Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Sir Guy Carleton

First Baron Dorchester


Carleton, Sir Guy, first Baron Dorchester (1724-1808), governor-in­chief of British North America, was born at Strabane, county Tyrone, Ireland, on September 3, 1724, the son of Christopher Carleton of Newry, county Down, and Catherine Ball. On May 21, 1742, he was commissioned an ensign in Lord Rothes's regiment (the 25th Foot); and by 1757 was a lieutenant-colonel commanding the 72nd Foot. He was a friend of James Wolfe, and in 1759 Wolfe took him with him as quarter­master-general on the expedition against Quebec. During the siege of Quebec he was one of Wolfe's right-hand men; and he was wounded at the battle of the Plains of Abraham.


In 1766 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of the province of Quebec, and in 1768 its governor. His period of office lasted on this occasion until 1778, and was of cardinal importance in several ways. It was largely through Carleton's influence that the policy of the conciliation of the French-Canadian seigniors and clergy triumphed in the Quebec Act of 1774, and that the advent of representative government was postponed. It was also through his agency that the American invasion of Canada in 1775-76 was defeated. In 1778 he retired as the result of differences between himself and Lord George Germain, the secretary of state for the colonies; but in 1782 he was brought forth from his retirement, and appointed commander-in-chief ofthe British forces in North America. In this capacity, he had oversight of the evacuation of New York by the British troops and the loyalists in 1783.


In 1786 he was once again appointed to the government of Canada, this time as Baron Dorchester, with a commission as governor-in-chief of British North America. His second term of office lasted until 1796, and was chiefly notable for the passage of the so-called Constitutional Act of 1791. In the framing of this Act his influence was not so marked as in the framing of the Quebec Act; but his firm administration of the government was in part responsible for the successful inauguration of representative institutions in Canada at the moment when the French Revolution was threatening the foundations of government elsewhere. A man of decidedly arbitrary and autocratic methods, he was yet perhaps the sort of pro-consul who was required to guide the destinies of Canada during the difficult and dangerous periods with which his two administrations coincided.


In 1796 he retired to private life, first at his estate of Kempshot, near Basingstoke , and later at Stubbings, near Maidenhead. It was at the latter place he died suddenly on November 10, 1808. In 1772 he married Lady Maria Howard, third daughter of the Earl of Effingham; she bore him nine sons and two daughters, and survived him for twenty-eight years.


See A. G. Bradley, Lord Dorchester (Toronto, 1907); W. Wood, The father of British Canada (Toronto, 1916) ; W. Smith, The struggle over the laws of Canada, 1763-1783 (Can. hist. rev., 1920) ; A. L. Burt, Sir Guy Carleton and his first council (Can. hist. rev., 1923), and The Old province of Quebec (Minneapolis, 1933).

[Consult the biography of Carleton at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography]

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Source: W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., "Sir Guy Carleton, First Baron Dorchester", in The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. I, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 398p., p. 389.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College