1759

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The Canadian

In New France, the Contradictions Come to a Head.

It is the spring of 1759. The war in New France has been raging for three years. News is disastrous for the inhabitants. The harvest was bad and food is becoming scarce. The more time passes, the less chance there is of winning the war. The people are hungry and distraught. Still, balls and receptions continue in a spirit of false cheer. At the festivities, members of high society soldiers, aristocrats, and bourgeois eat, drink, and carry on as if they are living in an entirely different world.

Canadians in Despair

Whilst the members of high society amuse themselves, some residents find the situation troubling. Listen to what this servant thinks about it.

Yeah yeah, me good Joseph, I’m down to workin’ for th’gentry, but here at least I can eat me fill. I tell you, the town’s really changed while you were trappin’ in the woods, north of th’ Great Lakes. Since the war started, life here in the city has become terrible. Th’ people are so hungry, I’ve never seen anythin’ like it before. There’s been bad harvests an’ we ain’t have anything to eat now. Try an’ imagine that th’people are down to two ounces o’ bread a day! It’s been mumbled that Intendant Bigot even wanted to increase rationin’. Because o’ this a riot’s got underway in town, wit’ 400 women participatin’. There’s some say it’s not right what goes on when they hand out th’ food shipped over from France and that, some people, they get rich off of the king. And then, last week th’were two soldiers hung at th’ top of Cape Diamond for havin’ stolen brandy. I pray that th’ Heavens hear our prayers, that we can fight off them British an’ finally come out of our mis’ry, otherwise, me good Joseph, I think the colony is right gone for sure.

Corruption Reigns in the Colony

In Québec City, anger is brewing. Some residents question Intendant Bigot’s decisions. Listen to him defend himself.

My name is François Bigot, Intendant of the colony of New France, and as such you owe me respect and esteem. So then, before criticizing my work and the decisions I have made during this cursed war, you should know that I am not lining my pockets as much as some would say. Yes, yes, I know the people are hungry, but, Good Lord, we’re at war! Some individuals—jealous, no doubt—say that I hold too many balls and celebrations. I might remind such people that good relationships must be maintained between authorities. “Tyrant” is a word often bandied about to describe me, but the harsh punishments meted out to the lowest of criminals—every hanging, every minute spent at the whipping post, at the stake, and in the boot—were each and every one deserved! To those who regard me as a tyrant, I would reply that I have prevented people from firing their weapons in town, fighting on church steps, throwing their refuse anywhere they please, and allowing their animals to run at will in the streets. I say, does this not merit at least modest remuneration?

The Leaders Argue

The colony’s defence was organized despite the quarrels and misunderstandings between General Marquis de Montcalm and Governor General Marquis de Vaudreuil. <br/><br/>These quarrels would cause many problems for the defence of the colony. What did they do wrong?

Here come two leaders of the French army. Surely they get along well, working together to lead France to victory… however…

Vaudreuil
Mr. Montcalm finds me indulgent with the Canadian militiamen, but these men are to be commended for bearing Mr. Montcalm’s impetuousness and bad temper. He humiliates them with harsh, severe orders every chance he gets.

Montcalm
The Marquis de Vaudreuil gave me his ridiculous and obscure instructions tonight at 10 o’clock. Instead of thinking about the next battles, the Marquis de Vaudreuil is going to go to bed and count on peace to get him out of his obligations.

Vaudreuil
Although I am sacrificing everything to remain on good terms with Mr. Montcalm, all he can think about is his rank of Lieutenant General and his return to France.

Montcalm
The Marquis de Vaudreuil had never before seen a military camp or fortification, thus he finds everything new and comical. What a pitiful commander totally lacking in experience.

Vaudreuil
And I never say a word in response to all the vile deeds and indecent acts that Mr. Montcalm has committed or authorized.

Inspired by:Journal...Montcalm and Documents relative...

The Sovereign Council Shares Power

Who are the important figures in Québec City in 1759? Here are five of the most influential.

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The Resistance Organizes

In the spring of 1759, Québec City and the entire surrounding area are preparing for a siege. Provisions and ammunition are scarce. The majority of residents are worried. The warehouses are half empty. Canadians are trying to organize themselves despite the lack of resources. Let’s go inside one of the warehouses in Québec City to see how residents are getting ready for the impending battle.

See for yourself how Québec City’s geographic features are used.

An Impregnable City?

Québec City is renowned for being a natural fortress. The Marquis de Montcalm, considering the lack of time and resources available to him, needs to make use of the area’s defensive features as much as possible.

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The Same, Not the Same

The Canadian militiaman and the professional French soldier are together. They are often side by side in many of the war’s conflicts. But ...

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All is Fair in War

During the siege of Québec City, disciplinary measures become much more severe for those who don’t follow the law. However, the punishment may vary depending on the seriousness of the crime, when it was committed, or the person handing out the sentence.

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The Militiaman's Uniform

The Canadian militiaman is accustomed to life in the wilderness of New France. He has adapted his outfit and way of fighting to suit his environment. His clothing is comfortable and practical for long journeys in the forest. He is starting to use camouflage techniques since they enable him to organize more effective ambushes and be a better hunter. That's why a militiaman’s armament readies him for battle as well as for hunting. In addition to his trusty musket, the militiaman typically carries three knives on his belt; and gaiters, which are hung around his neck.

As you will see, the militiaman doesn’t have a military uniform. His outfit, inspired by the Amerindians, is made for the harsh climate and journeys through the forest. Move your mouse over the various items to see their definitions.

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Supply Difficulties

Life is hard during wartime. Trade continues in spite of it all, and some merchants are making a profit off of the residents. Many products are difficult or impossible to find. Those items that are available are sold for top dollar.

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Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The residents of Québec City are the ones who suffer the most under the British siege. Caught between the Marquis de Montcalm’s defensive strategy and heavy enemy fire, the Canadians attempt—with little means at their disposal—to thwart the English offensive.

The Terror Continues

The evening of July 12, 1759, intensive bombing begins, making life difficult for the city’s residents.

The night of July 15, 1759, three days after the bombing began, an employee of Magasin du Roi in the city of Québec wrote in his journal.

"[The English] began their attack at 8 o’clock this evening, firing 80 incendiary bombs and a few cannonballs at us during the night. One woman was killed by a bomb that fell on Mr. Gaspé’s house. [The English] keep using the same tactics and have now levelled more than thirty houses and churches[...]."
Extract from :The Siege of Québec...

An Ill-Fated Roll of the Dice

To counter the British cannons set up in Lévis, the Canadians and the French have come up with a fairly simple plan..

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Demoralized Troops

Given the Marquis de Montcalm’s apparent determination to stick to his positions in Beauport, General Wolfe decides to bombard the city in order to demoralize the French troops.

"The English began the bombardment on July 12, 1759, at around 9 p.m. Within ten days, 25% of the city was destroyed. After a month of bombardments, 50% of the homes lay in ruins. By early September, 80% of the city had been reduced to rubble. Even worse, between 40 and 60 residents were injured, and some 20 others killed."

Wounded and Homeless Increases Daily

As this Augustine sister from the General Hospital remarks, there is no lack of work, but space to hold the wounded is becoming increasingly scarce.

Since enemy fire could not reach our Convent, the poor people of Québec City took refuge here. All the outbuildings, including the house, servants’ quarters, cow barn, loft barn, and everything else—even the attics, despite the frequent washings we were continually required to do for the wounded—were filled with the sick beds of these poor souls.
Extract from: Relation de ce qui s'est passé...

Nothing More To Lose

The Canadians arrive on the battlefield determined to chase the British off their land. However, they have good reason to worry about this battle. They cannot ambush the British on the wide-open field. They must fight in rows like the European soldiers. They have to rely on their bravery, and keep their cool in order to win.

An Army Within an Army

Criticized by the Marquis de Montcalm and lauded by Governor General Vaudreuil, the Canadian militia is unique. Here’s a brief description that will tell us more.

The militia made up an essential part of Montcalm’s army, with more than 12,480 men. It was the largest contingent of soldiers charged with defending the city of Québec. The militia was made up of residents of Québec City, Montréal, and Trois-Rivières. For the enemy, the militia represented a threat, but for Montcalm and his elite troops, the militia was often viewed as a group of low-calibre, undisciplined soldiers. Yet French owed many victories to the militia, which heralded a new way of fighting influenced by the Amerindians. The militia stood to the left and the right of Montcalm’s firing line on the Plains of Abraham, making it possible for the French troops to withdraw under sustained fire.

Borrowed Tactics

Governor General Vaudreuil considers the militiamen of New France to be valiant soldiers. They protected the retreat of the French regiments during the battle of the Plains of Abraham. Most of the military tactics they use are borrowed from the Amerindians. Can you identify which ones?

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The Tuque: Identity and Signal?

Professional British and French regiments are subject to very strict rules with respect to their uniforms and flags. How does one recognize the various militia companies on the battlefield? Here is an account that answers this question.

British officer John Knox reports that he almost captured a white silk militia flag bearing three fleurs-de-lis surrounded by olive branches, all painted in gold. Although the Canadien militias are not known to have their own flags, the militiamen of Montréal, Trois-Rivières and Québec City respectively wear tuques of blue, white, and red to tell themselves apart.

The Die is Cast

The battle is now inevitable. It will take place on the Heights of Abraham. Listen to four people who witnessed the tragedy. An Aide-de-camp of General Wolfe, a Canadian employee at the King's store, John Knox, Lieutenant in Wolfe's army and a Huron warrior, Little Étienne.

September 12 , on board of Sutherland

The ennemy’s force is now divided, great scarcity of provisions now in teir camp, and universal discontent among Canadians : (…) (…)Before day-break on the 13th we make a descent upon the north shore,(…)

We had, in this debarkation, thirty flat-bottomed boats containing about sixteen hundred men. This was a great surprise on the ennemy, who, from the natural strength of the place, did not suspect, and consequently were not prepared against, so bold attempt. This grand enterprise was conducted and executed with great good order and discretion; (…).

Morning of September 13

At daybreak the enemy landed at Anse des Mères… The orderly who had heard men swimming shouted out and upon being answered in good French “provisions!” investigated no further, since there were vessels loaded with provisions passing by and the order was given not to fire upon them.

As soon as we gain the summit, all is quiet, and not a shot is heard, owing to the excellent conduct of the light infantry under colonel Howe; it is by this time clear day-light. (…)

…they immediately approached the shore and shortly burst into the home of Borgia Levasseur, taking over the house and the barn, as well as the homes of St-Joseph

Meanwhile in Beauport

A Canadien, an expression of sheer terror on his face, told us how he alone had escaped death and that the enemy was on the plateau. Knowing full well how difficult it was to reach the plateau from this point, we didn’t believe a word of the man’s tale, believing his fright had affected his senses. (…)

A little further on

I was with my grandfather Tsa-wa-wan-hi, Grand Chief of the Huron, when we met up with the army at Beauport with 60 or 70 of our grown men, and several younger men, too. We could hear musket fire. Our warriors rushed over from the other side of the St. Charles River to join in the battle.

I ran and joined Monsieur de Pontleroy and together we climbed to the plateau, following no distinct path but that of the whistling bullets.

On the Plains of Abraham

The Canadiens rushed to the scene of the battle and many volleys were fired, but with enemy numbers growing by the minute, our militiamen were shooting from all sides, incapable of forming a common front to hold off the enemy.

We joined Monsieur le Marquis de Montcalm, who ordered his troops into battle as they arrived. The enemy was already in formation and entrenching, the river on their right and Chemin Sainte-Foye on their left. They looked to be at least four thousand strong, divided into three corps (…) We had a number of battalions in forward positions, firing under cover of the brush (…)

Weather showery : it is about six o’clock and the ennemy first makes their appearance upon heights, between us and the town : (…). Québec is eastward of us in front, with the ennemy under its walls.


All our troops had arrived. I stopped a moment with Monsieur le Marquis de Montcalm, who said to me, “We cannot avoid the issue. The enemy is entrenching and already has two cannon. If we give him time to make good his position we can never attack him with the few troops we have.”

(…) It is ten o’oclock, the ennemy begins to advance briskly in tthree columns, (…) two of them inclining to the left of our army, and the third toward our right, firing obliquely at the two extrimities of our line, from the distance of one and hundred and thirty, until they come within forty yards; wich our troops withstand with the greatest intrepidity and firmness, still reserving their fire and paying the strictest obedience to their officers : (…)

My grandfather was too elderly to keep pace with his warriors. He wanted me to stay with him, but when he saw the Huron… He ordered me to go back the way I had come. I obeyed, but only went back a short distance. Then I hid to watch what would happen. I didn’t see much of the battle.

The infantry marched forward, flanked on one side by the navy and on the other by the Canadian militia. He gave his order when they were within half range of the fire of the enemy, who were firmly in wait… And so began the great fire of battle from all sides…

Our troops ran into battle, letting out great cries of war, then stopping to fire. The first line of French and Canadian troops kneeled to fire, throwing themselves down to reload.

When the general forms the line of battle, he orders the regiment to load with an additional ball. (…) Our troops in general, and particularly the central corps, is levelled and firing.


Monsieur de Sennezergue and Monsieur de Fontbonne, one a commander and brigadier, the other a commander, were killed on the battlefield and more officers were killed or wounded.

The enemy replied with heavy platoon fire. Our troops immediately veered to the right and retreated as fast as they could (…)

(…) Hereupon they give way, and flee with precipitation, so that, by the time the clooud of smoke vanishes, our men are again loaded and profiting by the advantage we have over them, pursing them almost the gates of the town and yhe bridge over the little river, redoubling our fire with great eagerness, making many oficers and men prisoners.

I later heard the warriors telling how they had fired many rounds at the enemy but that as soon as General Montcalm gave the order to attack, everything happened too quickly and they had no choice but to return to their village of Lorette.

There was such chaos that the British entered the city, mingling haphazardly with the fleeing troops and cutting us off from our camp. We finally came to stop beneath the walls of the square, where more than eight hundred men from all the corps had gathered in panic.


Our joy at this success in inexpessibly damped by the loss we sustaines of one of the greatest heroes which this or any other age can boast of General James Wolfe, who received his mortal wound as he was exerting himself at the head of grenadiers of Louisbourg.


Lieutenant General le Marquis de Montcalm died from his wounds and was laid to rest at the Ursuline convent. His loss will be deeply felt by the State and even more so by all Canadiens…

Cap-Santé, September 23, 1759

Alas, I have only sad news to write. Twenty times I have taken up my feather pen and twenty times it has fallen from my hands, the pain too great. How can I recall such a tragic sequence of events…? We were saved and now we are lost!

Texts inspired and from extracts: Journal du marquis de Montcalm...; The Siege of Québec...; Journal du siège de Québec;Les Hurons et la...

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