History questions about les habitants during the American Revolution

Research by Paul Lessard, in Belgrade, Maine, about one of his colonial Revolutionary War ancestors, raised two history question.

Quebec

Quebec during the American Invasion 1775-1776 English translation.

Check the video link in this blog.

  1. During the Revolution, why did the Continental Army’s attack on Quebec fail when “les habitants”, or the French farmers in Canada (Quebec), could have provided reinforcements to the army of Colonel Benedict Arnold during the attack? Reference: The Battle of Quebec(French: Bataille de Québec) was fought on December 31, 1775, between American Continental Army forces and the British defenders of Quebec City early in the American Revolutionary War. The battle was the first major defeat of the war for the Americans, and it came with heavy losses. A logical train of thought, at the time, was that the French les habitants would join the “rebels” because it was seemingly in their interest to defeat the British and thereby regain dominance of Canada, especially after the 1759, defeat on the Plains of Abraham.
  2. Although France provided reinforcements to General George Washington, to fight the British, the Quebec French did not openly rally to help the Colonial Army. Yet, participation by the les habitants could have served the purpose of defeating the British and, perhaps, have eliminated Great Britain from North America.

In fact, the American Revolution was the  colonial revolt which occurred between 1765 and 1783, when American Patriots in the Thirteen Colonies defeated the British in the American Revolutionary War, with the assistance of France, winning independence from Great Britain and establishing the United States of America. But, the French in Quebec appeared reticent about supporting the colonial rebels.

Lessard gave a well documented presentation about the history he researched at a Fort Western seminar, in Augusta. He coincidentally obtained an ancestral connection to a French-Canadian  man who enlisted in the colonial army, at Fort Western.  His presentation is titled, “How I Learned About My Earliest Connection to Fort Western“.  The fact that led to this research was focused on the only man who enlisted in the rebel army at Fort Western. His name was Charles Burget (the phonetic spelling of the name Bourget). There were several misspellings of his name throughout his life, depending on who was trying to pronounce it at the time it was being recorded. Nevertheless, after Lessard did a genealogical search, the man’s name was validated as being Charles Bourget, a young Canadian immigrant who was born in Quebec and traveled to Augusta to enlist in the rebel army, at Fort Western. He turned out to be one of Lessard’s ancestors, related to him as a third cousin, five times removed.

Thank you Mr. Lessard, for allowing the video link to your presentation to be published in this blog at this site:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CtvX7C1tWc&feature=youtu.be

It so happens, I own two books with information about how French-Canadians were involved in helping the rebels in the colonial army, during the American Revolution.

 

novel about Clement Gosselin

George Washington’s French Canadian Spy by Henry Gosselin

One book is,”George Washington’s French Canadian Spy“, by the late  Harpswell, Maine writer, Henry Gosselin (1929-2012). His novel is a biography about  Clement Gosselin, who was the author’s French-Canadian colonial ancestor. Gosselin’s ancestor became a spy for General Washington. He joined the rebels because his family had  experienced the 1759, Battle of Quebec.  As a result, Gosselin was motivated to defy the directive from the Roman Catholic Church on Ile d’Orleans and he joined with the rebel army.  He wanted to help the rebels to defeat the British.  As a result of his alliance with the rebel army, Clement Gosselin was excommunicated by Father Pierre-Antoine Parlier. One conclusion in this historical novel can point to the desire by at least some in Quebec who apparently wanted to support the Revolution. Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church must have had influence in preventing many others who might have thought about joining the rebels, but who were prevented from doing so, because of fear of excommunication. This book is now out of print, but it has been published in French and in English. An endorsement published on the back book jacket by Father Laurent Gosselin, MSC, states, “We have every right to be proud of the contribution that Clement and the French Canadians made in assisting the Americans to gain their freedom and independence.”

Another book I recently acquired just happened to be among those referenced by Lessard, in his Fort Western presentation, about Charles Bourget.  “Quebec During the American Invasion, 1775-1776“, by Michael P. Gabriel, editor and S. Pascale Dewey, translator. This book is a series of  journal documents collected from Francois Baby, Gabriel Tascherau and Jenkin Williams. The recorded entries provided chronological data about the movements and activities that led to the failed invasion of Quebec. This book was published in French in 1928; in 2005, the translation was published in English. In this book’s forward, the editor wrote, “Quite paradoxically, Great Britain was more successful in protecting Canada, a colony peopled with its former French enemies, than in keeping its own (thirteen) colonies settled by a population mostly of British extraction.”  In other words, the rebel army was unable to incite a rebellion in Quebec, to help the colonies during the Revolutionary War.

In summary, there appears to be sufficient documentation to support the motivation by many French-Canadians who made a decision to fight with the rebels, but the strategies to create a strong alliance with les habitants failed. Therefore, Canada remained British, even after General Cornwallis surrendered following the Battle of Yorktown, on October 19, 1781, when General George Washington claimed a decisive victory, with the help of the French, and won the Revolutionary War.  The Treaty of Paris formally ended the Revolutionary War. It was negotiated in Paris France and signed on September 3, 1783.

Certainly, I am only a reporter and not a historian. Nevertheless, I can reflect about what the North American geopolitical landscape might have looked like today, if  les habitants had organized themselves as strong allies with the rebels.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.