital I, or, at least tried to.

The 1774 Quebec Act applied to both the territory that is now Quebec, as well as the Thirteen Colonies. The Americans saw it as limiting the legislature and considered it a threat; in Quebec, on the other hand, the Act made the rich and the religious happy by guaranteeing the right to practice Catholicism and the free practice of French civil law in local matters. As a result, the British didn’t try to apply the Act to the Thirteen Colonies, even though it was technically part of the British colonies. The Americans-to-be denounced it as an Intolerable Act and in spring of 1775, at the towns of Lexington and Concord, the first shot of the American Revolution was fired. In the words of Emerson, it was a veritable “shot heard round the world”.

General Montgomery was first to try to invade Canada, and took over St. John’s Fort, which was the first step in capturing Quebec. Moments too late, Guy Carleton tried to send in a counter-attack, but this failed and the Americans captured the fort, effectively paving the way for the capitulation of Montreal. Montreal surrendered following the capture of the fort; Carleton fled Montreal to Quebec City.

Following on Montgomery’s heels, fresh out a victory capturing Fort Ticonderoga, General Benedict Arnold (that Benedict Arnold) and Ethan Allen (not the chair) went their merry way towards Quebec City on authorisation from the Continental Congress. Their leader was none other than George Washington. Plagued with terrible maps and a general lack of knowledge of transportation in treacherous rapids, the Americans suffered greatly, losing 500 of their men on the trek. Funnily enough, when the Americans came to Quebec City, about 750 inhabitants were happy to help the Americans; Carleton gave them anywhere from a small slap on the wrist to forced labour to help rebuild Quebec. On the final day of December 1775, in a bloody and short battle, 50 Americans died and about 400 were captured. General Montgomery, who had joined the expedition, was killed; Benedict Arnold was wounded. The Americans retreated, but would try again, this time with General Burgoyne, during the 1777 Saratoga campaign, this time full into the American Revolution.

As a final thought, Benedict Arnold is a traitor all around: he is a traitor to the Americans, having switched to the (arguably better; this might just be a Canadian side effect) British side, but a traitor to the British all the same. After the American Revolution was over, due to his brave and noble turncoat-ery, the British government granted Arnold some land in Upper Canada. The man tried to invade Quebec, for goodness’ sake. Like the equally despicable Richard Rich, the real, fictionalised lackey in A Man for All Seasons, Benedict Arnold died warm in his bed. Of gout, dropsy, and delirium, all of which are nasty in themselves, but that’s quite beside the point.

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