Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
August 2005

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


The Fight For Oversea Empire

The Seven Years War

The Fall of New France


[This text was written by William WOOD and was published in 1914. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]



THE campaign of 1760 was an anticlimax. Not only had Saunders and Wolfe decided the local issues of the war at Quebec in 1759, but, in the same year, Boscawen and Hawke had clinched them, even more decisively, at sea. On August 18, when Wolfe was almost despairing at Quebec , Boscawen was smashing La Clue's Mediterranean fleet to pieces at Lagos. And on November 20, the day Wolfe was buried amid the 'mourning triumph' of a whole empire, Hawke was chasing Conflans into Quiberon Bay, and there, in the full stress of a westerly gale, on a lee shore, and among all the dangers of rocks and shoals, was winning the naval counterpart to the battle of the Plains. After this, nothing but a treaty of peace could save New France in 1760.


Nevertheless Lévis made a most gallant attempt to retake Quebec and there maintain that indispensable 'foothold in America' which Marshal Belle-Isle had told Montcalm to keep in 1759. On April 17 he had 7,260 men ready to start from Montreal, and he expected to be joined by enough of the inhabitants on the way down to bring his total up to about 12,000. He made a magnificent forced march over the almost impassable spring roads, doing nearly twenty miles a day, and that with half-fed men just out of the most miserable winter quarters. On the morning of the 28 th the British marched out to meet him on the Plains, a mile beyond where Wolfe and Montcalm had met the year before. For Murray it was a choice of evils. He had only 3,886 effectives left, and many of these were touched with the prevailing scurvy. But though he could put only 3,000 into line of battle, and Lévis could put quite 9,000, he hoped that a vigorous attack, supported by a greatly superior artillery, would give him the victory over three times his number of heterogeneous French, mostly militia.


This second battle of the Plains, better known as the battle of Ste Foy, was fought with the utmost determination on both sides, and the Canadian militia and American rangers held their own with the best. At the propitious moment Lévis galloped along his line with his hat held high on the point of his sword - a preconcerted signal - and a general charge of his whole force rolled back Murray's long, thin, two-deep line and took all the twenty-two guns. It was a bloody field. The British lost 1,124 men, more than a third of their total, but they retired in good order; and the French, who had lost half as many again, were too exhausted to pursue them.


Lévis immediately commenced his first parallel at six hundred yards from Quebec , and pressed the siege with all his might, Murray had only 2,762 men left, and it began to look as if the French were going to regain their stronghold. On the evening of May 15 Lévis heard that three French ships had just come in, and he was about to storm the walls, which were quite untenable, when a prisoner told him these men-of-war were not French but British, and the vanguard of a powerful fleet. There was now nothing left to do but retire on Montreal as fast as possible, to prevent being outflanked along the river. The next morning, the 16th, Commodore Swanton attacked the French flotilla - two frigates, two armed vessels, and many small craft that had been preserving Lévis' line of communication. The French all cut their cables, and all but one fled in confusion. The British destroyed the four fighting ships and many of the transports in the course of the morning. But Vauquelin, who had greatly distinguished himself at Louisbourg, fought a splendid delaying action in the Atalante, which makes him worthy of sharing the French naval honours of Canada with d'Iberville, the hero of Hudson Bay . After vainly trying to head off the pursuing British frigates, Lowestoffe and Diana, he beached the Atalante on the shoals of Pointe-aux-Trembles and fought her there for two hours and a half, when he and his crew surrendered and the Atalante was burnt to the water's edge. The arms of France thus left Quebec with all the honours of war by land and sea.





The last scene of the last act of this moving drama was now at hand. By the end of May Lévis was back in Montreal, where he remained as hopelessly isolated from the world outside as if he had been marooned on the Pacific. Step by step the few little outlying French detachments retreated before the British, who were closing in on the doomed colony from east and west and south. Day by day these retreating forces grew less and less, as the Canadians left for their homes, until, at the last, Lévis found himself shut up with a mere handful of troops and the whole brood of parasites under Bigot and Vaudreuil.


Meanwhile the American colonists had again raised large contingents to complete the conquest. There were only a handful of rangers with Murray at Quebec, about half of the nine hundred that had accompanied Wolfe. But Haviland at Crown Point and Amherst on Lake Ontario had nearly as many militiamen as regulars, and some of these militia, having now served through several campaigns, had learnt some of the cohesion of regulars without losing their own distinctive good qualities. Pitt and the colonies understood each other better than ever, and regulars and militia also formed a better combined force than they once had. The sea, of course, was absolutely British, as much so as if the shores of England touched those of Canada. And Lord Colville's squadron, which accompanied Murray's reinforced army to Montreal, brought direct sea-power to bear on the constricted area into which the long, grinding pressure of indirect sea-power had compelled the French to shrink exhausted in order to make their final stand.


The following entries in Colville's private log and journal were never meant to meet the public eye. But, for that very reason, they are all the better evidence of his good work in going up the St Lawrence earlier than any other fleet and convoy, either before or since


April 1760. Sunday. 20. In Halifax Harbour. At 6 A.M. made the signal and unmoored. Wrote to Mr. Clevland that I appointed the 14 th Instant for Sailing, but a Southerly Wind prevented. Tuesday 22. At 5 A.M. made the Signal to weigh. At 7 came to Sail. The Garrison of Halifax saluted with 13 Guns. Squadron and six Sail of Vessels under Convoy for the River St Lawrence . 24. having run amongst broken Ice off Louisburg in the Night, in the Morning we could see neither Land nor Sea, tho' the Sun shone bright : the Ships seemed fixed as in a Dock ; and had the Sea risen with an increase of Wind, it must have been of very dangerous consequence. 25. the Ice dispersing we got clear of it with some difficulty. May 16. anchored with the Squadron at the Isle of Bic, after a most tedious and troublesome passage, being almost continually impeded, by running amongst great Quantities of loose Ice, and confused by thick fogs. Notwithstanding our greatest care all the Convoy lost company, more from their own bad conduct than on account of the Ice or Weather. At Bic I received a Letter from Governor Murray of Quebec, dated the 9 Instant. He acquainted me that the Enemy, having collected, the whole Force of Canada, were then laying Siege to Quebec. Upon this Intelligence I sailed directly upwards with the Squadron, and on the 18, at 9 in the morning, we anchored at Quebec, where I found Captain Swanton in the Vanguard, being sent from England to reinforce me.


In September Murray, Haviland and Amherst occupied the Island of Montreal with 17,000 men, and Vaudreuil surrendered the whole of Canada by a capitulation which was signed by both sides on the 8th. The last parade state of the French army showed only 2,132 men present. Most regrettably, Lévis, whose services otherwise entitle him to the highest admiration, now made the two great mistakes of his singularly adroit career. He protested against capitulating if he could not march out with all the honours, and offered to defend himself to the last man instead - which, of course, would have meant simple butchery for all his best troops. Then, seeing capitulation was inevitable, he burnt the French colours, though their delivery had been guaranteed by the terms already accepted on both sides, and he and Vaudreuil gave their word that they had no colours to deliver, as they had destroyed them some time before.


The Treaty of Versailles only confirmed the accomplished fact, and ceded to George III in 1763 the sovereignty of Canada, which had been decisively won in 1759 by the arms of George II, under the conquering leadership of Pitt, Anson, Saunders, Hawke and Wolfe.

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Source: William WOOD, "The Fight for Oversea Empire: The Fall of New France", in Adam SHORTT and Arthur DOUGHTY, eds., Canada and Its Provinces, Vol. I, Toronto, Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1914, 312p., pp. 308-312.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College