The Siege of Fort St. John was part of the Continental Army’s Invasion of Quebec during the American Revolution. The siege lasted from September 17, 1775, through November 3, 1775.
When Parliament passed the Quebec Act of 1774, the boundaries of Canada were extended south to the Ohio River. Colonies that bordered the Ohio Country were alarmed because Americans were already expanding westward and settling in the area.
After the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, militia forces under the command of Ethan Allen captured Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point on Lake Champlain, which helped give the Americans control of the Hudson River Valley. Despite this, the Continental Congress still viewed Canada as a threat.
The Continental Congress organized the militia forces that were laying siege to Boston into the Continental Army and named George Washington as commander-in-chief. The Congress also decided that a takeover of Quebec was an important part of defeating the British in North America, and a plan was put in place to invade the province of Quebec and capture the cities Montreal and Quebec.
Facts About the Date and Location of the Siege
- Fort St. John is located in Canada, in the Quebec Province, at the northern end of Lake Champlain.
- It was built by the French, along with Fort Chambly, to help control the Richelieu River. Both forts were turned over to the British at the end of the French and Indian War.
- The siege took place from September 17, 1755, to November 3, 1775.
Facts About the Prelude to the Siege
- On May 29, the Continental Congress sent a letter that urged the residents of Canada to join them in trying to overthrow the British. The Canadians did not join the fight for independence.
- On June 13, Benedict Arnold sent a letter to Congress that argued the time was right for an invasion of Canada. Ethan Allen said the same thing when he spoke before Congress on June 23.
- When the Governor of Canada, Sir General Guy Carleton, found out the Americans had taken Fort Ticonderoga, he expected an invasion. He responded by making preparations to counter the American attack and reinforced Fort St. John with 800 men under the command of Major Charles Preston. Two redoubts were also built at the fort.
- On June 27, The Continental Congress decided to invade Canada. Congress created the Nothern Department of the Continental Army and placed Major General Philip Schuyler in command.
- Schuyler was ordered to go to Fort Ticonderoga and assess the situation. He was given permission to move into Canada, as long as the people of Canada did not object. Congress explicitly told him to take possession of Fort St. John, Montreal, and “any other parts of the country” that he felt he could.
- Congress believed if it could drive the British out of Quebec it would not only unite North America together against Britain but also eliminate the threat of a British invasion of New England from the north.
- The initial plan was for Schuyler to lead his Army from Fort Ticonderoga over Lake Champlain and up the Richelieu River towards Montreal. Along the way, he would capture the forts that defended the river, which were Fort St. John and Fort Chambly.
- On August 20, General Washington added a second expedition to the invasion. This one would be led by Benedict Arnold and would approach Quebec from the east in hopes of taking it by surprise.
- The invasion of Canada was launched on August 25 under the command of Major General Schuyler and Brigadier General Richard Montgomery. Schuyler had roughly 2,000 troops. Montgomery was already at Fort Ticonderoga, having been transferred there on August 17.
- Arnold’s expedition left for Maine on September 13. His expedition was made up of around 1,100 troops.
- While he was waiting for Schuyler to arrive at Fort Ticonderoga, Montgomery found out the British were building ships so they could sail down the Richelieu River into Lake Champlain and attack Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point.
- Montgomery knew that if he waited for Schuyler it might be too late, so he planned to take some men and occupy Isle aux Noix, an island in the middle of the Richelieu River. He explained his actions in a letter that he sent to Schuyler and then he and his men sailed for Isle aux Noix on August 26. Unfortunately, due to strong winds, Montgomery did not reach the island until September 5. Schuyler arrived there on the same day.
Facts About Key Participants in the Siege
- General Sir Guy Carleton, the Royal Governor of Canada.
- Major Charles Preston
- General Richard Montgomery
Facts About Key Events of the Siege
- On September 6, Montgomery led a small force that landed about a mile and a half from the fort. Schuyler wanted to find a position closer to the fort that was more advantageous. Montgomery marched his men through a marshy area, where it was ambushed from the left by Indians. Montgomery rallied the center and right of his force and fought the Indians off. Montgomery was not sure how large the enemy force was, retreated so that he was out of range of the British guns at the fort.
- That night, Schuyler received intelligence that indicated the British forces were stronger than expected, and reinforcements were on the way. Schuyler called a council of war, where it was decided Montgomery and his men would retreat to Isle aux Noix.
- Schuyler had his men build entrenchments on the island, which would allow them to attack any British ships that tried to travel south to Lake Champlain and attack Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point.
- Militia from Connecticut, led by David Wooster, arrived on September 8. New York militia, with artillery, arrived with them.
- A second attempt at an assault on the fort occurred on the night of September 10. The American forces were divided into two groups, however, it was so dark that they ran into each other. Both parties thought the other was the enemy and retreated. Montgomery was able to get them organized and they marched on the fort. They came under heavy fire and the Americans fell back
- Montgomery called for a council of war where it was decided to try another attack on September 11. Unfortunately, it was called off when rumors spread that a British warship was headed towards them and some of Montgomery’s troops fled. Once again, Montgomery pulled back to Isle aux Noix.
- Schuyler, who had health issues, wrote to the Continental Congress and informed them that his health was so bad he could barely hold his pen. He informed Congress he was going to return to Fort Ticonderoga and turn command over to Montgomery.
- Montgomery assumed command of the American forces on September 16.
- Montgomery made preparations to launch another attack. On the 16th, he sent some ships upriver to fight off any British ships they might come across. On the 17th, he sailed upriver with about 1,400 men sailed upriver and landed near the fort.
- 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 Montgomery ordered his men to entrench themselves around the fort and the siege began.
- Additional guns arrived from Fort Ticonderoga on September 21. Montgomery had his men bombard the east side of the fort. Unfortunately, the guns were too small to do much damage. His artillerymen were also inexperienced, so the guns had been placed too far away.
- Montgomery called a council of war and suggested moving the guns to the north side of the fort, so they could be positioned closer to the walls. His plan was voted down because his subordinates were afraid the troops would feel like they were in more danger and would leave. Instead, they agreed to build a battery within striking distance of the British ship Royal Savage.
- Montgomery needed more men, so he sent Ethan Allen and John Brown north and asked them to find Canadians sympathetic to the American cause and willing to help them fight.
- Allen and 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. For unknown reasons, Brown and his men never joined in the attack, so they were able to escape.
- On October 14, the battery to launch the bombardment on the Royal Savage was completed. It opened fire on the ship and sank it in the river.
- The stalemate at Fort St. John changed on October 18 when the Americans led by James Livingston captured Fort Chambly, which provided Montgomery with the gunpowder needed for the ground assault on Fort St. John.
- After the capture of Fort Chambly, morale among the troops improved and Montgomery ordered the artillery batteries to be constructed on the north side of the fort.
- At Montreal, Governor Carleton saw the situation was perilous, and the Americans might take the fort. 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 Seth Warner, was waiting on 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 artillery batteries on the north side of the fort were completed on November 1. The Americans bombarded the fort until dusk when Montgomery sent a prisoner to the fort with a letter demanding that Preston surrender.
- Although Carleton wanted Preston to hold out, Preston realized he would not be able to hold the fort. He surrendered it to Montgomery on November 2.
Facts About Casualties of the Siege
- British forces had 43 killed or wounded.
- American forces had 11 killed or wounded, although many more died from disease.
Facts About Result and Aftermath of the Siege
- It was the first American victory of the Canada Campaign.
- When the Americans took the fort, Carleton evacuated Montreal and took his forces to Quebec, which reinforced the city.
- After Carleton evacuated Montreal, Montgomery took it without any opposition. The residents of Montreal surrendered it to him on November 13.
- Although the Americans were able to take Fort St. John and Montreal, it took too long and allowed the British to fortify Quebec against the impending attack by Montgomery and Arnold.