On September 13, 1759, British and French troops met and fought on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. This battle was the culmination of years of fighting between the British and French (along with their Native American allies) in a conflict known as the French and Indian War. British forces defeated the French defenders of the city in a short battle and proceeded to seize Quebec in the following days. At the end of the French and Indian War, France was forced to cede Quebec (along with other North American colonies) to Britain. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History during this time period.
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The Europeans Arrive in Quebec
The first known inhabitants of southern Quebec were Algonquian- and Iroquoian-speaking First Nations tribes. The northern part of Quebec had long been home to Canada’s aboriginal Inuit. In 1534, King Francis I of France commissioned Jacques Cartier on a voyage to find gold in the New World and the fabled Northwest Passage to Asia. Cartier and his crew arrived near the Gaspe Peninsula in May 1534 but failed to find treasures or trade routes to Asia that was not blocked by land or ice. They sailed back to France, but Cartier returned the following year. This time, Cartier and his crew entered the St. Lawrence and sailed upriver until they came across a Huron village called Hochelaga. This area later became the city of Montreal.
Cartier claimed the area for France and named the colony “New France.” With the help of friendly natives tribes, the French traders were able to transform the area into a center for the fur trade. The French people did not immediately seize the opportunity to migrate to Canada because of the difficulty of the voyage and the struggle of pioneers in a foreign land. Wars back home also hampered possible French migrants from settling New France in greater numbers.
In 1603, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain traveled to New France in another attempt to find the Northwest Passage. He never found the passage but went on to explore the St. Lawrence River and establish a trading post on Stadacona near modern Quebec City. The colony of Quebec finally grew when a greater number of settlers migrated from France. The French kings granted the vast lands of Quebec to companies whose directors then divided and distributed to influential Frenchmen. These lands were then leased to and cultivated by French farmers. Apart from hardy fur traders and frontiersmen, intrepid Catholic priests and missionaries started to gain a foothold in the area.
Expansion and Conflict
Between the late 1600s and early 1700s, French explorers had established riverine outposts in Illinois, Indiana, and eventually, Ohio. Unlike their British counterparts, the relationship between the French and most of the Native American tribes they encountered was initially cordial. The French settlers made an alliance with tribes such as the Piankashaw, Shawnee, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa. As the settlers expanded in Ohio, they made alliances with peoples such as the Delaware, Shawnee, Mississauga, and Wyandot. The British colonists, on the other hand, acquired an alliance with the Iroquois Confederacy, Cherokee, and Chickasaw. These tribes would go on to play a large role in the French and Indian War and influence its outcome.
In the 1740s, the fur trader William Trent established several trade outposts in the Ohio Country. In 1752, French forces (with their First Nations allies) raided and destroyed a British outpost in Pickawillany and killed the Miami chieftain Memeskia as punishment for trading with British merchants. Eager to protect the area from rival traders, the French authorities ordered the construction of Fort Presque Isle, Fort Le Boeuf, Fort Machault, and Fort Duquesne. As they went along, they displaced or captured British traders and their Iroquois allies. Iroquois representatives appealed to the governor of New York for help, but their pleas were in vain.
The French and Indian War: The Long Road to Quebec
News of the French expansion in the Ohio Country reached governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia in 1753. Later that year, he dispatched a contingent of the Virginia militia under the young George Washington to demand the withdrawal of the French forces from the Ohio Country. Washington and his forces arrived in Fort Le Boeuf in October 1753 and relayed Dinwiddie’s demands to the French commander Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre. The French commander ignored the governor’s demand. Washington and his men left Fort Le Boeuf and returned to Virginia two months later.
The hostilities between the French and British colonists escalated into full-scale war in 1754. George Washington and his troops managed to ambush and defeat a French reconnaissance party in the southwestern portion of present-day Pennsylvania. The Virginia militia and their French prisoners then retreated to Great Meadows where they constructed Fort Necessity. This victory was quickly reversed when French troops attacked and captured the fort on July 3, 1754.
Meanwhile, the British Parliament finally decided to provide reinforcements for the Virginia militia. In summer of 1755, the British navy and army chipped away at French defenses in the Atlantic by capturing the Acadian peninsula. General Edward Braddock and his men tried to capture Fort Duquesne but were defeated by French soldiers in the disastrous Battle of Monongahela. The British forces reversed this by defeating the French in the Battle of Lake George on September 8, 1755.
Between May 8 and 9, 1756, Britain and France finally declared war on each other. Meanwhile, in America, the formidable French General Montcalm scored victories when he led his troops in capturing Fort Oswego (August 14, 1756), Fort William Henry (August 8, 1757), and Fort Ticonderoga (July 8, 1758). The siege on Fort William Henry became infamous for its brutality and the inability of the French troops to stop its Native American allies from massacring British and local soldiers (as well as civilians) who had already surrendered.
The tides of war turned against the French colonists less than one month after the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. British forces managed to capture Louisbourg on July 26, 1758. The capture of this crucial fortress on the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island made Quebec more vulnerable to an invasion from the north. This defeat was followed by the capture of Fort Frontenac and Fort Duquesne. The seizure of these forts cut off any communication between the troops stationed in the Great Lakes area and the authorities in the cities of Quebec.
The heartbreaking losses of the French colonists continued in 1759. British forces captured French supply ships and seized trade goods, resulting in food shortages in the French colonies and endangering the French-Indian alliance. In summer of the same year, British troops sealed the western frontier by capturing Fort Niagara and Crown Point. British troops and their allies now controlled the area between the Atlantic and the St. Lawrence River. It was not long before the British forces attempted to capture Quebec itself.
In summer of 1759, the British troops under Major General James Wolfe led a grinding 2-month bombardment of Quebec. On the French side, General Montcalm led the successful defense of the city. Finally, on September 13, British forces successfully landed on Quebec’s Anse-au-Foulon. They marched north until they reached the Plains of Abraham where they were met by the beleaguered French forces under General Montcalm. On the same day, the British army defeated the French forces at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Although they managed to rout the French troops, the British army was unable to occupy Quebec on that day. General Montcalm and General Wolfe both died within hours of each other on September 14. It was not until September 18, 1759, that Quebec was finally forced to surrender and open its gates to the victorious British troops.
In 1763, the guns of the Seven Years’ War/French and Indian War were finally silenced. In the end, France was forced to cede Canada to the British in the Treaty of Paris. In return, Britain would allow the inhabitants of Canada the freedom to practice Catholicism. The British representatives agreed to the condition that the new rulers would not drive the French settlers from their lands if they chose to remain in the colony. Residents who did not want to submit to British rule would be allowed to sell their lands and leave Canada within an 18-month period.
McNaught, Kenneth William Kirkpatrick. The Penguin History of Canada. London: Penguin, 1978.
Morton, Desmond. A Short History of Canada. 2nd ed. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1994.
Riendeau, Roger. A Brief History of Canada. New York: Facts On File, 2000.
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