MSS-066-Battle for Empire

Episode 066-October 1, 2017

Today we look at arguably one of the top five most important battles fought on the North American continent. It was certainly important in the lives of some of our ancestors. Ron Blanchette of the French-Canadian Genealogical Society of Connecticut takes us on a journey to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the battle that ended the French foothold in North America. We learn of both the French and British strategies, details of the battle itself, and some of the consequences of the British victory.

Battle for Empire

Ron Blanchette and I discussed the following:

Historical Context

  • The Seven Years’ War broke out between France and England. England wanted control not only of the thirteen colonies but also the Ohio Valley.
  • Battles usually took place only in good weather.
  • The population of the American colonies was so much greater than the French colonies. The goal of the British was to bring additional settlements to the region. The French had a commercial purpose and were very late in trying to increase settlement.
  • The British colonies had a larger population that could supply an army. They also had the ability to build ships. New France did not have the capabilities to wage war on its own.

Previous attempts

  • By 1758, the British strategy had changed to one that prioritized taking out Quebec City and Montreal.
  • New France was in constant need of provisions as they were not self-sufficient.
  • All able-bodied men were required to be in the militia.
  • 1699-British made an inept assault along the St. Lawrence.
  • 1711-Another attempt by the British to move up the St. Lawrence, but they couldn’t navigate the tides and the currents; over 900 British soldiers and sailors drowned.
  • 1758-British took over Louisbourg so they could monitor any shipping heading to Quebec, not realizing how wide the St. Lawrence was.
  • 1759-Before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the lives of the habitants on the farms did not change. The change came in Quebec City who was short on provisions but had to house more soldiers.

French mindset

  • The French did not worry much about the British. They thought Quebec City was safe because of its location on the promontory 200-300 feet above the St. Lawrence. They thought the worse that would happen would be a siege that would end when winter came. Because of this mindset, the French were always in a defensive mode rather than an offensive one.
  • The French could hold their own against the British when encountering them on land. However, they were at a distinct disadvantage when the British fleet was involved.

Geography

  • The width of the St. Lawrence and the Quebec City promontory were not the only geographical features that played a role in the history of this region.
  • The shipping lane that passed by the island of Coudres (L’Isle-aux-Coudres) was very narrow. The French could have fortified the island, monitored the lane, and intervened with the British fleet. They could have also set up a defensive position at Cap Tourmente, 30 miles from Quebec City, to interfere with the British fleet. The French did neither.
  • Cap Tourmente was right before the shipping lane that passed north of the Ile d’Orléans called the Traverse. The French withdrew the few troops on the island, allowing the British to occupy it. This allowed the British to overlook Beauport, the site of the first battle.

Shifting strategies

  • The French thought that the troops they had stationed along the cliffs at L’Anse-au-Foulon and other areas were a sufficient deterrent to the British. They were mistaken.
  • The British originally planned to attack Beauport to entice the French from their defensive position on the high ground. When that failed, they placed batteries on Point Levi and bombarded Quebec City. Wolfe also ordered his troops to go up and down both sides of the St. Lawrence River for thirty to fifty miles and burn all the farms, destroying everything from barns to crops. Over 900 farms were destroyed.
  • In 1758, the British commissioned flatboats which could hold an entire unit with their provisions at one time, allowing them to disembark and proceed as a cohesive group the moment they landed on shore. They could also withdraw larger numbers at once if in retreat.
  • The British succeeded climbing the cliffs of L’Anse-au-Foulon partially because the guards were expecting a delivery of provisions. Bougainville never told them the delivery wasn’t coming.

The battle

  • Bougainville had 1200 elite backup troops stationed across the St. Charles River who removed to Beauport and never made it to the battlefield. They could have made a critical difference in the outcome of the battle.
  • The relationship between Montcalm and Vaudreuil, the civil governor and a native of New France, was contentious at best. When Montcalm arrived from France, he thought he would have complete military command in New France. He discovered he had to report to Vaudreuil. After communicating with France, Vaudreuil was ordered to respect Montcalm’s military command. It is very probable that these new orders were never delivered to Montcalm.
  • A substantial portion of Montcalm’s troops consisted of the relatively untrained Canadian militia.
  • Montcalm’s troops attacked in disarray, and, in moments, were no longer an army. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham lasted only about twelve minutes.

There are lists of troops involved in the battle. Ron recommends the following books for more information:

After the battle

  • The next few years were lean for both the French of Quebec City and the British soldiers stationed there.
  • Even though the French won the Battle of Sainte-Foy, they did not have the means to lay siege to Quebec City and win it back. After the British took Montreal, there was no longer a New France.

Contact

If you come across a list of soldiers who either died or participated in the battle, online or in print, please add it to the comments for everyone to refer to.

Links to the Battle

  • National Battlefields Commission Plains of Abrahaman online database of the 1759-1760 soldiers in Quebec, both French and British. To see a sample entry, type “Lacommande” into the search box. Click on the “Les Compagnies franches de la Marine au Canada 1750-1760″ link, and type in that same surname.
  • The daring plan that led to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (viewable only in Canada)
  • The Siege of Québec: an Episode of the Seven Years’ War
  • Battle of the Plains of Abraham, 1759– an animated map
  • Wolfe and Montcalm– a rather sappy, old black & white film from 1957. “This short film recreates the tense hours before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, and then the battle itself in which both generals, Wolfe and Montcalm, were fatally wounded.”

Announcements

Winner!

In episode #64, we gave away a copy of the 2-volume award-winning book Le Détroit du Lac Érié by Suzanne Sommerville, Gail Moreau-DesHarnais, and Diane Wolford Sheppard. The lucky winner was Suzanne Lebel from Illinois. Congratulations, Suzanne!

Survey

Last month we all learned so much about the PRDH, the Drouin Institute, and its databases on the GenealogyRecords website. In episode 65, we focused on the Lafrance database. The survey asked which of the other databases you’d like to see us feature next. Here are the results.

French-Canadian News

What's Happening Header

The American-French Genealogical Society

  • October 7 at 10 AM: Jeanne Douillard from episodes 51 and 53 will present The Silent Presence –The French in New England.
  • October 13 at 7 PM: The AFGS will hold its Class of 2017 induction into the AFGS French Canadian Hall of Fame. This year’s inductees are Daniel Boucher, a Québécois fiddler from Bristol, Connecticut; Anne D. Conway, the director of the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, Rhode Island; John R. Desmarais, chief of the Cumberland Police Department in Cumberland, Rhode Island; and the Most Reverend Louis E. Gelineau, Bishop Emeritus or the Diocese of Providence.
  • October 21 at 9 AM: Thomas Allaire, the AFGS DNA Project Manager, will present DNA 101 – What It Is and How to Get Started.
  • October 28 at 10 AM: Michael J. Leclerc, the Genealogy Professor, will present French Canadian Notarial Records and How to Use Them.

Classes and events are held at the AFGS Library, 78 Earle Street, Woonsocket, RI.

The French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan

The Quebec Family History Society

  • Oct 15, 10 AM to 2 PM: A tour of Montreal’s Mount Royal Cemetery and Notre Dames des Neiges Cemetery. The tour begins at 10 AM at the front gate of Mount Royal Cemetery.

The French-Canadian Genealogical Society of CT

  • October 14, 1-4 PM, at the United Congregational Church of Tolland in Connecticut: Fall meeting. There will be a business meeting at 1 PM followed by speaker Lucie LeBlanc Consentino at 2 PM. She will give a two-hour presentation on Acadian history and genealogy followed by a Q&A session.

The Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society

The French-Canadian Heritage Society of California

  • October 22, 10 AM to 4 PM at the Southern California Genealogical Society and Family Research Library in Burbank, CA: The Fall Meeting begins with Cheri Mello presenting Understanding Basic DNA. After lunch, Joan Phillips and Suzy Goulet will share Highlights of Our Recent Quebec Trip. The day will end with personal research time.

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