The Invasion of Quebec, 1775–1776

June 1775–November 1776

The Invasion of Quebec was a military expedition carried out by the Continental Army in 1775–1776, during the American Revolutionary War. American forces failed to capture Quebec City and convince Canada to become the 14th Colony, leading to a disastrous retreat from Canada that set the stage for the Saratoga Campaign in 1777.

Invasion of Quebec, Canada Campaign, 1775-76, American History Central

The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775, by John Trumbull (1786). Image Source: Yale University Art Gallery.

Invasion of Quebec Summary

The Invasion of Quebec, or the Canada Campaign, was a military offensive carried out by the Continental Army from June 1775 to November 1776. American forces were led by several different generals, all of whom failed to capture Quebec City or convince the people living in the Province of Quebec to join the Patriot Cause. Although the invasion was successful early on, the tide turned with defeat at the Battle of Quebec. When British reinforcements arrived in May 1776, the British slowly pushed the Americans out of Canada, winning key victories at Three Rivers and The Cedars. The Americans retreated to Fort Ticonderoga in New York while General Benedict Arnold successfully stalled the British advance at the Battle of Valcour Island. As winter set in, British forces returned to Canada and started planning to return in the spring of 1777.

Invasion of Quebec Facts

  • Start Date — The campaign started on June 17, 17775, when the Second Continental Congress ordered General Philip Schuyler to organize the expedition into Canada.
  • End Date — The campaign ended on November 2, 1776, when British forces returned to Canada.
  • Locations — Quebec City, Point aux Trembles, Deschambault, Three Rivers, Sorel, The Cedars, Montreal, Chambly, St. John, Isle aux Noix, Crown Point, Fort Ticonderoga, Albany.
  • Who Fought — The United States of America and Great Britain fought during the Invasion of Quebec.
  • American Commanders — Philip Schuyler, Richard Montgomery, Benedict Arnold, David Wooster, John Thomas, John Sullivan, William Thompson.
  • British Commanders — Guy Carleton, John Burgoyne, Simon Fraser, Thomas Pringle.
  • Who Won — Great Britain won the Invasion of Quebec.

Invasion of Quebec Significance

The Invasion of Quebec is important because it was the first organized offensive carried out by an American Army in United States history. Although it ended in failure, it provided many officers and soldiers in the Continental Army with battlefield experience that helped them for the remainder of the American Revolutionary War.

What Happened During the Invasion of Quebec?

The Invasion of Quebec included many important events that affected the course of the American Revolutionary War.

  1. American forces captured Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point in May 1775.
  2. In mid-June, Congress organized the Continental Army and appointed George Washington as Commander-in-Chief.
  3. Soon after, Congress ordered Major General Philip Schuyler to organize an expedition to move into Canada and capture Montreal and Quebec.
  4. After Schuyler fell ill, he turned over the command to General Richard Montgomery, who captured Fort St. John, Fort Chambly, and Montreal.
  5. During the early part of the invasion, Ethan Allen was taken prisoner after his defeat at the Battle of Montreal at Longue-Point.
  6. Colonel Benedict Arnold led a second expedition across the wilderness of Maine and joined Montgomery in Quebec.
  7. The Americans were defeated at the Battle of Quebec (December 31, 1775). Montgomery was killed and Arnold gathered the survivors and laid siege to the city.
  8. Command of the Continental Army was passed from Arnold to David Wooster, then John Thomas, and, finally, John Sullivan.
  9. Reinforcements arrived for both sides. The British broke the siege and forced the Americans to retreat south.
  10. The British won the Battle of The Cedars (May 18–27, 1776) and the Battle of Three Rivers (June 8, 1776), forcing the Americans to retreat to Fort Ticonderoga.
  11. During the retreat from Canada, the American Colonies declared independence from Great Britain (July 2, 1776).
  12. By the time the Contienental Army returned to Fort Ticonderoga, General Horatio Gates was in command.
  13. British forces pursued the Americans and sailed onto Lake Champlain in October.
  14.  A small navy, led by Benedict Arnold, was destroyed during the Battle of Valcour Island (October 11–13, 1776), but delayed the British advance.
  15. The British were unprepared for a winter siege and decided to return to Canada, ending the Invasion of Quebec and the American campaign into Canada.

The Invasion of Quebec — Americans on Canada’s Doorstep

The American Revolution transitioned to the American Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775, when British troops engaged the Lexington Militia at the Battle of Lexington (see Colonial America Phases). Later that day, the Siege of Boston started, as thousands of New England militiamen responded to the Lexington Alarm and the start of hostilities.

By the time the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia on May 10, the conflict was spreading beyond New England. Up to that point, Americans were defending themselves against British aggression, or so the members of Congress thought.

On May 10, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold led an assault on Fort Ticonderoga in New York, a key British position that controlled Lake Champlain — and had a significant number of artillery pieces. Patriot leaders in New England wanted the cannons so they could be used to drive the British out of Boston.

Capture of Fort Ticonderoga, Allen and Delaplace, Chappel
Ethan Allen confronts William De La Place, commander of the fort. Image Source: Fort Ticonderoga, Online Collections.

Americans Threaten to Invade Canada

Following the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga, Allen and Arnold wanted to invade Canada, attack the weak British defenses, and take control of the Province of Quebec. Meanwhile, Seth Warner captured Crown Point, another strategic British position on Lake Champlain.

On May 18, Arnold carried out a raid on Fort St. John, which was north of Lake Champlain, on the Richelieu River. Afterward, Arnold returned to the American camp.

The raid prompted a local merchant, Moses Hazen, to notify government officials in Montreal and Quebec City, including General Guy Carleton, the Governor of the Province of Quebec, that the Americans were threatening to move further north into Canada. 

Hazen, a native of Massachusetts, was a veteran of the French and Indian War, and a prominent businessman who had business partners in Montreal.

Guy Carleton, Illustration
General Guy Carleton. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

General Guy Carleton Expects an American Invasion of Quebec

General Guy Carleton reported directly to London and operated independently from General Thomas Gage, who commanded British forces in the American Colonies and was Governor of Massachusetts.

When Carleton found out the Americans had captured Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point, he expected they would organize an expedition and carry out an invasion of Quebec. Congress had already attempted to convince the people of Montreal and Quebec to join the Patriot Cause and become the 14th Colony, but they were hesitant to take up arms.

Carleton responded to the threat of an invasion by reinforcing Fort St. John with 800 men under the command of Major Charles Preston. Two redoubts were also built at the fort.

The thought was that if Preston could hold Fort St. John, he would be able to keep the Americans from sailing up to Montreal, which had almost no defenses. If the Americans were able to move past Fort St. John, they would easily take Montreal. From there, they would be able to move up the St. Lawrence River and attack the fortress at Quebec City.

Canadian Officials Support Carleton

Carleton’s policies leading up to the passage of the Quebec Act of 1774 had earned him support from wealthy French Canadians and the Roman Catholic bishops, although approximately 80,000 inhabitants of the Province of Quebec remained skeptical. This skepticism made it difficult for him to raise militia forces to help defend the colony.

Weak British Military Defenses in Canada

At the time, Carleton only had about 800 regular soldiers in all of Canada. However, some of them had been stationed at Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point and had been taken as prisoners by the Americans. Because of this, Carleton needed the militia.

Congress Orders Reinforcements for Fort Ticonderoga

The First Continental Congress was hesitant to take action against Canada, because it wanted to find a peaceful resolution to the war, and did not want to take any more offensive maneuvers. What Allen, Arnold, and Warner had done was a concern for many in Congress, who still wanted to find a political resolution to end hostilities.

On May 31, Congress decided to abandon Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point. However, the delegates from New York and the New England Colonies objected. 

They argued that if the forts were abandoned, the British would be able to send an expedition from Canada, down into New York, and take control of the Hudson River Valley. If they were able to do that, they would cut the New England Colonies off from the other colonies.

Further, with the Siege of Boston ongoing, the artillery that had been captured was needed there and could not be abandoned. The only problem was they needed to find a way to move the artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston.

Fort Ticonderoga, Aerial View
Fort Ticonderoga as it looks today on the shores of Lake Champlain. Image Source: Fort Ticonderoga, New York State Council On the Arts.

Some members of Congress changed their minds and it was decided American forces would remain at the forts on Lake Champlain. In addition, Connecticut was ordered to send reinforcements to Fort Ticonderoga.

The next day, June 1, Congress made it clear it had no intention of invading Canada, resolving:

“…no expedition or incursion ought to be undertaken or made, by any colony, or body of colonists, against or into Canada; and that this Resolve be immediately transmitted to the commander of the forces at Ticonderoga.”

Instead, Congress decided to send more letters to the people of Canada, asking them to join the Patriot Cause.

On June 9, Carleton responded to the threat of invasion by declaring martial law in the Province of Quebec.

Congress Establishes the Continental Army

The Siege of Boston continued with no end in sight, and the artillery at Ticonderoga was desperately needed by General Artemas Ward. By then, the army assembled around Boston — known as the Army of Occupation — had grown to 20,000 men. 

Members of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Continental Congress knew most of those men would not stay if the siege continued. They would need to return to their homes and families, where they could tend to their farms or jobs. 

Frustrated by the lack of progress, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress appealed to the Continental Congress and asked it to take over the Army of Occupation. Again, Congress was hesitant to take action but eventually agreed. 

Congress responded by establishing the Continental Army.

  • June 14 — The first troops for the new army were approved, consisting of six companies of riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.
  • June 15 — George Washington was elected Commander-in-Chief. 
  • June 17 — Artemas Ward was appointed as a Major General and Second-in-Command to Washington. Horatio Gates was appointed Adjutant General with the rank of Brigadier General. Charles Lee was appointed as a Major General and Third-in-Command.
  • June 19 — Philip Schuyler was appointed as the 3rd Major General and Israel Putnam was appointed as the 4th Major General.
  • June 22 — Brigadier Generals were commissioned: Seth Pomeroy, Richard Montgomery, David Wooster, William Heath, Joseph Spencer, John Thomas, John Sullivan, and Nathanael Greene.

The Battle of Bunker Hill Alters the Course of the War

While Congress was working on organizing the Continental Army, the first large-scale battle of the war — the Battle of Bunker Hill — took place on June 17. The ferocious British attack on American forces made it clear to enough members of Congress that they needed to take action, making Bunker Hill an early turning point in the war.

Battle of Bunker Hill, Painting, Moran
This painting depicts British troops moving up the hill toward the American redoubt during the Battle of Bunker Hill. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Congress Sends Washington to Boston

On June 20, Congress ordered Washington to to go Boston to take command of the newly organized Continental Army. Washington left Philadelphia on June 23, accompanied by Philip Schuyler, Charles Lee, and Thomas Mifflin.

Organizing the Invasion of Quebec

The day Washington left for Boston, Ethan Allen and Seth Warner arrived and spoke to Congress. After the meeting, Congress issued a recommendation for New York to add the Green Mountain Boys to the soldiers they were going to provide for the Continental Army.

Arnold Reports to Congress

Congress also received reports from Benedict Arnold, who was at Fort Ticonderoga, that indicated General Carleton was preparing to send an expedition to attack. Arnold’s reports informed Congress:

  • Carleton had sent troops south to garrison Fort St. John on the Richelieu River.
  • He was rumored to be forming alliances with the local Native American Indians.
Benedict Arnold, Portrait, Illustration
Benedict Arnold. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Benedict Arnold’s Declaration of Principles

On June 15, Colonel Benedict Arnold was at Crown Point when he wrote a document known as the “Declaration of Principles.” When he finished it, he shared it with the men, and 31 of them signed it. The key points of the Declaration of Principles were:

  • The people of the province of New York were against taxation.
  • The people were shocked at the events taking place in Massachusetts.
  • They vowed to follow the orders of the Continental Congress and the New York Provincial Congress.
  • The people hoped Great Britain and America could come to a resolution, based on constitutional principles.

Congress Orders Schuyler to March into Quebec

On June 27, Congress finally decided it needed to take action. It issued orders for General Philip Schuyler to:

  1. Travel to Ticonderoga as soon as possible.
  2. Review the condition of the troops, supplies, and boats for transporting the men.
  3. Gather intelligence on the intentions of the Indians.
  4. Send a report to Congress on the state of the war in Canada.
  5. Destroy any British ships or floating artillery batteries on Lake Champlain.

Further, Congress said, “…if General Schuyler finds it practicable, and that it will not be disagreeable to the Canadians, he do immediately take possession of St. Johns, Montreal, and any other parts of the country, and pursue any other measures in Canada, which may have a tendency to promote the peace and security of these Colonies.”

Philip Schuyler, Portrait, Illustration
Philip Schuyler. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Organization of the Expedition to Invade Quebec

Unfortunately, General Philip Schuyler’s forces were limited to four infantry regiments, one artillery company from New York, two regiments from Connecticut, and some miscellaneous units. Among them were Seth Warner and the Green Mountain Boys, but they were still in Vermont.

When all these units came together, Congress expected General Schuyler to command about 5,000 men. However, he also had to defend New York City and establish the necessary communication and supply lines for the army.

The Northern Department

General Philip Schuyler arrived at Fort Ticonderoga on July 18. A week later, Congress established the New York Department of the Continental Army, with Schuyler in command. Later, the New York Department was renamed and called the Northern Department.

Schuyler Sends Brown to Canada

On July 24, General Philip Schuyler sent Major John Brown to Canada on a scouting mission. Brown’s orders were to gather information about the defenses at Montreal and the attitudes of the inhabitants regarding joining the Patriot Cause. Between July 24 and August 10, Major Brown gathered information and reported his findings to Schuyler at Crown Point.

Seth Warner Takes Command of the Green Mountain Boys

On July 26, Seth Warner was elected as the new Colonel of the Green Mountain Boys, who were joining the Continental Army. The regiment became known as “Warner’s Regiment.”

  • Warner replaced Ethan Allen, who had become unpopular with the political leaders in Vermont for his brash attitude. 
  • Allen was also passed over for the rank of captain and lieutenant. 
  • Embarrassed, Allen still wanted to be involved in the fight against the British, so he volunteered to serve under General Richard Montgomery.

Richard Montgomery in Command of the Advance Force

General Philip Schuyler’s experience in the French and Indian War focused on logistics in wilderness operations, not field command.

As commander of the New York Department, he assigned command of the advance force — the first American troops moving into Canada — to Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, an experienced field commander. 

Meanwhile, General Schuyler returned to Albany to meet with representatives of local Indian tribes, hoping to form an alliance, or, at the least, convince them to remain neutral in the war.

General Montgomery was at Fort Ticonderoga by August 17 with 1,200 inexperienced troops and a small fleet of transport ships. Soon after, he received reports that General Guy Carleton was planning to sail down the Richelieu River into Lake Champlain and attack Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga. 

Rather than wait for Schuyler, Montgomery decided to lead an expedition to Isle aux Noix, an island in the middle of the Richelieu River, about 20 miles south of Fort St. John. 

Arnold’s Expedition Across Maine

On August 20, General George Washington added a second expedition to the Invasion of Quebec. This one would be led by Benedict Arnold and would approach Quebec City from the east in hopes of taking it by surprise. Congress was not informed of this expedition, which would take Arnold and his men across the mostly uncharted wilderness of Maine. It was an extremely dangerous mission, but one that Arnold, who was often in search of personal glory, was prepared to take on.

Montgomery and Schuyler Sail to Isle aux Noix

General Richard Montgomery left For Ticonderoga on August 26 and sailed toward Isle aux Noix. Unfortunately, strong winds prevented him from reaching the island until September 5. General Philip Schuyler was able to avoid the winds and joined General Montgomery later that day.

Carleton Calls Up the Quebec Militia

On September 6, General Guy Carleton ordered one-tenth of the militia in each of the parishes in the Province of Quebec to mobilize. However, most people refused to obey the orders, and, if they did, they refused to follow the appointed officers appointed to them.

The Invasion of Quebec — American Forces Attack 

The First Attack on Fort St. John

On September 6, General Richard Montgomery led a small force that landed near Fort St. John, but he was attacked by Indians and forced to fall back to Isle aux Noix. 

Upon their return, General Philip Schuyler had his men build entrenchments on the island. The defensive works would allow the Americans to attack any British ships that tried to travel south to Lake Champlain and attack Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga.

Schuyler Meets with Hazen and Livingston to Discuss the Invasion of Quebec

Also on the 6th, General Schuyler met with Moses Hazen and James Livingston, a merchant from Chambly. It was Hazen’s opinion that Fort St. John could not be captured, but Livingston disagreed and joined the Americans as a Colonel. Livingston was given command of the 1st Canadian Regiment since he had raised most of the men himself.

David Wooster and John Lamb Join the Invasion of Quebec

Militia from Connecticut, led by Brigadier General David Wooster, arrived on September 8. 

New York militia, with artillery, arrived with them, which encouraged the Americans to mount another attack on Fort St. John. 

The artillery from New York was under the command of Captain John Lamb. Lamb played an important role as a leader of the Patriot Cause in New York and was a member of the New York Sons of Liberty.

The Second Attack on Fort St. John

On September 10, General Richard Montgomery led another attack on Fort St. John, but came under heavy fire and was forced to retreat. Montgomery held a Council of War and decided to try another attack the next day. Unfortunately, it was called off when rumors spread that a British warship was headed towards them. Once again, Montgomery retreated to Isle aux Noix.

Benedict Arnold Begins His Invasion of Quebec

Colonel Benedict Arnold and his expedition left for Boston for Maine on September 13. His expedition was made up of around 1,100 troops. The men were divided into three battalions, which were commanded by:

  1. Lieutenant Colonel Roger Enos
  2. Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Greene
  3. Captain Daniel Morgan

Colonel Arnold and his men would march 350 miles to Quebec. However, it took 45 days — twice as long as Arnold and Washington had planned.

Arnold's Expedition, 1775, Cows Pulling Boats, Illustration
This illustration depicts cows pulling boats during Arnold’s Expedition. Image Source: Canada Invaded, 1775-1776 by George Stanley, 1977, via

Montgomery Takes Command of the Invasion of Quebec

Soon after, General Philip Schuyler fell ill and was forced to return to Fort Ticonderoga. He transferred the command to Montgomery on September 16.

That same day, Colonel Seth Warner and his regiment arrived, boosting the number of American troops to 2,000. 

Determined to capture Fort St. John, General Montgomery made preparations to launch another attack. On the 16th, Montgomery sent some of the American ships upriver to fight off any British ships they might come across.

On the 17th, Montgomery sailed upriver with about 1,400 men and landed near Fort St. John. 

This map shows the places near Montreal and in the Richelieu River Valley that were part of the Invasion of Quebec. Image Source: Canada Invaded, 1775-1776 by George Stanley, 1977, via

Skirmish at Chambly

Meanwhile, Major John Brown and a contingent of 135 troops attacked a British supply train on the 17th. The British tried to counterattack, but Major Brown received reinforcements who were led by Colonel Timothy Bedel. The British were forced to fall back to the fort at Chambly, about 25 miles north of Fort St. John.

Siege of Fort St. John

The Americans attacked Fort St. John on the 18th. Just like before, the British fought off the attack, however, they were unable to force the Americans to retreat, and General Richard Montgomery ordered his men to entrench themselves around the fort and the Siege of Fort St. John started. General Montgomery also sent 350 men to keep the British ship, HMS Royal Savage, from moving down to Lake Champlain.

Guns Arrive from Ticonderoga

Additional guns arrived from Fort Ticonderoga on September 21. General Richard Montgomery had his men bombard the east side of Fort St. John. Unfortunately, the guns were too small to do much damage. His artillerymen were also inexperienced, so the guns had been placed too far away. 

General Montgomery needed more men to assault the fort, so he sent Ethan Allen and Major John Brown north and asked them to find Canadians who were sympathetic to the American cause and willing to help them fight the British.

Arnold Leaves Maine

On September 23, Colonial Benedict Arnold’s expedition departed from Gardiner, Maine, and started the march to Quebec. Arnold had his men move out in stages, one regiment at a time, not all at once.

Battle of Montreal

Ethan Allen and Major John Brown were able to recruit around 300 men but decided to attack Montreal, instead of returning to Fort St. John. 

On September 24, Allen led the attack on Montreal but was repulsed. The operation was a failure, and Allen and many of his men were captured by the British at the Battle of Montreal at Longue-Point

For unknown reasons, Major Brown and his men never joined in the attack, so they were able to escape and rejoin General Richard Montgomery.

Arnold’s Expedition at Norridgewock Falls

Arnold’s expedition reached Norridgewock Falls on the Kennebec River on October 6. The men were forced to pull their boats from the water and carry them, along with their supplies.

Arnold's Expedition, 1775, Norridgewock Falls, Illustration
This illustration depicts Arnold’s men pulling boats from the water at Norrigewock Falls. Image Source: Canada Invaded, 1775-1776 by George Stanley, 1977, via

Capture of Fort Chambly

The British position at Fort Chambly was defended by Major Joseph Stopford and 88 men. 

On the night of October 17, Major John Brown, Colonel James Livingston, and Colonel Timothy Beded led troops in an attack on the small stone fort at Chambly, while American gunboats fired on the British. Stopford surrendered on October 18.

The capture of Fort Chambly provided General Richard Montgomery with the gunpowder needed for a ground assault on Fort St. John.

  • Afterward, morale among the troops improved and Montgomery ordered the artillery batteries to be constructed on the north side of the fort.
  • On the 18th, with the help of Canadians, the Americans captured the town of Chambly, nearly 90 British troops, and stores of gunpowder.
  • By capturing Chambly, the Americans severed the British supply line that ran from Fort St. John to Quebec City.

Arnold’s Expedition Loses Men

Arnold’s expedition was caught in a flood near the Dead River on October 22. Two days, later, on October 24, Colonel Roger Enos and 300-450 men abandoned the expedition and returned to their homes.

The expedition continued even though some of his men resorted to eating their shoes and dogs that had been taken along on the march.

Montgomery Receives Reinforcements

General Richard Montgomery received reinforcements at Fort St. John:

  • General David Wooster arrived with 325 Connecticut troops.
  • Major Barnabas Turnbull arrived with 225 men from New York.

Carleton Tries to Break the Siege of Fort St. John

At Montreal, General Guy Carleton saw the situation was perilous, and the Americans might take capture Fort St. John.

On October 31, he led a force and tried to break through the siege lines at Longueuil. The regiment of the Green Mountain Boys, under the command of Colonel Seth Warner, was waiting on General Carleton. 

As soon as Carleton’s force reached the river, Warner’s regiment opened fire with muskets and artillery and routed them. Carleton was forced to fall back to Montreal.

The Siege of Fort St. John Ends

The artillery batteries on the north side of Fort St. John were completed on November 1. The Americans bombarded the fort until dusk when General Richard Montgomery sent a prisoner to the fort with a letter demanding that Major Charles Preston surrender.

  • Although General Guy Carleton wanted Major Preston to hold out, Preston realized he would not be able to be able to. 
  • Preston surrendered it to General Montgomery on November 2.
  • The Americans seized 41 cannons and took around 500 prisoners, including Captain John André. Unable to take the prisoners with him, Montgomery paroled them.
  • Although the defeat at Fort St. John resulted in the loss of half of General Carleton’s regular soldiers it bought him time to prepare for the American advance on Montreal.

During the siege, Moses Hazen was captured by American forces led by Major John Brown. However, he was freed during a British attack and sent to Montreal. The British suspected him of being a spy and held him in prison.

Arnold Arrives at Quebec

On November 9, Colonel Benedict Arnold’s expedition reached the St. Lawrence River, opposite Quebec City. However, harsh winter weather kept Colonel Arnold from crossing for several days. Although Arnold started the march with 1,000 men, only 675 remained.

Montreal Surrenders

On November 5, General Richard Montgomery left Fort St. John and started the journey to Montreal. 

  • General Montgomery landed troops on Isle des Soeurs — Nun’s Island — in the St. Lawrence River, outside of the city, on November 11.
  • On November 12, Montgomery met with a committee of citizens who agreed to surrender the city. 
  • The American occupation started on November 13, and Montgomery turned his attention to Quebec.
  • In the aftermath of the surrender, Moses Hazen was freed by the Americans, and he volunteered to join the American Army.

The Invasion of Quebec Reaches its Climax — the Battle of Quebec

During this time, Lieutenant Colonel Allen MacLean and approximately 800 Royal Highland Emigrants, all of them veteran soldiers with combat experience, arrived in Quebec City and joined Lieutenant Governor Hector Cramahe. Colonel MacLean assumed responsibility for Quebec City’s defenses.

Arnold on the Plains of Abraham

On November 15, Colonel Benedict Arnold and his men assembled on the Plains of Abraham, the site of the famous battle won by General James Wolfe during the French and Indian War. Arnold demanded Colonel Allen MacLean’s surrender, which was refused. 

Knowing he did not have enough men or artillery to attack Quebec, Colonel Arnold decided to wait for General Richard Montgomery to arrive. 

Colonel MacLean responded by burning houses outside the city that were close to the walls. With the houses burned, the Americans would not be able to use them for cover during an attack.

Arnold Withdraws to Point aux Trembles

After receiving information that Colonel Allen MacLean was planning to attack his camp, Colonel Benedict Arnold decided to pull back from Quebec City. Early on the morning of November 19, Arnold moved his camp to Pointe aux Trembles — present-day Neuville — roughly 20 miles southwest of Quebec City.

The Knox Expedition to Fort Ticonderoga

At Boston, General George Washington organized an expedition to travel from Boston to Fort Ticonderoga. The purpose of the expedition was to retrieve the artillery from Fort Ticonderoga and transport it to Boston, where it could be used to threaten the British and force them to evacuate Boston. General Washington chose Colonel Henry Knox to lead the expedition, which left Boston around November 17.

Battle of the Sorel

On November 19, the British forces under General Guy Carleton’s command tried to sail from Montreal to Quebec City. However, American forces were blocking the St. Lawrence River. 

Artillery batters under the command of Major John Brown fired on the ships. Three British warships and eight smaller ships were captured by the Americans, along with 145 British troops, including General Richard Prescott. 

However, General Carleton was able to escape and made his way to Quebec.

British Defenses at Quebec City

Upon his arrival at Quebec City, General Guy Carleton alerted Colonel Allen MacLean and Lieutenant Governor Hector Cramahe that General Richard Montgomery and the Continental Army were on the way.

Although the British had 1,200 men available to fight, this included 500 French Canadian Militia, 37 marines, and 345 sailors. The sailors were able to join the fighting force because winter had set in and the St. Lawrence River was frozen. Only skeleton crews were needed to maintain the frigate Lizard, the sloop-of-war Hunter, four smaller armed vessels, and two transports.

Montgomery Starts the Journey to Quebec City

On November 28, General Richard Montgomery left for Quebec with a small force of 300-330 men. He left Montreal, Fort St. John, and Chambly under the command of General David Wooster. General Wooster had around 500 men under his command.

General Montgomery intended to join with Colonel Arnold and attack Quebec City as soon as possible. There was an urgency to carry out the attack as soon as possible, because the enlistments of many of the Americans involved in the Invasion of Quebec expired on January 1, and they would be free to leave.

Montgomery Arrives at Quebec

On December 2, General Richard Montgomery arrived at Quebec City, joined with Colonel Arnold, and assumed command of the entire force, which consisted of about 1,000 men. 

Invasion of Quebec, 1775, Map, American Armies Meet
This map shows the places along the St. Lawrence River that were part of the Invasion of Quebec. Image Source: Canada Invaded, 1775-1776 by George Stanley, 1977, via

General Montgomery also had valuable artillery, ammunition, food, and clothing. The clothing was especially helpful to Colonel Arnold’s men, whose clothes were ravaged by the march across Maine. 

On December 5, Montgomery moved his army outside the gates of Quebec City. 

Montgomery decided to negotiate with General Guy Carleton before initiating an attack. On December 8, he sent a messenger who asked for the city’s surrender. General Carleton refused, knowing he was protected within the thick walls of the fortress. Carleton intended to force the Americans to wait out the harsh winter conditions that were setting in.

Montgomery responded by bombarding Quebec City with his artillery. However, the guns were too small and too far away from the walls to inflict serious damage.

The Battle of Quebec

On December 25, General Richard Montgomery held a Council of War and devised a plan to launch an attack on Quebec City. 

Early in the morning of December 31, General Montgomery led an attack on the Lower Town, while other forces attacked strategic positions around the city. Unfortunately, heavy snow, darkness, and confusion created chaos during the Battle of Quebec.

Montgomery and his men were ambushed and Montgomery was killed. Colonel Arnold’s attack on the north of the city also failed, and he was badly wounded in the leg. Captain Daniel Morgan tried to rally the Americans and pressed the attack, but he was forced to surrender after fierce fighting through the streets and houses of Quebec City. 

Battle of Quebec, 1775, Defending Arnold's Attack
This illustration depicts British troops defending Quebec City against Arnold’s men, who are claiming over the walls. Image Source: Canada Invaded, 1775-1776 by George Stanley, 1977, via

The Invasion of Quebec Continues with the Siege of Quebec City

Colonel Benedict Arnold took command of the remaining American forces outside of the city — approximately 600 men, including Canadians and Caughnawaga warriors — and continued the siege. 

It was a monumental task for Colonel Arnold, who was outnumbered — Carleton had 1,600 troops to his 600. Carleton also had nearly 150 cannons and several ships.

With the death of General Richard Mongomery, General David Wooster assumed command of all American forces in Canada. 

British troops found General Montgomery’s body on January 4 and buried his remains in Quebec City with full military honors.

On January 10, Congress promoted Arnold to Brigadier General, making him second-in-command to General Wooster.

Arnold Asks for Reinforcements

General Benedict Arnold sent a message to General David Wooster at Montreal, General Philip Schuyler at Albany, and Congress in Philadephia, asking for an experienced officer to lead the men and fresh troops to resume the attack on Quebec City. Edward Antill and Moses Hazen delivered the messages. 

General Wooster was unable to send any men. With 500-600 men under his command, he needed to hold Montreal, Chambly, and St. John. Meanwhile, British forces remained in the Great Lakes Region, threatening those positions. Wooster also needed to be prepared for any Indian attacks.

General Schuyler was unable to send men either because he was defending the Mohawk Valley against Loyalists who were carrying out raids. 

Congress Sends Reinforcements for the Invasion of Quebec

General Benedict Arnold’s messengers continued to Philadelphia and delivered his request for help to Congress. Both General Philip Schuyler and Congress asked General George Washington to send Continental troops from Boston to Quebec City. On January 17, General Washington declined and suggested sending militia instead. 

  • On January 19, 1776, Congress voted to send reinforcements to Canada, saying they were necessary for  “…the security and relief of our friends there, as for better securing the rights and liberties not only of that colony, but the other United Colonies.”
  • Congress directed New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania to raise men to join the Canada Campaign.

While Moses Hazen was in Philadelphia, Congress commissioned him as a Colonel in the Continental Army, and his command was the 2nd Canadian Regiment, which was also known as “Hazen’s Own.” Afterward, Hazen and Antill returned to Quebec City. Upon their arrival, Hazen was stationed at Montreal.

Congress Sends Commissioners to Canada

On February 15, Congress decided to send a trio of commissioners to Montreal to meet with political leaders and assess the possibility of the Province of Quebec joining the Patriot Cause. The commissioners were Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

Benjamin Franklin, Portrait, Duplessis
Benjamin Franklin. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Departments of the Continental Army

On February 27, Congress further organized the Continental Army by establishing the Middle Department and the Southern Department.

  • Middle Department — Troops from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland were assigned to the Middle Department.
  • Southern Department — Troops from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia were assigned to the Southern Department.

The Siege of Boston Ends

Colonel Henry Knox returned to Boston in January with the guns from Fort Ticonderoga. General George Washington placed them on Dorchester Heights, which threatened the British warships in Boston Harbor. British forces left Boston on March 17, ending the Siege of Boston

Three days later, General Washington and the Continental Army occupied the city. With the victory, Washington was finally able to send troops to Canada.

Wooster and Arnold Switch Places in Quebec

On April 2, General David Wooster joined General Benedict Arnold outside of Quebec City. General Wooster outranked General Arnold and took command of the 2,000 troops that remained. 

Arnold was upset over being replaced and was still recovering from the injury suffered during the Battle of Quebec and another suffered in a recent fall from his horse. Arnold decided to leave Quebec City and travel to Montreal, where he took command of the troops there. Meanwhile, the city was under the oversight of Moses Hazen.

The Canada Commission Arrives

Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton arrived in Montreal on April 29. The commissioners issued proclamations to the people of Canada, but the people there were not as outraged as Americans were over British policies, nor were they anxious to go to war. 

Catholic priests in Quebec, who were happy with their situation after the passage of the Quebec Act, which was favorable to Catholics, also worked to undermine the efforts of the commission. 

Eventually, the commissioners decided to abandon the mission and concluded that the Province of Quebec would not join the 13 Colonies as the 14th Colony in opposing British policies.

John Thomas Joins the Invasion of Quebec

General John Thomas arrived at Quebec City on May 1, replaced General David Wooster, and took command of 2,500 men. However, the American numbers started to decline due to injuries, sickness, discharges, and desertions. By the time smallpox started to spread through the camp, General Thomas was down to roughly 1,900 men.

John Thomas, General, USA, American Revolution
General John Thomas. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Arnold Sends Bedel to the Cedars

Soon after, General Benedict Arnold, who was still in Montreal, received reports of British forces west of Montreal. Colonel Arnold responded by sending Colonel Timothy Beded and his men to the outpost at The Cedars, which was 30 miles southwest of Montreal. Colonel Bedel’s men were from New Hampshire and were known as Bedel’s Regiment.

British Reinforcements Arrive

As spring approached, the ice in the St. Lawrence River started to melt and break up. On May 2, a fleet of British warships and troop transports entered the river and sailed toward Quebec City. Among the troops were General John Burgoyne, General Friedrich Riedesel, and the first Hessian mercenaries.

General John Thomas was notified and he started to pull his troops back from Quebec City, hoping to regroup, receive reinforcements, and launch another attack.

The Last Stand of the American Army During the Invasion of Quebec

The American Retreat Begins

On May 6, the first ships from the British fleet arrived at Quebec. General Guy Carleton took action right away, gathering 900 men and 4 cannons, and leading them out of the city toward the American camp.

When the Americans saw them coming, they panicked and fled, leaving artillery, ammunition, and supplies behind — along with the sick and wounded.

Although he had the Americans on the run, General Carleton decided to wait for General John Burgoyne and the rest of the reinforcements to arrive. When all of the troops were disembarked, Carleton’s forces numbered 13,000 strong, including 4,300 Hessian soldiers from Brunswick and Hesse-Hanau in Germany.

More American Reinforcements

While General John Thomas and his army were moving south, American reinforcements were moving north to meet him:

  • From New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York were moving north. These were the reinforcements sent by Congress.
  • Brigadier General William Thompson reached Fort George with 2,000 men who had been sent from Boston by Washington.

At this point, there were around 10,000 American troops involved in the Invasion of Quebec.

British Forces Threaten The Cedars

On May 15, Colonel Timothy Bedel learned British forces, under the command of Captain George Forster, were headed toward him at The Cedars. Colonel Bedel decided to ride to Montreal to gather reinforcements, leaving Major Isaac Butterfield in command.

When Bedel arrived at Montreal, he found Colonel John Patterson in command. General Benedict Arnold was at Sorel, northeast of Montreal, meeting with officers from the Continental Army.

Colonel Patterson responded to Bedel’s request by sending Major Henry Sherburne and 100-150 to The Cedars. Major Sherburne and his men started their journey down the St. Lawrence River on May 16. 

When General Arnold returned to Montreal, he started gathering more men to send to The Cedars. However, during a Council of War, Moses Hazen argued with him over the next steps. From that point on, Arnold and Hazen were caught up in a dispute that lasted until 1779 and likely contributed to Arnold’s decision to commit treason.

The American March Pauses

General John Thomas paused his march and tried to organize his army at Deschambault, 40 miles southwest of Quebec City, along the St. Lawrence River. From there, he marched along the river to Sorel, arriving there on May 17. 

During the entire march, his men were harassed by gunfire from British Marines and warships on the river. The Americans were also plagued by smallpox, which continued to spread throughout the camp.

Battle of The Cedars Begins

Captain George Forster and the British forces arrived at The Cedars on May 18. Captain Forster had roughly 40 regular British troops, a handful of Canadian militiamen, and around 200 Iroquois warriors.

Both sides opened fire. 

Around the same time, Forster found out Major Henry Sherburne was on the way to reinforce The Cedars. Forster responded by sending troops to slow Sherburne’s advance. 

Inside the fort, Major Isaac Butterfield was unaware Major Sherburne was on the way. Instead of holding out and waiting for reinforcements, Major Butterfield worked out an agreement with Forster and surrendered The Cedars. 

The key piece of the agreement was that Forster would not allow the Iroquois to massacre the Americans after they gave up their weapons.

Ambush at Quinze Chiens

On May 20, Major Henry Sherburne landed his men at Quinze Chiens, about 9 miles away from The Cedars, unaware Major Isaac Butterfield had already surrendered. By then, Major Sherburne only had 100 men, due to desertions and smallpox.

  • The British forces Captain George Forster sent to slow Major Henry Sherburne’s march set up an ambush, about four miles away from The Cedars.
  • Major Sherburne and his men marched into the ambush.
  • The Americans were overwhelmed and forced to surrender after a 40-minute battle.
  • After capturing The Cedars, Captain Forster moved his men, including prisoners, to Quinze Chiens, where he was joined by more Loyalist militiamen.

Battle of The Cedars Ends

Meanwhile, General Benedict Arnold continued to gather men and prepared to advance on Captain George Forster. 

At first, Captain Forster moved out to engage General Arnold, who only had about 450-700 men. However, Forster’s scouts reported Arnold had as many as 2,000 men. 

Forster responded by falling back to Quinze Chiens. When Arnold found out Forster was pulling back, he decided to pursue him.

Arnold arrived near Quinze Chiens on May 26 and burned Fort Senneville, which was just southeast of Quinze Chiens, while Forster and his men prepared for an attack. The two sides briefly engaged each other.

The next day, Arnold and Forster sent messages to each other and eventually worked out a cease-fire and a prisoner exchange.

Afterward, Forster and his men returned to Oswegatchie, and Arnold and his men returned to Fort Anne, just outside of Montreal.

Despite the loss of the outpost at The Cedars, Arnold was able to free nearly 500 Americans who had been held captive by the British. 

John Sullivan Takes Command of the Invasion of Quebec

General John Sullivan and a column of 3,000 men arrived at Fort St. John on June 1. 

Upon his arrival, General Sullivan took command of the American forces from General John Thomas, who was suffering from smallpox.

  • General Thomas died the next day, June 2, at Chambly.
  • Soon after, General William Thompson arrived to reinforce Sullivan.
  • On June 6, Congress recalled General David Wooster because of complaints it received about his conduct in Montreal from the Canada Commission.
General John Sullivan, Portrait, Illustration
General John Sullivan. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of Three Rivers

General John Sullivan intended to turn the tide of the campaign and sent General William Thompson and 2,000 men to capture Three Rivers — Trois Rivières — which was under the command of General Simon Fraser. General Sullivan wanted to use it as a base to organize the army and launch another attack on Quebec City.

General Thompson and his men left St. John on June 6 and moved northwest toward Three Rivers, which was halfway between Montreal and Quebec City. 

The officers with Thompson were General Anthony Wayne, General Arthur St. Clair, General William Maxwell, and General William Irvine.

As far as Sullivan knew, the British garrison at Three Rivers was around 400 men. However, General Fraser received reinforcements and the total number of British troops at Three Rivers was around 6,000 on June 7.

  • Thompson and his men arrived at Three Rivers on June 8.
  • On the march to Three Rivers, their guide led them through a swamp, instead of the road to the outpost, which delayed their arrival.
  • When the Americans arrived, British ships in the river saw them and fired on them, forcing them to retreat into the swamp.
  • Wayne and Thompson led separate attacks but were unable to break the British lines.
  • British forces led by General Fraser attacked the Americans from behind. 
  • Thompson ordered his men to retreat into the swamp, and the British sent their Indian allies in pursuit.
  • During the escape, Thompson was taken as a prisoner on June 9.
  • Under Wayne’s command, the Americans fought their way back to St. John.

Carleton’s Counteroffensive Begins

Following the Battle of Three Rivers, General Guy Carleton organized his men and started to move south, pushing the Americans in front of him toward New York. 

On June 17, he led British and Hessian troops into Montreal and regained control of the city.

General Carleton intended to move his army across Lake Champlain and attack Fort Ticonderoga before winter set in, but he needed ships, so he stopped at St. John and built the ships he needed, which took around three months.

The American Retreat Begins, the Invasion of Quebec Ends

General Benedict Arnold and the American troops in Montreal escaped across the river to Longueuil on June 9 and then withdrew to St. John. Meanwhile, the Americans who were defeated at Three Rivers arrived at Sorel on June 11.

At that point, General John Sullivan was left with little choice but to order the retreat to Fort Ticonderoga, which is what he did on June 13. 

On June 14, General Guy Carleton, General Burgoyne, and General Friedrich von Riedesel arrived at Three Rivers with 8,000 troops. 

General Sullivan responded by starting the evacuation of Sorel, effectively ending the American invasion of Quebec. The British were in close pursuit and arrived at Sorel about an hour after the last Americans departed.

Arnold’s Rear Guard Action

General Benedict Arnold and his men joined General John Sullivan at Fort St. John on June 16. As the retreat continued, General Arnold was in command of the rear guard. Arnold and his men burned boats and buildings to slow the British advance. Arnold boarded the last boat leaving Fort St. John, barely escaping the British.

Gates in Command

On June 17, Congress issued orders for Major General Horatio Gates to take command of the troops in Canada. The change was made in response to the American defeats at The Cedars and Three Rivers.

General Horatio Gates, Portrait, Stuart
General Horatio Gates. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Retreat from Canada Continues

Retreating American forces started arriving at Isle aux Noix on June 19. They were still there on June 24 when British forces arrived. Although General John Sullivan and General Benedict Arnold tried to slow the British advance, they failed and were pushed further south.

The United States Declares Independence

Between July 2 and July 4, the United Colonies agreed to declare independence from Great Britain. Congress approved the Lee Resolution on July 2 and approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4.

Sullivan Arrives at Crown Point

On July 7, General John Sullivan rowed down the entire length of Lake Champlain and arrived at Crown Point. After he arrived, he held a Council of War with General Philip Schuyler and they discussed what to abandon Crown Point and move to Fort Ticonderoga, 10 miles south.

The Retreat from Canada Ends

By the time the remnants of the Continental Army gathered at Fort Ticonderoga, they had suffered 5,000 casualties, and 3,000 more were hospitalized. The 5,000 survivors were exhausted. Some of them had been in Canada for nearly 10 months, marched hundreds of miles, and suffered through harsh winter conditions.

Confusion Over Command of the Northern Army

Following the appointment of General Horatio Gates, there was confusion over who was in command of the Northern Army — General Philip Schuyler, General John Sullivan, or General Gates? 

On July 8, Congress clarified its instructions. General Schuyler was in command of the Northern Department and Gates was his Second-in-Command, replacing General Sullivan. Sullivan returned to New York, where he took command of American forces on Long Island.

American Defenses on Lake Champlain

The Americans fortified Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga and put General Benedict Arnold in charge of assembling a fleet of ships to engage the British fleet. 

During the retreat from Quebec, General Arnold and his men captured a handful of ships that he made part of his fleet. He completed his fleet with the construction of some new ships, which he oversaw at Skenesborough. Altogether, he had 15 ships under his command.

Once Arnold assembled his fleet on August 24, he started patrolling the northern end of Lake Champlain and waited for the British fleet to arrive.

Carleton Resumes His Advance

On September 10, General Guy Carleton started to advance south, toward Fort Ticonderoga. By October 4, he decided to press forward and move on to Lake Champlain with 5 warships, 28 gunships, nearly 30 transports, and 13,000 soldiers.

Battle of Valcour Island

The British fleet, under the command of Thomas Pringle, sailed onto Lake Champlain on October 9 and went in search of the American fleet, which was hidden near Valcour Island. The British found the Americans on October 11.

  • General Benedict Arnold organized a successful delaying action and was aided by strong winds on the lake.
  • The battle lasted for a good portion of the day, and General Arnold’s ship was hit and sank around 6:30 p.m. and he boarded another ship.
  • As night fell, Arnold and his men withdrew to Crown Point.
  • The British pursued Arnold for the next two days, slowed by strong winds.
  • When Arnold and his men reached the southern shore of Lake Champlain on October 13, they burned their boats and retreated to Crown Point.
  • Arnold and his men stayed at Crown Point overnight and then left for Fort Ticonderoga on October 14.
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 Returns to Canada

Despite the victory at the Battle of Valcour Island and control over Lake Champlain, the lengthy delay likely cost General Guy Carleton a chance to attack Fort Ticonderoga before the onset of winter. 

British forces remained at Crown Point for roughly two weeks and advanced close to Fort Ticonderoga, but General Horatia Gates refused to engage them.

General Carleton’s forces were not prepared for a lengthy siege or winter weather, so he decided to return to Canada. 

With Carleton’s withdrawal, the Battle of Valcour Island provided the Americans with a significant tactical victory.

Washinton Turns the Tide at Trenton

In December 1776, American hopes for winning the war were bleak.

While the Northern Army was retreating to Fort Ticonderoga, General William Howe was pushing General George Washington out of New York, forcing him to retreat across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.

General Washington looked to make a bold move and decided to attack the British outpost at Trenton, which was guarded by a garrison of Hessian troops. Among the officers with him were General John Sullivan, General Arthur St. Clair, and General John Stark, all veterans of the Invasion of Quebec.

After boldly crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Night, Washington shocked the Hessians, winning the Battle of Trenton. With momentum in his favor, Washington carried out another attack, winning the Battle of Princeton. These victories forced the British to retreat to northern New Jersey and restored hope the United States could win the war.

The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, Trumbull, Painting
This painting depicts the surrender of the Hessians at Trenton. Image Source: Yale University Art Gallery.

Interesting Facts About the Invasion of Quebec

  • Aaron Burr was 19 years old when he joined Benedict Arnold’s expedition. As Arnold approached Quebec, he sent Burr to find General Richard Montgomery to deliver messages. During the Battle of Quebec, Burr was with General Montgomery when he was killed. Burr tried in vain to recover Montgomery’s body.
  • The British flag captured at Fort Chambly in 1775 was the first one captured during the war. The flag was sent to Congress as a trophy. Today, the flag is on display at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
  • After he was captured at the Battle of Montreal, Ethan Allen never returned to fight for the Patriot Cause. After he was released by the British in a prisoner exchange in 1778, he returned to Vermont and devoted his time to helping achieve statehood.
  • Richard Montgomery was promoted to the rank of Major General by Congress on December 7, 1775, but never knew. His commission was on its way to Quebec City when he was killed at the Battle of Quebec on December 31, 1775. 
  • The American retreat from Canada influenced Great Britain’s decision to launch Burgoyne’s Campaign in 1777, also known as the Saratoga Campaign. The campaign ended in disaster for the British, as Burgoyne was forced to surrender to Horatio Gates. The American victory helped convince France to agree to the Treaty of Alliance, recognize the independent United States, and enter the war against Britain.
John Burgoyne, Portrait, Reynolds
General John Burgoyne. Image Source: Wikipedia.

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  • Article Title The Invasion of Quebec, 1775–1776
  • Date June 1775–November 1776
  • Author
  • Keywords Invasion of Quebec, Canada Campaign, Who won the Invasion of Quebec, What happened during the Invasion of Quebec, When did the Invasion of Quebec happen, Where did the Invasion of Quebec happen, Why did America invade Quebec, How long did the Invasion of Quebec last
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 18, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 26, 2024