In the colonial days before the Revolutionary War, there was no set border between the American colonies and Canada. Waterways were one, perhaps, THE most important avenues of transportation at the time and one of the important waterways was the St. Lawrence River that connected Lake Erie with the Atlantic Ocean.
Located along the St. Lawrence River, at the confluence with the Ottawa River, is ab island known as Île de Montréal. After the St. Lawrence Iroquoian Indians disappeared in the 1500s, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance established a missionary colony and fur trading center on the island in 1642. Soon after, the French fur traders ended up in a war with other Indians, prompting French King Louis XIV to send 1,200 troops to protect the important fur trading business of Montreal.
In 1701, France formed a formal treaty, La Grande Paix, with the remaining Iroquois and 30 other Indian groups and established a permanent settlement at Montreal.
By the 1760s, Montreal became an important trading post along the St. Lawrence River and it was now occupied by British troops, who used their position to try to control shipping along the St. Lawrence River and settlements in northern New York.
In the early days of the Revolutionary War, the colonial leaders realized the importance of obtaining supplies and trade goods via the St. Lawrence River down to New York and Pennsylvania.
In 1775, after hearing about the outbreak of violence at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, Benedict Arnold and his militia troop marched out to join the battle against the British. He quickly teamed up with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys from Vermont and together they set off to capture Fort Ticonderoga in New York from the British.
On May 10, 1775, Arnold and Allen surprised the British at Fort Ticonderoga and captured the fort. After Allen’s men broke into the British rum and got drunk, Arnold did what he could to regain order, causing a rift between him and Allen. At the time, Arnold got into an argument with Colonel James Easton. Arnold was so upset and offended that he challenged Easton to a duel, but Easton refused. Afterwards, Arnold, also a Colonel by this time, was ordered to report to the command of Colonel Benjamin Hinman. Upset, Arnold dismissed his men and soon discovered that they had been recruited by Easton, which angered him immensely. Arnold ended up returning to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he was less than warmly welcomed by the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. When Arnold submitted for his expenses, he received far less than his submission. An attorney by the name of Silas Deane took Arnold’s case to the Continental Congress who ended up reimbursing the balance of Arnold’s expenses.
In June 1775, the Continental Congress appoints George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Not long after, Washington provides a list of names of men he wanted to receive commissions in his army. Among those names was Benedict Arnold, who ended up receiving a commission as a Colonel. He was placed under the command of General Philip Schuyler who pretty much gave Arnold free reign to carry out his own plans. Arnold’s plans included attacking and capturing Quebec, Canada, but he found the terrain and weather worked against him.
Approaching Quebec, Arnold sent a message to Schuyler informing him of his plans to take Quebec. The message was dispatched using an Indian scout that was thought to be trustworthy, but he wasn’t. The message ended up in the hands of the British who were able to get reinforcements before Arnold was able to attack. Due to the cold winter weather, terrain and other conditions, Arnold had lost a sizeable number of his men due to desertion.
When Arnold was prepared to attack Quebec, his plans were thwarted for three days by heavy rains and mud. Arnold decided to wait for help from Colonel Richard Montgomery, but he never came because Arnold’s message never got through. Arnold had planned to have Montgomery attack from a different direction and together they could take the city. Montgomery arrived later but ended up falling in battle. Arnold was wounded in the leg and Daniel Morgan took over his command. Around the same time, smallpox began to spread through Arnold’s troops, causing more of them to desert and head home.
Even though the Battle of Quebec was an utter failure for the Patriots, Washington praised Arnold for his actions and promoted him to Brigadier General. He was sent to Montreal where he met with delegates from the Continental Congress with peace offers for the British, but the efforts failed. Before leaving Montreal, Arnold looted much of the city’s supplies.
On September 10, 1775, Montgomery arrived in Canada at Fort St. John with 1,000 troops and laid siege to the fort. Montgomery was later reinforced with troops from New Hampshire and Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys then being led by Colonel Seth Warner.
On September 25, 1775, Ethan Allen launched an attack on Montreal, however, he was undermanned for the British forces of General Guy Carleton who also was serving as the Canadian Royal Governor. Allen was captured and imprisoned at Pendennis Castle in Cornwall, England.
On November 3, 1775, British Major Charles Preston, commander of Fort St. John, surrendered to Montgomery. In addition to taking 500 British regulars and 100 Canadian volunteers captives, Montgomery also took 48 pieces of artillery, 800 small arms, a large quantity of lead and shot along with some naval stores.
On this day, November 13, 1775, American General Richard Montgomery arrived with this forces and found Montreal virtually undefended. The battle to stave off Allen’s attack had greatly weakened the British forces. As Montgomery’s Patriots rode into Montreal, Carleton managed to escape to Quebec City.
General Montgomery first distinguished himself during the French and Indian War. After capturing Montreal, he turned his attention to Quebec City, where in early December, 1775, he attacked during a blizzard, but was defeated by Carleton.
Sources for the above includes: Patriots Take Montreal; Today, September 6, 1781: Benedict Arnold Orders New London, CT Burned to Ground; The Capture of Montreal; Revolutionary War, Key Events for year 1775; Montréal; General Richard Montgomery Captured Montreal November 13, 1775; Surrender of Montreal; American Revolution: Major General Richard Montgomery; Major General Richard Montgomery