In September 1775, the Continental Army began moving into Quebec, with the goal of liberating it from British military control. Brigadier General Richard Montgomery led one force up Lake Champlain, successfully besieging Fort St. Jean and capturing Montreal on November 13. Colonel Benedict Arnold led a force of 1,100 men through the wilderness of Maine toward the city of Quebec.
Quebec’s governor, General Guy Carleton, had been preparing the defense of the province against possible invasion since May 1775, following the capture of Fort Ticonderoga by Arnold and Ethan Allen, and Arnold’s raid on Fort St. Jean on May 18. While Carleton concentrated the defense at Fort St. Jean, small British garrisons were located at Montreal and Quebec.
The British authorities had been aware of American invasion plans for some time, as they occasionally intercepted communications between Montgomery and Arnold. While Governor General Carleton was in Montreal seeing to the defenses there, Lieutenant Governor Hector Cramahé had in September organized a militia force of several hundred to defend the town, although they were “not much to be depended on”, with estimates that only half the militia forces were reliable. He had also made numerous requests for military reinforcements. Each of these came to nought; several troop ships were blown off course, and ended up in New York, and Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves, commanding the fleet primarily occupied with the siege of Boston, refused to release ships to transport troops from there to Quebec, because winter was closing in.
When definitive word reached Quebec on November 3 that Arnold’s march had succeeded and that he was approaching the city, Cramahé began tightening the guard and had all boats removed from the south shore of the river. Word of their arrival also increased enlistment in the militia, increasing the ranks to 1,200 or more. Two ships arrived on November 3, and another the next day, carrying militia volunteers from St. John’s Island and Newfoundland that added about 120 men to the defense. A small convoy headed by HMS Lizard also arrived that day, from which a number of marines were contributed to the town’s defenses.
On November 10, Lieutenant Colonel Allen Maclean, who had been involved in an attempt to lift the siege at St. Jean, arrived with 200 men of his Royal Highland Emigrants. They had intercepted communications from Arnold to Montgomery near Trois-Rivières, and hurried to Quebec to help with its defense. The arrival of this experienced force boosted the morale of the town militia, and Maclean immediately took charge of the defenses.
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