Guy Carleton

1724–1808 — Governor of Canada

Guy Carleton was a prominent British officer and politician during the 18th Century. He is most famous in America for being the Governor of Quebec during the American Revolutionary War and commanding British forces during the Invasion of Canada (1775–1776).

Guy Carleton, Illustration

Governor Sir Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Guy Carleton Facts — Early Life to 1774

Early Life and Political Connections

  • Guy Carleton was born in Strabane, Ireland, in 1724.
  • He was part of a well-known Anglo-Irish, Protestant family.
  • The family was related to William Conolly, a member of the Irish Parliament, who provided political connections for him and his brothers, William and Thomas.

Early Military Career

  • Guy Carleton started his military career in May 1741 as an ensign in the Twenty-fifth Regiment.
  • Carleton was promoted to Lieutenant in the same regiment on May 1, 1745.
  • During the War of the Austrian Succession in 1747, he served as aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland and participated in the fighting for Bergen op Zoom in the Netherlands.
  • Carleton was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 1st Foot Guards on July 22, 1751.
  • Carleton’s association with General James Wolfe led to his appointment as the military tutor of Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond, in 1753.
  • With the Duke’s support, Carleton secured a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Foot Guards on June 18, 1757.
James Wolfe, General, Britain, French and Indian War
General James Wolfe. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Carleton’s Service During the Seven Years’ War

  • In 1758, Guy Carleton was selected by General Jeffery Amherst to join an expedition against Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in New France.
  • However, King George II refused to confirm the appointment due to negative comments Carleton had made about soldiers from Hanover, the King’s birthplace.
  • Carleton served as an aide-de-camp to Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel in central Europe during the summer of 1758.
  • Carleton was chosen as Lieutenant Colonel of the 72nd Regiment by its Colonel, the Duke of Richmond, in 1758.

Carleton Joins the French and Indian War

  • In 1759, General Wolfe appointed Carleton to the position of Quartermaster General. 
  • Despite a protest from the King, the appointment was approved, and Carleton made the voyage to Canada.
  • During the campaign against Quebec, Carleton distinguished himself as a quartermaster, military engineer, and commander of an elite grenadier corps.
  • He fought in the battle of the Plains of Abraham (September 13, 1759,) leading his men despite suffering a wound to his head.
  • Despite the death of General Wolfe, British forces won the battle, took control of Quebec, and captured New France, effectively bringing the French and Indian War to an end.
Battle of the Plains of Abraham, 1759, British Climbing the Cliffs
This illustration depicts the British forces scaling the outside of Quebec City on September 13, 1759. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Carleton Returns to the Seven Years’ War

  • Carleton continued to serve despite his injury and returned to England in November 1759.
  • In March 1761, he served as a Brigadier General in an expedition against Belle Isle, off the coast of France, where he was wounded again.
  • Carleton was promoted to Colonel on February 19, 1762.
  • He participated in the conquest of Havana as Quartermaster General, serving under the Earl of Albemarle.
  • Carleton was wounded for a third time on July 22, 1762, while leading a successful assault against a Spanish fortification.

Carleton Becomes Governor of Quebec

  • The Province of Quebec was established by King George III and the Board of Trade with the Proclamation of 1763.
  • On April 7, 1766, he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Quebec but replaced James Murry as Governor five days later, on April 12.
  • Carleton arrived in New York on August 21, 1766, and met with General Thomas Gage before traveling to Quebec.
  • He arrived in Quebec on September 22.
  • Carleton took the oath of office for Governor on September 24.
  • He governed in a heavy-handed fashion but was supported by key British officials, including:
    • Henry Seymour Conway (Secretary of State for the Southern Department) 
    • Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond (who replaced Conway)
    • Wills Hill, Viscount Hillsborough
    • William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth
  • On October 3, he was appointed to the position of Brigadier General in Gage’s forces.

Priorities as Governor of Quebec

  • Carleton paid close attention to the Fur Trade, which was important to the Canadian economy, and maintaining peaceful relations with Native American Indian tribes, including the Iroquois Confederacy.
  • He was also focused on strengthening the defenses of the colony.
  • Carleton was an advocate for restoring French cultural and legal traditions in Quebec, which had been taken away after the 1763 Treaty of Paris.

Return to England

  • Carleton returned to England in 1770.
  • He married Lady Mary Howard on May 22, 1772. Together, they had eleven children.
  • In 1772, he was appointed Colonel of the 47th Regiment and promoted to Major General on May 12, 1772.

The Quebec Act and Return to Canada

  • Parliament’s enactment of the Quebec Act in 1774 largely incorporated Carleton’s recommendations for restoring French customs.
  • The Quebec Act is often viewed as one of the Intolerable Acts, even though it was not enacted as punishment for the Boston Tea Party.
  • However, English inhabitants of Quebec and Americans believed the Quebec Act was passed simply to ensure French loyalty as tension increased between the 13 Colonies and Great Britain (see Quebec Act Facts).
  • Carleton returned to Quebec on September 18, 1774.

Guy Carleton Facts — the American Revolutionary War

The 14th Colony

  • Carleton faced multiple attempts by the 13 Colonies and the First Continental Congress to convince the inhabitants of Quebec to join the Patriot Cause as the 14th Colony.
  • Even before the war started, he had to deal with anger over the Quebec Act, which was less popular in Quebec than he had hoped.
  • In America, the Quebec Act was criticized for its support of French Catholics and was viewed as a threat to the Church of England and other Protestant denominations.
  • Per General Gage’s request, Carleton sent the 10th and 52nd Regiments to Boston, which significantly weakened the defenses in Quebec.
  • Carleton’s efforts to organize French citizens into militia units proved difficult and many of them simply refused.
  • Carleton did not like to use Native American Indian warriors, because he thought they were unreliable and uncivilized.

The Defense of Quebec Against the American Invasion

  • In the fall of 1775, Congress authorized an invasion of the Province of Quebec.
  • By November 1775, General Richard Montgomery seized Montreal, forcing Carleton to escape to Quebec City.
  • Carleton arrived in Quebec City on November 19, just before Benedict Arnold and his expedition threatened the city.
  • Montgomery eventually moved from Montreat to Quebec, where he joined Arnold and prepared to attack Quebec City.
  • Despite being outnumbered, Carleton prepared the city for a winter siege while awaiting reinforcements from Britain.
  • On December 31, he successfully repulsed an American attempt to capture the city during a snowstorm (see Battle of Quebec, 1775).
  • The battle resulted in the death of Montgomery and the capture of hundreds of American soldiers. 
  • Benedict Arnold organized the American survivors and kept up the siege of the city through the winter.
Battle of Quebec, Death of Richard Montgomery, Trumbull
This 1786 painting by John Trumbull depicts the death of General Richard Montgomery at the Battle of Quebec. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Burgoyne Arrives and the Siege of Quebec Ends

  • Carleton and his garrison were rescued on 6 May 6, 1776, by the arrival of reinforcements from England, led by General John Burgoyne.
  • American forces tried to regroup and attack Quebec City again but were soundly defeated at the Battle of Three Rivers.
  • Following the battle, Carleton organized his forces and systematically pushed the Americans southwest, away from Quebec City.

Pursuit of the American Army

  • In the summer of 1776, Carleton paused his pursuit to build ships so he could transport his army over Lake Champlain and attack Fort Ticonderoga.
  • It took three months to prepare a fleet for operations on Lake Champlain.
  • Carleton was promoted to Lieutenant General on August 19, 1776.

Battle of Valcour Island

  • On October 4, Carleton’s fleet was ready and he decided to sail down the Richelieu River to Lake Champlain.
  • His fleet entered Lake Champlain and engaged the American Navy, under the command of Benedict Arnold.
  • Although the British fleet won the Battle of Valcour Island (October 11, 1776), Arnold was able to hold out long enough to keep Carleton from attacking Fort Ticonderoga.
  • By the time Carleton was close enough to the fort, it was October 27. He decided the defenses were too strong and he was not prepared to carry out a wintertime siege.
  • Carleton’s fleet returned to Quebec.
Battle of Valcour Island, Ships Fighting in the Straight, Painting
This painting by Henry Gilder depicts the ships between Valcour Island (left) and Grande Isle (right). Image Source: Royal Collection Trust.

Carleton Resigns as Governor

  • George Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville, and the Secretary of State for the Colonies criticized Carleton for his pursuit of the American Army, believing he moved too slowly and should have captured it.
  • In early 1777, Germain appointed General John Burgoyne to replace Carleton as commander of British forces in Canada.
  • Carleton responded by resigning as Governor and requested to be relieved upon learning of Burgoyne’s appointment on May 6, 1777.
  • Carleton remained Governor during Burgoyne’s disastrous Saratoga Campaign, which ended with the British army surrendering for the first time.
  • Lieutenant General Frederick Haldimand arrived in 1778 and replaced Carleton.
  • Carleton returned home in July 1778.

Guy Carleton Facts — Post-War Accomplishments and Career

Return to America as Commander-in-Chief

  • British forces surrendered in October 1781 at the Battle of Yorktown, which ended the significant fighting during the American Revolutionary War.
  • On February 18, 1782, Carleton was appointed as the commander in chief in America, succeeding General Henry Clinton.
General Henry Clinton, American Revolution
General Henry Clinton. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Peace Negotiations

  • King George III selected Carleton to oversee the evacuation of British troops and Loyalists from the United States.
  • Carleton and Admiral Robert Digby were appointed as Peace Commissioners.
  • Carleton hoped America would remain part of the British Empire, and was disappointed to learn Britain agreed to recognize the United States as a sovereign nation.
  • Upset over the decision, Carleton tried to resign but was convinced to remain.
  • He oversaw the evacuation of roughly 30,000 troops and 27,000 Loyalists, many of whom moved to Canada.
  • Carleton left New York on December 5, 1783, ending the withdrawal of British forces from America.

Carlton’s Return to Quebec

  • Carleton was praised for his administrative efforts, and what to do about the influx of thousands of Loyalists into Canada.
  • He suggested the creation of new provinces and government reforms.
  • Carleton returned to Canada as Governor for the second time, and also as the 1st Baron of Dorchester.
  • He continued advocating for the interests of French citizens while sympathizing with the new Loyalist inhabitants.
  • In 1791, he supported Parliament’s division of Quebec into Lower Canada and Upper Canada.

Later Years in Canada

  • Carleton became involved in disputes with John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.
  • Still upset over American independence, he created tension with the United States by appearing to provoke an Indian uprising in the Northwest Territory in 1794.
  • When British officials reprimanded him, Carleton resigned.

Return to England and Death

  • In May 1796, Robert Prescott replaced him as Governor.
  • Carleton sailed for England on July 9, 1796, but was shipwrecked near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. He was eventually able to resume his voyage and arrived in England on September 19.
  • Carelton continued to serve in the British military.
  • He died on November 10, 1808 in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England.
  • Carleton is widely regarded as a leading soldier-statesman who helped shape early British Canada.

Guy Carleton Significance

Guy Carleton is important to United States history for the role he played in leading British forces during the Invasion of Canada (1775–1776), a key event that took place during the American Revolutionary War.

Guy Carleton APUSH Review

Use the following links and videos to study the French and Indian War, the Invasion of Canada, and the American Revolutionary War for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Guy Carleton Definition APUSH

Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester, was a British military officer and colonial administrator who played a prominent role during the American Revolutionary War and in the early years of British Canada. As commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, Carleton oversaw British military strategy and operations during critical stages of the war, including the defense of Quebec City during the Invasion of Canada (1775–1776). Following the war, Carleton served as Governor of Quebec and later as Governor-in-Chief of British North America, where he implemented policies to stabilize and govern British territories.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Guy Carleton
  • Date 1724–1808
  • Author
  • Keywords Guy Carleton, Province of Quebec, French and Indian War, American Revolutionary War, Invasion of Canada
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 13, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 27, 2024