1763-4: Along Comes Murray & Other Quebec Curios

Part of “A Colony in Transition, 1764-1791”

Though British occupation should have only started following the Treaty of Paris, the British would be quick in setting up people to rule the colony as interim leaders to maintain control of newly conquered lands. One such example is that of Jeffrey Amherst, another one of our fellow comrades in combat during the Seven Years’ War, who served as Governor of “British North America” following the capitulation of Montreal back in 1760. Days before King George III issued the Royal Proclamation, he sent, or, rather, most probably relocated, one of his own, James Murray, who had also fought in the battles of the Seven Years’ War, to serve as Governor of the soon-to-be Province of Quebec.

Officially promoted to a “Captain General and Governor in Chief in and over His Majesty’s Province of Quebec in America”, James Murray would infamously decide to keep the peace in the colony by continuing the French civil law in the colony instead of imposing the British common law on the settlers. However, Murray’s decision to stay in line with the civil law of the time was in fact a calculated move. In 1762, in his report back to Britain, he described the majority of the French population as being “very ignorant and extremely tenacious of their Religion”, due to their lack of education and alphabetisation, as well as their gullibility in taking for truth whatever the higher classes would pass down to them. The British were outnumbered about twenty-five French people to one Englishman. Though dismissive of their temperament, Murray still found their strength in numbers and their openness of character to be the most promising. The French Canadians were a robust people with one Murray and his officers had to compromise a bit in terms of laws and religion and persuade that they were not the tyrants their French lords had made them out to be.

His actions, however, would alienate the British merchants that had come to the colony hoping for trade. Faced with French civil law and court customs, they would grow tired of Murray and Murray would be forced to leave his post as Governor in 1766, sailing back to England. He would later become the Governor of another British colony, Minorca, shortly after the beginning of the American War of Independence. However, Murray’s actions were not without consequence. Keeping the civil law as it was arguably saved Quebec’s modern civil law and because of this, the instauration of the dualist legal system unique to the province of Quebec. His leniency with the French people in terms of their laws and their religion would later be officially made law with the Act of Quebec in 1774.

Read James Murray’s Seven Years’ War diary here!