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CANADA: A Celebration of Our Heritage
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A Celebration of Our Heritage
Chapter 4: British Empire and American Revolution: 1763-1791
After the Peace of Paris, a now unrivalled British empire proceeded to organize the great new holdings it had added in America. Accordingly, the imperial authorities in London issued the Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763, prescribing boundaries, government, law and regulation for gains that stretched from the West Indies to Florida and Canada; although it is only the northern, "Canadian" territories that need concern us. Newfoundland, long in British hands, was thus given charge of Labrador. Cape Breton and the Island of St. John were annexed to Nova Scotia, whose northern boundary would definitely run up to the Gaspé Peninsula and the heights of the Appalachians. And beyond that limit, the Proclamation laid out a new British Province of Quebec, to extend along both sides of the main St. Lawrence River.
On its north, this province was to reach from Labrador's Rivière Saint-Jean in the east to Lake Nipissing in the west, from where its boundary would run southeastward across the upper St. Lawrence to Lake Champlain, and then back east again along the Appalachian line. Plainly, such a Quebec province was very much smaller than former New France had been: consisting, basically, of just the seigneurial farming heartland of French Canada, but leaving out the vast wilderness world of the fur trade that spread west of the Ottawa across the Great Lakes basin, or north and west to Ruperts Land, still held by the British Hudson's Bay Company. The Proclamation of 1763 also announced that this new, far more restricted Quebec colony would be given English law and an elected representative assembly in its government, as was standard practice throughout the British Thirteen Colonies in America. Yet a French-peopled British province might not fit so readily into that existing pattern.
As for the western wilds beyond the Province of Quebec, the Proclamation declared them to be Indian Territory reserved to the native peoples: areas under British Protection as exercised from military and fur-trade posts, but in which no lands were henceforth to be granted or settled, not until they had been officially purchased by the Crown. The intent was to stop "great Frauds and Abuses", to convince Indians of honest justice at British hands, and to ensure an orderly method of "clearing" native titles to land through official negotiations and binding agreements, before any white occupation took place. From this design came a lasting heritage in itself: in Indian treaties, annual treaty payments and fixed land reserves (not reservations) established for the native populations. It would be foolish to believe that the design would all work out fairly; or that Indian peoples, who thought in terms of needful land use rather than outright land ownership given forever, fully recognized what the Europeans had in mind. And the plan was certainly not put forward simply for high-minded reasons of imperial justice; but because at the close of the Seven Years War there was widespread turmoil among the inland tribes, who had largely fought as French allies against the British. In fact, in 1763 a last-ditch effort led by the Ottawa chief, Pontiac, produced a violent Indian rising that laid seige to For Detroit and attacked other British-held Great Lakes posts. The British thus sought to restore order, to check white inland contacts and calm native fears. Nonetheless, the Proclamation policy of keeping settlement out of the declared Indian Territory and licensing all fur traders there, of explicitly recognizing Indian land rights and required a public, state procedure to deal with them, would be profoundly significant for a future Canada.
But what were the northern colonies like, when the Proclamation programme was set forth in 1763? Looking first at Newfoundland, then moving westward, we find this oldest possession in Britain's enlarged American empire was still dominated by the long-established visiting fishery, in ships that came out from England each summer, although the resident fishery (of island settlers) was steadily growing at the little outports dotted along the coasts. Initially, both the summer fisherman and the earlier settlers had mostly stemmed from southwestern England, from Bristol around to Plymouth and Poole, with many other points between. Yet though the English West-Country element stayed prominent, many Irish were added over the eighteenth century, brought by outbound fishing vessels that stopped at Ireland's harbours on the way for more supplies and extra boatmen. These Irish venturers might then remain as fishermen on their own in Newfoundland, or even be abandoned there by ship-captains ready enough to save on return passages home. By the 1760s, at any rate, out of a year-round Newfoundland population nearing 10,000, close to half were Irish. They were chiefly concentrated at outports along the eastern Avalon Peninsula (once the English Shore) and especially around St. Johns, the leading port; while the more mobile English had spread out on both the north and south coasts of the island, and were entering the Labrador fishery.
The summer-time population of Newfoundland was of course much larger, rising over 20,000, in total, when the annual fishing fleet arrived from England. One resulting feature of this very distinctive Newfoundland society was its unusually low proportion of women and children. Obviously most of the summer visitors were male, though some female workers did come out with them, at times to stay, marry and begin families. Another feature was the harsh division between the overseas and resident fishermen, still more acute than that between the mainly Protestant English element and largely Catholic Irish. For the two fishing groups were rivals in the basic cod fishery, where the residents had the advantage of earlier starts and longer seasons, and sold their shore-dried cod to trading ships from both Old and New England while avoiding the long Atlantic haul themselves. Still, the visiting fishermen had an enduring advantage themselves in imperial government support. To a British state heavily dependent on seaborne commerce and naval power, the Newfoundland fishery appeared as a vital reservoir of trained, ocean-going seamen available for time of war. The important fishing merchants of West-Country England assuredly pushed that view, and maintained a good deal of influence in the British parliament. Indeed, the "nursery of seamen" argument long led to official measures to restrain settlement in Newfoundland in favour of the overseas fishery -- and to the contention that the island was not really a colony at all, but "a great fishing ship anchored off North America".
Hence Newfoundland was left under-governed, even to the edge of anarchy. As a supposed "ship", it had a senior naval officer as governor, the commander of the squadron that escorted the English fishing fleet out and back each summer -- and thus not there at all in winter, when only a few appointed justices of the peace held sway. But the powers of these "winter justices" were feeble; and there was no general court structure thus far. And so Newfoundland stayed a pretty wild frontier; even though its fishing yields and resident population both grew, and St. Johns became truly a leading town; though not yet organized as such. Finally, the stern years of the French wars hit the visiting fishery, as its sailors were pressed into the Royal Navy, while wartime dangers (and insurance costs) mounted on the Atlantic. This overseas fishery recovered after 1763, with some helpful government attention, but its position grew increasingly uncertain in respect to the politically disfavoured but economically advantaged resident fishery -- as was suggested by the early 1770s, when Newfoundland's total summer population ranged around 26,000, yet over half of them now were year-round residents.
Nova Scotia, had strong fishing interests, too. These were residents, not transients, however; and the colony also developed farming, lumbering and shipping as it traded by sea with New England, Britain or the West Indies. Moreover, while the bulk of its Acadian inhabitants had been expelled (though some were returning even by 1767), New England settlers soon moved in to occupy vacant Acadian farmlands, from the later years of war on through the 1760s. Wartime perils, then the line drawn by the Proclamation of 1763 to check white settlement in the Indian Territory, had restrained New Englanders from moving westward. Yet they could go north. Some 7,000 of them came up to Nova Scotia, until most of the best arable land (not widespread in the province) had been taken up anew.
They settled in the Annapolis Valley and around the head of the Bay of Fundy, planting New England townships there, that centered on village plots with wooden Congregational churches. Yankee fishermen gathered in ports like Yarmouth and Liverpool on the southern shores of Nova Scotia. Boston merchants came to Halifax, to serve its garrison and naval base, but also to build up its supply and export trades. Altogether, this influx had made the province virtually a northern extension of New England by 1769. Yet in the early 1770s the addition of several hundred Ulser Irish Protestants, and then about 1,000 Yorkshiremen in the Chignecto Isthmus -- plus the first of Nova Scotia's numerous Scots, who landed at Pictou in 1773 -- did broaden out the population base. Furthermore, with the emergence of a safely British community, not an Acadian one that had rejected oaths of allegiance, it became feasible to introduce representative government as practised in the Thirteen Colonies. Thus in 1758, Nova Scotia's elected Assembly -- the first in Canada -- met in Halifax. And by the mid 1770s, this flourishing province had more than 17,000 inhabitants, around half of them New Englanders.
By that time, moreover, another new Atlantic province had come into being, the Island of St. John -- to be rechristened Prince Edward Island in 1799. Even in 1763, when this island was annexed to Nova Scotia, the imperial government had ordered its widely fertile lands surveyed into large, 20,000 acre estates for settlement; and by 1767 these had all been granted to "proprietors" in Britain, men of rank and good political connections. The aim was to have the proprietors in return establish tenant-settlers on 200-acre lots; but the scheme was a lasting failure. Few of the non-resident owners in Britain made any effort. Few settlers wanted to come and pay rent to absentee landlords, when they could own their own farms elsewhere in British America. Hence, though the island's own provincial government was set up in 1769, actual settlement advanced there very slowly, and the first governor, Walter Patterson, had to have his own log cabin built at Charlottetown. There were some Micmac Indians, but less than 300 white inhabitants when the province began; most of them Acadians who had managed to stay or to return. Still, some Scottish colonists had been brought out by 1773 (the population was then about 1,000), so that the first general assembly was called at Charlottetown that year: eighteen members meeting in a tavern, and called "a damned queer parliament". Hampered by rents required from tenants, by payments due from proprietors to meet the costs of government (though left unpaid), the little island province stayed but scantily occupied. Yet its rich soil and forests and its abundant surrounding waters would, in the long run, bring the island inhabitants a simple but rewarding way of life.
Of these northern colonies, the newly defined Quebec had by far the largest population, nearing 70,000 in the year of the Proclamation, 1763; and it went on mounting with a high annual birth rate of 65 per 1,000. Yet apart from British officials or military garrisons, only a small English-speaking, mainly Protestant group came into the urban centres of this solidly French Catholic province. Even in 1764 it was reported that there now were over two hundred "Protestant householders" in Quebec and Montreal. Drawn from both Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, they included artisans, tradesmen and innkeepers; but the essential element, rising in wealth and power, were merchants. In Quebec city they often became importers and exporters; at Montreal, they turned to the long-range fur commerce that still was vital to the colony's economic life. Some who thus moved into Montreal fur enterprise had first arrived as army contractors and suppliers to the British army. Others already had experience on western frontiers; trading there from the older British colonies, particularly out of Albany on the Hudson. But altogether they represented the linking of the great St. Lawrence trade route westward with new access to British manufactures and markets overseas. In sum, an Anglo-French fur partnership took shape that joined British capital and business expertise with French knowledge of the interior and its peoples -- and the voyageur canoe system that kept the whole scheme operating.
Success was soon apparent. The fur trade, freely entered from 1760 with the British victories in the west, did meet a setback in 1763-4 because of the Pontiac uprising, when only licenced traders were allowed to go out to Indian Territory. But the rising was over by 1765, and by 1768 the return of fur-trade control to individual colonies brought on a rapid surge of trading activity all around the Lakes and southwest into the Ohio, while traders from Montreal reappeared on the Red River in the distant Northwest. In fact, within a few short years, Hudson's Bay traders far to the north in Ruperts Land -- long comfortably settled in their posts beside the Bay -- were feeling the impact of "pedlars from Canada", as they scornfully termed their new rivals. After all, James Finlay, a Scot from Montreal, had reached the Saskatchewan in 1768, where he set up Finlay's House near Nipawin. By the early 1770s the traders out from the St. Lawrence were ranging widely along the Saskatchewan valley, and looking onward to fresh territory.
The builders of this newly advancing Canadian fur empire would include Scotsmen like Finlay, James McGill and Simon McTavish, Englishmen like John Gregory, Forrest Oakes and the Frobisher brothers, Joseph, Benjamin and Thomas, or American colonists such as Alexander Henry from New Jersey, who had barely escaped massacre at Fort Michilimackinac during the Pontiac rising, or Connecticut-born Peter Pond, a one-time Detroit trader who would push into the Athabaska country north of the Saskatchewan. And this was a joint Anglo-French achievement which saw British increasingly present as "wintering partners" at inland posts, or Canadiens sharing in headquarter firms of Montreal. Yet there were deep gulfs still to be bridged between two very different societies within Quebec: the one still a small but economically powerful minority, the other a large majority, but placed under alien masters from another culture. Hence the question of Quebec, the question of how this province and community could really be integrated into the enlarged British empire, still stayed crucial -- and very far from resolved.
The Proclamation of 1763 had assumed the answer. Quebec, like other British provinces in America, would have English law and representative government. Why should it be treated differently? And if there were temporary problems of adjustment, the spread of British settlers from the populous Thirteen Colonies northward into Quebec (especially since the Proclamation had prevented them moving west into Indian Territory) would lead on to assimilation; while the New Subjects, the French Canadians, would come to know and appreciate the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the Old Subjects of the empire. But it did not work out that way. Few colonists other than traders came up to this colder northern land already settled by a people of different language and religion, and long regarded as foes. Instead American colonists preferred to look west, and resent the barrier of the Proclamation line. Thus the French-Canadian New Subjects could scarcely be assimilated by people who did not arrive. Indeed, except for the fur trade, the Canadiens remained a compact and defensive garrison community, determined still to survive despite the damages of war and the shock of conquest.
Physical damage, though heavy in and around the city of Quebec, could be repaired; and by the coming of peace much of it had been. Economic activity grew again; not just in the fur trade, but also in farming, fishing, lumbering and shipping. Yet while the economic life of French Canada was thus renewed, that life had changed as well: for it has lost much of its former business leadership. At the fall of New France in 1760, the defeated armies, the French officials and some seigneurs had gone back to France. But so had many of the colony's key merchants, who had often been Frenchmen rather than Canadiens, agents for homeland firms across the ocean. The change of empires brought about by conquest meant that British credit, currency and markets, not French, were what mattered now; and business links to London, not to Paris. Accordingly, the departure of the French commercial elite virtually left Canada open to British merchant leadership in the fur trade; yet in more besides. Some French-Canadian bourgeois might persist or find new places in an Anglo-business world -- again generally in the fur trade. Nonetheless, the Canadien middle class henceforth largely centred in the medical and legal professions or in notaries, who had a sizeable role under French law, or among small shippers and storekeepers, master builders and the owners of craft workshops. But the upper French bourgeoisie, once the leading economic element, had been drastically reduced.
The result for French Canada has been called "social decapitation" -- beheading -- an expressive if perhaps excessive term. It well may be that a colonial possession that had stayed under-developed in various ways, and whose top merchants had largely been temporary residents from France, did not have all that much of its own bourgeoisie to lose in any case. On the other hand, it is plain that Canadien society after the conquest saw both government and major enterprise under alien control, without new Champlains, La Salles or d'Ibervilles to continue their once bold patterns of leadership. In consequence, this society where rural life and the agricultural community remained close-knit and strong, and where most Canadien seigneurs still drew traditional respect, turned inward on itself: to the security of folkways, farm and family, leaving town scheming and money-chasing to les anglais. Here was a heritage, too, which arose from history; one that would idealize the agrarian world and seek to preserve it, in the classic but cautious conservatism that developed in Quebec.
Furthermore, though government and large business had fallen into foreign hands, the religious authority of the Roman Catholic Church had continued in French Canada, and indeed began to grow again following the British conquest. Before then, Canadiens had tended to pay less attention to the moral directives of their clergy. This was not quite the worldly scepticism of eighteenth-century France, yet way far from the seventeenth-century colony's pious devotion, as well. After the conquest, however, the Church stood out: not only in safeguarding the people's rooted Catholic faith, but also in working to sustain their distinctive language and institutions. Consequently, Catholicism became associated with agrarianism and conservatism, as vital factors in French Canada's survival within an Anglo-American (and Protestant) empire. More than that, the constant championing of Canadien interests by clerical leaders, in their dealings with British government officials within Quebec, gave the Roman Catholic Church a "national" value to the mass of French Canadians, from the very outset of British rule.
After the final French surrender at Montreal in 1760, the British military government that took over had made relatively few changes: both to avoid trouble with the colony's population while the war was still being fought, and because peace had yet to settle who would finally keep Canada. Thus General James Murray, commander of the British forces at Quebec, ruled as Governor, while lesser commanders served as sub-governors at Montreal or Trois-Rivières much as under the former French regime, functioning locally through Canadien captains of militia, just as their French predecessors had done. And this British regime also developed good working relations with the leading Catholic clergy -- especially Governor Murray with Jean-Olivier Briand, the vicar-general of Quebec, a principal Church figure after the death of the last French Bishop of Quebec, Pontbriand, in 1759. A tolerant, conciliatory Murray recognized Roman Catholic rights of worship (granted in the Montreal surrender terms) and also respected the Church's religious authority in French Canada. The watchful yet cooperative Briand, later made bishop, not only accepted British state authority, but equally brought it the passive obedience of Canadiens. Then came the Proclamation of 1763 establishing the new province of Quebec, and the civil government which replaced military rule in 1765.
Murray was reappointed Governor for this civil regime. He set up a council to assist him, as his new instructions required, and as further instructed, started to introduce English law into French Quebec. English criminal law, with its trial by people's jury, might win acceptance in time. But civil law, involving the weight of property and business dealings -- and indeed, seigneurial tenure, the very basis of the land system under Old French law -- posed a mass of unfamiliarities and complexities for new courts. Thus a hesitant Murray did not push legal changes further; any more than he created an elected Assembly as called for in the Proclamation. Here the rising English-speaking merchant element in Quebec province made plain their sharp displeasure. The Proclamation had promised the English law they relied on, and a representative assembly in which their own views could be heard. Had Old Subjects no rights? Yet Murray, a military man and an autocratic Scot, had small liking for noisy shopkeepers and petty demagogues (as he saw them), but felt a good deal more sympathy for the "orderly" French who understood authority -- yet who might not even be able to vote for or sit in, an Assembly under existing British laws, which still withheld political rights from Catholics in the Protestant-controlled United Kingdom of Great Britain.
The angry quarrelling grew, and Murray was recalled to London in 1766. In his stead Sir Guy Carleton was sent out; another army officer who had served under Wolfe, and indeed been wounded in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Carleton was at first regarded as an ally, if not advocate, of the Quebec English-speaking merchant party. In the province, however, and facing its critical problems, he came around to a very different position. Like Murray, this aristocratic soldier grew to distrust the demands of unruly urban merchants, yet to approve the disciplined-looking seigneurial society of the countryside. And Carleton came to appreciate the political value of the Catholic Church led by capable Bishop Briand, which was backed by a dutiful French populace -- not at all like the increasingly restive citizens of the Thirteen Colonies in British America.
In those provinces, tensions and troubles had been mounting at least since Britain's parliament had passed the Stamp Act of 1765, imposed on legal and other documents in order to raise revenue to meet the common costs of defending the empire in America. Yet colonists would condemn this act as "taxation without representation", since it had not been levied by their own elected assemblies; and they opposed the other imperial revenue measures that followed. In truth, with the threat of French empire removed, the old colonies no longer felt so dependent on the shield of British power. They became more confidently aware of their own American identity -- a new, national identity. Hence over the next decade, issues of imperial taxation, of the Proclamation line that had kept colonial settlement from expanding west, and lesser but inflaming rows that at times developed through sheer official stupidity, all moved the Thirteen Colonies on towards outright revolt. And it was in this ominous setting that Governor Guy Carleton reconsidered the whole question of Quebec within America.
He saw little use in fitting this French-peopled province in with the troubled Anglo-American colonies. It was not, and would not be, a province like the rest. In Carleton's view, "Barring a catastrophe too shocking to think of, this country will remain French till the end of time". Instead, a satisfied French Canada, given the special treatment that it needed, could become a secure and reliable British imperial base. If Quebec were enabled to maintain the French heritage it held so dear, then it might again be made a bastion of armed strength in North America -- but this time on the British side. Out of these considerations came a new policy for the French-Canadian province, which Carleton put forward to the government in Britain when he returned there in 1770 for an extended visit. That policy would be embodied in the vitally important Quebec Act, at length passed by parliament in London in 1774.
This Act effectively dropped the Proclamation plan of assimilation and the promise of an elected assembly for Quebec -- even though in 1769 it had been ruled that British laws denying political rights to Roman Catholics need not apply in America. But on the whole, French Canadians had little interest, then, in representative assemblies, which they had scarcely known except for limited special purposes. And what they otherwise obtained would seem much more important to them. To begin with, while Quebec was to remain without an elected house and ruled by a Governor and appointed Council, a new oath would enable French Catholic inhabitants to serve in that Council, or in other official posts. Next, although the Act provided for English criminal law, it did maintain French civil law; and with it, the entrenched seigneurial system. Further than that, Roman Catholicism in Quebec had its own system of tithes officially confirmed. That is, compulsory dues paid by the inhabitants to support the Catholic Church, and first authorized by government in the days of New France, would once again be officially enforced. Such a step in legal taxes did not quite mean a state-established Catholic church, since only the members of that faith would be concerned. Nonetheless, it did mean a remarkable commitment by the British state to sustain the Catholic majority's religion. Quebec was plainly not to be a province like the others; but would receive very distinctive treatment within the British empire.
Finally, the Quebec Act greatly expanded the limits of that province, taking in all Labrador on the east, and in the west extending it to the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi, thence north to Ruperts Land. Thereby much of future Ontario was added, all of the Ohio country south of the Great Lakes and some further western lands on north to Lake Superior. Such a huge extension had an evident purpose:to bring fur-trading areas already mainly dominated by St. Lawrence commerce within the jurisdiction of Quebec. At that time, moreover, the southwest fur trade below the Lakes that flowed to Montreal was much more developed than the rising trade to the far northwest. And beyond that this whole great sweep of British imperial territory could be more securely dealt with from a renewed Quebec base: for it comprised inland country where French-Indian ties still clearly mattered, where the fur trade would not endanger Indian land rights; but where American colonial desires to settle on native lands might only let loose new frontier bloodshed.
Thus British designers of the Quebec Act might see it. Inevitably, however, that measure brought angry responses in the already roused Thirteen Colonies. In fact, in American eyes the Act of 1774 became one in a series of "Intolerable Acts" that led to armed rebellion against Britain. The colonists saw the West they had fought over, then been kept from occupying, now brazenly transferred to the keeping of Quebec -- to a re-established French and Catholic province sitting north of them and still under "despotic" rule. This was no doubt a partial and self-interested view; but it was widely shared by Americans, who in their own heritage looked on the continent as naturally destined for them. In any case, events now surged to open war in 1775 between rebel patriots and the colonial supporters of imperial authority; a year before the would-be United States of America issued its resounding Declaration of Independence. Canadian and American history have continually been intertwined -- though seldom with more telling effect than in the days of the Quebec Act and the coming of the American Revolution.
In the autumn of 1775 two American patriot armies marched north to wrest Canada from British control. One under General Richard Montgomery took the well-travelled Lake Champlain and Richelieu route towards Montreal. The other, led by General Benedict Arnold, struggled overland through dense wilderness to strike directly at Quebec city. Montreal fell quickly; in fact, Governor Carleton evacuated it to move to the stouter defences of Quebec. It was also true, however, that Montreal, centre of the influential English-speaking merchants, held numbers of them who were bitterly resentful of the Quebec Act -- the French laws and Catholic tithes it had authorized, the assembly it did not grant -- while American patriot agents had been working for months among these disaffected elements in the revolutionary cause of Liberty. At Quebec, Carleton might hope to make a firmer stand until a relieving fleet and army could arrive from Britain in the spring. Yet as winter approached, and both the armies of Arnold and Montgomery gathered around the capital city, the British governor could only face the failed expectations of the Quebec Act he had so confidently pursued.
Far from serving as a restraint on the American colonists, the Act had stirred them to attack. Far from enlisting an army of grateful French Canadians to help keep rebellious colonies in check, it had not drawn the active support of the habitants, even if it had won their seigneurs and leading clergy. Carleton, a European aristocrat, had overestimated the deference and obedience of the Canadiens, a North American people. The seigneurs might unsheathe swords and cry "forward"; the priests proclaim the moral calls of loyalty and honour. But the ordinary farmers did not want to go. After long cycles of war, they preferred to sit this one out, to watch as neutrals the engaging spectacle of old foes, British and American, shooting at each other. Furthermore, though still firmly Catholic, the Canadiens were by no means overjoyed by tithes being made legal once more; and though they might respect their seigneurs in rural society, did not look to them as military leaders, but rather to their own captains of militia. And so the Quebec Act did not bring the willing popular response that Carleton and London officials had anticipated. Indeed, some French Canadians listened instead to the radical and democratic ideas then being freely spread by American patriot agents.
Over all, Carleton's limited forces in Quebec would include only a small number of Canadien militia, about as numerous (or few) as those who actually joined the American side. But his British regulars, the walls of Quebec city, and the besiegers' own shortcomings, counted for considerably more. The ill-equipped Americans had scant cannon and inadequate supplies. They suffered badly from disease, as well, during the prolonged seige; and their major attack, in a blizzard on the night of December 30, brought a blast of fire on the assailants and the death of General Montgomery. The seige dragged on futilely till spring, when British naval power sent a strong fleet up the St. Lawrence, so that the dwindling, enfeebled Americans had to give up and retreat. The heart of Canada was saved from any further assaults from the United States because of this enduring fact of British power by sea. Yet it also became true that in the wartime alliance reached in 1778 between France and the young American republic, neither partner really wanted to see the other established at Quebec, preferring to have it left to Britain rather than that either of the two new "friends" should hold it.
All the same, as the American Revolutionary War proceeded, British troops (and money) poured in to mount offensives southward from Quebec, now assuredly a flourishing base. Fighting also spread southwest below the Great Lakes, to meet American thrusts into the inland country. In the process, attitudes in the province of Quebec significantly changed. The leading Montreal merchants thrived on the furs they sent to British markets, from which their American rivals at Albany were now excluded, in a trade guarded by the British Navy on the Atlantic and by British military power in the interior. These key businessmen came to recognize that their economic stake in the imperial system far outweighed any political discontent over the Quebec Act -- and that Act, after all had re-attached the valuable southwest fur domains to Canada. Hence the merchants' sense of commitment increased with the flow of trade on into the 1780s; as they saw that their St. Lawrence commercial realm was tied both to Britain and to Canada's own growth westward. Factors of geography and business interest in effect were shaping the prime leaders of Montreal into British imperialists and Canadian economic nationalists combined.
As for the mass of French Canadians in the province, they began to follow their seigneurial and clerical elites into their own commitment to the British side. Naturally the Canadiens still put their distinct community concerns and heritage first; yet they also concluded that the Americans should not be welcomed, but kept outside. The self-proclaimed republican "liberators" had simply turned out to be the same old enemies, les Bostonnais, the Puritans of New England: stabling horses in Catholic churches during their invasion, paying in worthless paper money for crops and supplies seized from habitant farms. The Canadiens did not learn to love their British conquerors as a result -- why should they? -- but did grow to believe that they were better off with them. For the provisions of the Quebec Act had guaranteed French Canada's own special rights and character under British rule: guarantees which the Americans certainly would not have given. Instead angry American outcries had greeted the Act because of the very grants it had made to the "French Papists". Thus for different but historically sound reasons, neither the Francophone and Anglophone communities of Quebec province took to the American path of revolution. They stayed within the remaining British empire -- above all, to avoid being swallowed up in another emerging empire, that of the United States.
A similar set of developments, from disaffection or neutrality to commitment, took place in the adjoining province of Nova Scotia. At the outset of the Revolution, this province had seemed so much a northern extension of New England that many of its inhabitants as well as their Yankee neighbours down the seaboard had assumed that Nova Scotia, too, would come to join the republic. It looked almost inevitable. Apart from the British naval and garrison base at Halifax, the German-speaking colonists of the nearby Lunenburg area, or some other scattered pockets of Highlanders, Ulstermen and Yorkshiremen, more than half the population were still New England settlers; and they particularly dominated the Bay of Fundy and south-shore stretches, with easy access by sea from the Maine or Massachusetts coasts. Furthermore, these New England Yankees of Nova Scotia were not at all ready to defend their new homeland against American attack. While they had few real quarrels with the British provincial regime, they had no wish either to fight their New England kin -- as they said in representations to Halifax urging their own neutrality; ironically, much like the Acadians whose lands they had taken over. But matters rose to a head with an actual American attempt to seize the province.
In August, 1776, a fairly small and poorly organized offensive was launched from the Maine coast, led by Jonathan Eddy, a fugitive member of the Nova Scotian assembly. His "army" readily took little Maugereville, a hamlet up the Saint John River, then in November came down to Fort Cumberland, once Beauséjour, on the Chignecto Isthmus, to force its surrender. But Yorkshire settlers in the district stood out against the attempt, and sending messages to Halifax, brought British reinforcements that quickly ended the venture, with two Indians and one American killed. It was no great invasion. Still it indicated that power based on Halifax could maintain this province: a point that was endorsed by General George Washington, once a major of Virginia militia now commander-in-chief of the American army, who declared that in the face of British naval strength, no expedition to take Nova Scotia could be effective.
Force or facts of power may obviously shape history; not just desires, designs or even rooted interests. Nevertheless, commitments to the British side also spread in Nova Scotia, to keep it out of the new United States by more than force alone. After the evident failure of invasion by 1777, when a strong Fort Howe was built by the British at the mouth of the Saint John to help guard the Bay of Fundy, the Yankee elements in Nova Scotia grew less inclined to look for a New England takeover, or to contemplate neutrality along the way. Indeed, their own shores and outposts came under attack from New England privateers seeking plunder; and that did bring Nova Scotian Yankees to accept militia service in defence of their homes. Furthermore, the New Light religious movement arose among them, inspired by Henry Alline, a powerfully evangelical preacher of Rhode Island origin. The "Great Awakening" he brought swept New England-settled districts of the province from 1776 into the eighties. And it drew popular attention away from the earthly American republic towards a new heavenly City of God (not Boston) to be erected in Nova Scotia. In sum, religious fervour replaced political concern for much of the local population, leaving the one-time Yankee province both more aware of its own separate identity and more fixed in its British connection -- which would not really be seriously challenged throughout the Revolution.
There was still more to commitment, pre-eminently economic aspects. The town of Halifax, commercial core of Nova Scotia, had been built up by New England enterprise as well as by British military and government activity. Yet is chief merchants, though often originally linked to Boston, depended on their imperial ties in contracting to the armed forces, shipping to Britain or trading to the sugar islands of the British West Indies. There is no call to suggest hypocrisy here. These town merchants out of New England had arrived when Boston, too, was profiting from the British imperial trading system, and well before revolutionary nationalist views had gained control there. The Halifax commercial elite was virtually a surviving part of the pre-revolutionary empire; and while its members might sympathize with the grievances of former New England compatriots, they felt small cause to join them in open rebellion. At any rate, an influential Halifax business community cast its lot with the remaining (and still far-reaching) British world-empire. Much the same was true for lesser ports around Nova Scotia engaged in sending dried fish and lumber to the tariff-protected markets of British West Indies -- from which far larger New England competitors had removed themselves by act of war. And so Nova Scotia stayed quite prosperously on the British side of the dividing empire in America.
The little neighbouring Atlantic province, the Island of St. John, was hardly likely to affect the course of empires. It certainly continued in British keeping -- although an American privateer raid on Charlottetown in 1775 carried the acting governor and two officials off to General Washington, who did not want them, and sent them home. The big island of Newfoundland also suffered, and more harshly, from American privateering ravages. But here British garrisons and naval squadrons still blocked any real threat to imperial control. In any case, the war years brought the island flourishing times in its essential cod fishery, particularly for residents, since many of the visiting overseas fishermen had been drafted into the Royal Navy. Thus Newfoundland, too, stayed surely within Britain's American empire.
At the other, western end of empire, war spread through the inland forests below the Great Lakes, from the Iroquois country to the Ohio and Michigan wilderness. In the upper reaches of New York province, patriot rebel forces contended fiercely with units raised from loyal-minded settlers in the area. But further, the Six Nations Iroquois and their traditional homelands were heavily involved. The Tuscaroras and Oneidas largely sided with the Americans. The rest of the Six Nations, and especially the Mohawks, supported the British; for here old bonds of alliance held strong. They had been well forged under Sir William Johnson as Indian Superintendent till his death in 1774, to be maintained thereafter by his son and heir, Sir John Johnson, later to become Superintendent in his own right.
Sir John also raised the Royal Regiment of New York from loyal settlers, and fought in many a frontier attack. No less important, were Molly Brant, Sir William's consort, an intelligent, forceful and highly regarded Iroquois matron, and her brother, Isaac Brant, powerful war chief of the Mohawks -- a skilled statesman in his own right. Bloody raids and battles raged back and forth along the northern New York frontier, between Niagara, the main British western fort, and Carleton Island, the imperial base on the upper St. Lawrence not far from old Fort Frontenac. The end of fighting in 1782, however, found the British and their Indian allies left in possession of the whole belt of land south of Lake Ontario, and on down into the Ohio country. Westward around to Fort Detroit, or on further to Lake Michigan, the same was largely true. Despite temporary reverses, the loyal forces, their Indian allies and fur traders who included Canadiens, had kept most of this broad southwestern territory under British rule and Quebec-based commerce.
The northwestern lands, above and well beyond the Great Lakes, had stayed remote from war. Yet in this quarter, a new Canadian fur empire that was in the making would far outrange the old southwestern fur domains. In fact, its spread to north and west at last brought the Hudson's Bay Company to react against the ever-aggressive pedlars from Canada, who were penetrating so deeply beyond the company forts along the bayshores. In 1774 the Bay Company, thus founded Cumberland House on the Saskatchewan, its first inland post, and put it under the resourceful Samuel Hearne, who had already made his name exploring northward across the Barren Lands in 1769-72, to reach the Arctic Ocean via the Coppermine River. Still, that bleak journey had not unlocked fresh fur supplies. It was the Montreal trader, Peter Pond, who in 1778-9 opened up a wide new region rich in beaver, by crossing north from the Saskatchewan over the Methy Portage to Arctic-flowing waters, and planting the first post in the wooded Athabasca country. The gains in prospect, and the inevitably high costs of transport, led top Montreal merchants to pool their resources in a joint venture to exploit the Athabasca furs. Set up temporarily in 1779-80, thus marked an effective beginning of the great North West Company, and brought Simon McTavish, James McGill, Peter Pond and the Frobishers together as prominent partners. That company took more lasting form in 1783-84, with McTavish and Frobisher as leaders of an enterprise which in the next ten years would take Nor-Westers to the Arctic and Pacific. Here was another emerging empire of the West, essentially Canadian, which well might make the divisions wrought by the American Revolution look less ruinous and shattering.
And yet the divisions were crucial. Out of them came both the United States and modern Canada. Leaving a still unformed West aside for the present, it was tremendously important for history that the northern British holdings, from Newfoundland to mid-continent, did not join in the American Revolution but remained apart. This was not just chance, though chance was there. Power, pressures, interests and designs all had their varied parts in laying commitments for a separate country outside the American republic. But commitments of emotion and belief had largely still to come. They were emphatically developing by the time that peace was restored to North America: thanks to the Loyalist movement, which brought many deeply confirmed supports of the British cause out of the young republic to add their own strong convictions to Canada's heritage.
Major fighting in America ended with the surrender of the principal British army at Yorktown, Virginia, in the fall of 1781; although it still took two years to settle the peace treaty. But Britain was badly worn by a war it could not win, against a resourceful and resolute new nation in America, one backed as well by France, Spain and other European powers eager to see a dominant world-empire cut down to size. The final treaty itself, which was signed in Paris in September, 1783, above all recognized the independence of the United States, and drew the boundary that would separate the republic from the British territories on its north. That line began in the east where the St. Croix River flowed into the Bay of Fundy, ran northward between what would be New Brunswick and Maine to the heights of the Appalachians, then westward along the existing border of Quebec to reach the upper St. Lawrence. From here, a wholly new boundary proceeded up this river to the Great Lakes, and on through the middle of these lakes and their connecting streams to the far end of Lake Superior. Finally, the line continued via Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods due west to meet the upper Mississippi, which was then the inland limit of the United States. The dividing of the continent would later be extended across the prairies and through the mountains to the Pacific. Yet the Treaty of 1783 first laid down one of the world's longest international borders.
Troubles would rise later from this boundary settlement, especially since, at war's end, the former western areas of Quebec south of the Great Lakes were still mainly held by British forts, St. Lawrence fur traders and resident Indian peoples. More immediately pressing, however, was the question of the Loyalists, that sizeable pro-British element, perhaps a majority when open war began, who had stood by established law and imperial unity against revolutionary upheaval -- many of them to fight and die in that cause. Others had suffered persecution: had been attacked by mobs, tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on rails; been flung into jail, seen their homes burned, their property confiscated. And so when the peace treaty was being negotiated the British, recognizing their own clear obligation to the Loyalists, sought at least to provide some protection and restitution for them in peace terms. To victorious Americans, of course, these people were simply traitors who might be best advised to die. But the treaty did agree that the American Congress would "earnestly recommend" to the state legislatures of the republic that the rights and estates of Loyalists should be restored, or that they could seek legal compensation for their losses. Unfortunately, the federal Congress then had very limited power, while state politicians had even less interest. Hence the claims of the Loyalists went unhonoured, while mob abuse and property seizures did not end. In such circumstances, more and more Loyalists decided that their only course was to leave a land that had once been theirs no less than the revolutionaries, to seek security and justice northward under the British Crown.
Actually, this Loyalist outflow was under way well before the peace negotiations arrived at their final terms. In fact, one could trace its beginnings far back into the war years. Even in 1776, when the British forces withdrew from Boston, Loyalist families had sailed with them to Nova Scotia, where they went into camps at Halifax; though later most moved elsewhere, especially to Britain. More significantly, among some fifty Loyalist military units in the Revolutionary War, a number of them had fought in the country below Quebec's border, and ended up based in that colony, to which these soldiers' families were gathered as well. Lesser Loyalist forces had operated out of Niagara; their frontier families also made arduous journeys to the protection of that fort. Hence migration paths were already there as the war wound down.
Those Loyalist who now took a seaboard path to safety, up to Nova Scotia, moved in organized fleets of ships out of New York city, which was held to the end by British forces under Sir Guy Carleton as a collecting-point for loyal refugees. In April, 1783, the "spring fleet" carried some 7,000 Loyalists north, men, women and children largely from New York (a notably Loyalist colony), New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New England. About half of them went to Shelburne close to the southeastern tip of Nova Scotia, where a whole new Loyalist town took form. The rest were landed near Fort Howe at the mouth of the Saint John River on the Bay of Fundy. Here the tent encampments of Parr Town and Carleton arose; but within two years they had become Canada's first incorporated city, Saint John. Summer and autumn fleets brought many more arrivals, including Marylanders, Carolinians or other Southerners. In all, some 30,000 Loyalists migrated to Nova Scotia, well outweighing its existing population of about 20,000; and Loyalists also settled on Cape Breton Island and St. John's Island.
Their hopeful town at Shelburne soon began to fade, when the land around it turned out to be poor; but they made more successful settlements elsewhere around Nova Scotia. Most successful, however, was the Loyalist settlement on the Saint John River. As their pioneer farmsteads spread up that river's broadly fertile valley, and new port centres appeared on adjoining Fundy shores, the colonists of the area sought a province of their own, with its own capital instead of distant Halifax. Accordingly, in 1784, the Province of New Brunswick was set off from Nova Scotia, and its seat of government and legislature was placed at Fredericton, well up the developing Saint John valley. Thomas Carleton, younger brother of Sir Guy Carleton, was appointed first Governor, a task he would handle till 1803. Cape Breton Island was similarly made a separate province in 1784 because of Loyalist settlement -- Sydney being named its capital -- although it would be re-attached to Nova Scotia in 1820.
The other main Loyalist migration, overland to Quebec province, took different paths, often mere wilderness trails. It moved more by small groups of families and individuals, and came more from inland, backwoods districts of the old colonies, not long-occupied seaboard areas. Large-scale organized movement was not wholly lacking here, however: as was seen in the settling of Loyalist regiments and their families along the upper St. Lawrence, by order of General Frederick Haldimand, Sir Guy Carleton's successor as governor of Quebec. In the spring of 1784, these Loyalists were drawn from their base camps at Sorel below Montreal and set up-river in flotillas of boats under the command of Sir John Johnson, a leading Loyalist himself. Around 4,000 people were thus effectively placed on land grants past Longueil, the westernmost French-occupied seigneury, up to the Bay of Quinte on eastern Lake Ontario. The grants began with Catholic Scots Highlanders put nearest to established Catholic French farms, with Scots Presbyterians located next, followed by German Calvinists and Lutherans, then British Anglicans in that order. They all were settled by regimental units -- as was done with other Loyalist troops on the Saint John in New Brunswick -- and undoubtedly, the tested comradeships of war strengthened the new communities. Yet undoubtedly as well, the location patterns made plain the varied religious and ethnic backgrounds of these Loyalists.
Where the upper St. Lawrence met Lake Ontario, the town of Kingston rose at the site of old Fort Frontenac; both because of the inflow of Loyalists to the area and because the British military base was moved here from Carleton Island, now right on the American boundary. Moreover, groups of settlers organized in militia companies came to Kingston with their families by sea direct from New York; notably headed by Captain Michael Grass, a Loyalist of German origin, who knew the area from having been held a prisoner at Fort Frontenac back in French-war days. Kingston went on growing with the spread of Loyalist farms about it, and the resulting rise of trade. In fact, it came to be the first commercial town in future Ontario. Further west, Loyalists also continued to reach Fort Niagara at the far end of Lake Ontario, and were granted farmlands across the Niagara River, on what would be the "Canadian" shore; even while still other migrants arrived at British-held Detroit and settled in that fort's vicinity. In addition, over 2,000 Six Nation Iroquois left their ancestral lands now lost to hostile Americans, and took up large reserves granted by their British allies, on the Grand River that flowed to Lake Erie -- where Joseph Brant led the way to their future Indian homes around Brant's Ford. Altogether, some 8,000 or so Loyalist exiles and allied Indians had settled in the western areas of Quebec by 1786, when Guy Carleton, now with the title of Lord Dorchester, returned as the province's Governor.
By this time the Loyalists' movement to the Maritime Provinces was really over -- and only a few had entered Newfoundland -- though flows into Quebec went on at a lower rate. Some Loyalists had stayed and settled near Sorel. Others had gone to the eastern fishing shores of the Gaspé Peninsula. But any continued influx went mostly to the western woods of Quebec, to the free grants of fertile wild land rewarded there to Loyalists by the British authorities. Here, a pioneer farming society rapidly took form on extensive tracts transferred by treaty from the Indian peoples of the region. And over all -- whether in Quebec or the Maritimes -- the Loyalist communities expressed their will to survive outside the United States, away from the republican oppressions and democratic tyranny of the mob which they had had good cause to remember.
By and large, these Loyalists were not just hidebound reactionaries, former officials or privileged fat-cats. They were, indeed, mainly conservatives by temperament, people who rejected the violence of revolution. Moreover, the great majority of them were ordinary farmers or town workers in background; and if some Loyalists had been prominent and well-to-do, or were Harvard graduates, all in all, they represented a fairly typical cross-section of American colonial society, upper classes through lower. As such, they also comprised blacks, ex-slaves and slaves, native Indians, and numerous recent immigrants who had come from Europe to find freedom and opportunity in America. In this regard, Loyalism included Gaelic-speaking Catholic Highlanders, Catholic or Protestant Irish, along with Swiss, French or German Protestants of various churches and sects, who themselves had had to acquire English and had often faced discrimination from the Anglo-American majority in the Thirteen Colonies. Consequently, many immigrant minorities had looked to British law and institutions which had meant security, and feared revolutionary upheaval with the chaos it could bring. And at the same time, Loyalism also drew widely on old Americans, established since early Virginia or New England, who did not want to overturn the ordered liberties of the British Constitution under Crown and parliament just to suit the demands of radical fanatics and self-seeking demagogues -- or so they saw it.
At root, it was political opinions and feelings of this sort which bound the diversity of the Loyalists in a common cause. Many of them had indeed shared colonial grievances and looked earnestly for reforms and remedies: but not at the price of tearing down a time-tested governing system for some sudden wild experiment. Such Loyalists essentially sought to conserve law and order against destruction by illegal force. Right or wrong, they had fought and suffered in these views; not through blind devotion to King George III, but for the sake of constitutional change by evolution and under law. These things would matter in Canadian experience. For the Loyalists brought with them a heartfelt denial of revolutionary republicanism and sharp suspicions of mass-majority rule -- of unbridled American "democracy", which to them mainly meant illegal abuse, rabble-rousing and lynch law. Whether right or wrong again, they gave new content and purpose to a separate Canadian existence. In effect, Loyalists put decided strength in the idea that there could be another way in North America beside that of the United States.
Furthermore, their settlements in the Quebec interior led to the Province of Upper Canada, the forerunner of the modern Province of Ontario. Immigration into Quebec's western areas had continued with steady trickles of so-called "Late Loyalists", who in course of time came more for free grants of good land than from political convictions. As the western population mounted, however, so did its demands for government services nearer than far-off Montreal or Quebec city, for local law courts and land-holding based on British, not French law. The Crown itself was officially the seigneur of these newly-opened western Quebec lands; but the Loyalists there wanted to own their farms outright, as in the old colonies, and not be tenants even of a remote and undemanding King George III. Already in 1785 Sir John Johnson had joined with a group of Loyalist officers to petition for British laws and land ownership, not seigneurialism in western Quebec. In 1788 Governor Dorchester, once Carleton, set up four local administrative districts and courts for that region, broadly covering present-day Southern Ontario. But the land-tenure issue remained; while Dorchester warned London that the Quebec Act designed to suit French Canadians would no longer do for the English-speaking Loyalist society that had now developed in the western districts of Quebec.
Over the next few years the problem was thrashed out, as these western districts went on growing. It was involved as well with the problem of taxation, for which representative assemblies would be required to raise local revenues, since during the American Revolution the British parliament had itself adopted the principle that henceforth there should not be colonial taxation without representation. For western, Loyalist Quebec, this meant that elected representatives would accordingly vote taxes, as was already well established in the Maritime colonies. And in eastern, French Quebec, the Anglophone merchants still wanted an assembly, while the Canadiens were coming around to recognize its value to their own selves. But how to deal with two very different societies, linked to different law, religion and culture, within one parliamentary body? To the imperial government in London, the plain answer seemed to divide Quebec into two still very sizeable provinces, named Upper and Lower Canada. Anglophone, Loyalist Upper Canada could thus gain the English law and land ownership it sought, under its own government and assembly. And an overwhelmingly Francophone Lower Canada would not only have its own government and elected house also, but would keep the special provisions of the Quebec Act guaranteeing French law, seigneurialism and the state-recognized rights of the Catholic Church. A draft bill for this new provincial scheme went back and forth between Quebec and London in 1789-90. In 1791 it was passed into effect by the British parliament, as the Constitutional or Canada Act.
The details and implications of this key Act of 1791 can best be left for the present. More important, now, is to recognize it as one more of the major results of the Loyalist movement that rose out of the American Revolution. These Loyalists had particularly produced two enduring Canadian provinces, New Brunswick and Upper Canada. But they had done still more -- apart from settling countrysides and founding towns from Saint John, Fredericton and Sydney to Kingston and Niagara. Relying on their own American experience, they had cleared thick forest to build bush farms and log cabins, despite repeated danger, hardship and misery -- all too familiar to Loyalist women and wives. Their men had turned to fishing and shipbuilding on the coasts, to lumbering and trading as well as farming in the interior. In sum, their economic and social contributions were widely influential; as were the professional skills and learning which a cultured Loyalist leaven added mostly on the seaboard. Beyond all this, however, there was the very distinctive heritage of Loyalism. Unlike the homogenous collective French community, it embodied ethnic variety, and the beginnings of multi-culturalism in Canada. For the real diversity of British America was basic in the contributions of the Loyalists -- who were not just British in allegiance, but British Americans, in outlook, instead of being "United Statesers". And what they represented finally, in Canada, was almost a Declaration of Independence against the American republic that had stemmed from revolution.
Copyright © 1999 Canadian Heritage Gallery