L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
Briand, Carleton and the American Revolution
[This text was written by Hilda Neatby. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]
[...] On May 19  a letter from Gage announced the beginning of hostilities in Massachusetts. Next morning came news that the Americans were invading the province by way of Lake Champlain.
Carleton was now forced to call on the habitants for service. He could count on the goodwill and support of the Church. Montgolfier at Montreal on May 30 sent a circular to the priests of his district, ordering them to remind the habitants that religion, honour, and interest required them to obey all orders of government. Briand sent out a general mandamus to all districts early in June. With few exceptions the priests gave their full support. (1) The seigneurs also were eager to show their devotion. Carleton, therefore, ordered out the militia.
He soon was confirmed in his fear that ancient habits of obedience were lost. The habitants refused to follow their seigneurs and they defied the Church, saying that Briand and Montgolfier were paid to preach for the English. In vain the sacraments were refused to the contumacious. Some may have been indifferent; most, no doubt, planned to make their peace at a convenient season. On June 21 Carleton reluctantly proclaimed martial law as the only regular method of coercing the habitants. All militia captains who had been commissioned during the military regime were ordered to get their men out. Seigneurs and government officials offered supervision and assistance, only to meet strong resistance. Hiding their precious firearms in the woods, the habitants in some places armed themselves with wooden clubs and refused enrolment. Judge Mabane and a seigneur were rescued from mob violence on the Island of Orleans only by the intervention of M. Desglis, the Bishop's coadjutor. Near Three Rivers the habitants threatened to kidnap young Lanaudière, Carleton's Canadian aide-de-camp, and send him to the Americans. In some places they said they would fight under English officers but not under the seigneurs, perhaps an ingenious evasion. In the Chambly district they sent a hurried message to the Americans on Lake Champlain: Were they really coming? If not, the English might have to be obeyed. At Lévis (2) an "assembly" with representatives from a number of parishes met to organize continuous resistance to impressment. (3) In the circumstances Dartmouth's order to Carleton in July to carry out his own favourite plan of raising two battalions of Canadians of three thousand men each must have seemed a very poor joke."
Carleton could have raised fighting men at this time. In this same month fifteen hundred men of the Six Nations offered to aid the British by raiding the back settlements of the colonies, but the Governor refused to authorize this brutal warfare. It was resorted to only after he had left the province.
There is little doubt that in his measures to pacify the countryside and to secure submission Carleton acted with the help and advice of Bishop Briand. The circuit could not have been conducted without the co-operation of the parish priests, and it was Briand's special desire that it be completed as quickly as possible. On his instructions all sacraments, including those for the dying, had been withheld from those who persisted in repudiating their oath of allegiance. In one place where, during divine service, an unseen listener had interrupted a patriotic exhortation from the pulpit by shouting "C'est assez prêché pour les Anglais!" Briand had laid an interdict on the entire parish. Now that the crisis was over reasons of mercy and of policy urged him speedily to forgive and restore "those poor souls whose blindness merits all our compassion and . . . our tears." The habitants, he said, ". . . are religious, are good at heart, but have been led astray." He would, however, make no move toward a general reconciliation until the government had conceded a general pardon and amnesty. (3)
Baby's circuit in Quebec, and a similar one which followed in Montreal, left Briand free to forgive and restore all who were prepared to give evidence of penitence. The inquisitorial procedures were unpleasant by certain standards, then and now. They were, however, an integral part of the French system, entirely familiar to the habitants. They seem to have been applied with mildness and sympathy for all who had acted under coercion. It was necessary to take some disciplinary measures, to identify disaffection, and to demonstrate that government once more had power to protect the loyal and obedient. Carleton had been severely criticized by observers in the province for not having terrorized the habitants into submission in 1775. He had refused brutal methods of coercion then; in 1776 he avoided vengeful punishment even when he had the power. (4)
Source: Hilda NEATBY, Quebec. The Revolutionary Age, 1760-1791, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1966, pp. 146-147, 158.
© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College