The 8th Regiment of Foot at the Siege of Quebec City
As documents are uncovered and re-examined, we are able to come to a better understanding of what happened in the past and who helped play a role in the creation of our shared history. In the context of the invasion and later siege, as well as battle of Quebec, we at the 8th are left wondering "what role may the King’s Regiment have played"?
We at the 8th have wondered what role, if any, the 8th may have played, owing to their frequent contact and involvement with the area. Engaging in regular trade with Montreal and Quebec City, along with having a routine presence in both cities in the form of visiting officers, it would have been logical to occasionally find members of the 8th in what is the modern Province of Quebec.
Thanks to documents shared with us by historian Eric Bloomquist and locating original copies in the National Archives of the United Kingdom (yet to be examined, though reliably trusted in terms of content), we are able to finally say that yes, the 8th did play a role in the Quebec conflict and potentially, given the setting at the time, that the light company, more likely than not, formed the basis for this force.
Being stationed at Fort Oswegatchie, the Light Company of the 8th would find itself patrolling and engaging forces throughout modern New York, Ontario and Quebec. Though located in present day Ogdensburg, New York, Fort Oswegatchie was a key site in the defence of the great lakes and the St. Lawrence river; by controlling access points to these important bodies of water, the 8th was able to ensure secure trade and defence of the routes to Montreal and Quebec City. Visiting officers such as Lt. Saumarez and his detailed records help us to understand the extent to which the 8th was involved in both of these defensive and trade roles. Nowhere else is this demonstrated as well as in their involvement within the Battle of the Cedars, on May 16-27, 1776. Located South West of Montreal, the Light Company of the 8th engaged and defeated in a series of skirmishes, an overwhelming number of American soldiers under the command of then General, Benedict Arnold.
So what are these documents and what do they tell us about the role of the 8th in Quebec, in the late fall and winter of 1775? The Home Officer Calendar of 1760-177, where this crucial piece of information was found, contains a series of documents, correspondence and records pertaining to the forces of His Majesty, King George III. Though much of this correspondence encompasses routine matters, portions of these records give us often ignored glimpses into occurrences of great importance and facts that might otherwise go unnoticed.
One such record, a piece of correspondence between Henry Caldwall of Quebec, to the Earl of Shelburn, dated November 9th, 1775, provides us with a detailed account of not only the forces present within the garrison of Quebec City, but also, the nearby men and resources that can be relied upon for the defence of Quebec, should the Continental Forces be able to secure their position and force an attack. This detailed piece of correspondence is vital to us, in that it specifically notes that a detachment of the 8th Regiment of Foot, though small in number, was present within the City during the commencement of the siege.
We must remember that on November 2nd, 1775, Fort St. Jean falls to the Continental forces, shortly afterwards, on November 11th, 1775, General Guy Carleton along with British forces in the area, retreat to Quebec City, in preparation for an eventual attack by Benedict Arnold. Should the 8th have been in Quebec City on November 29th, as our records indicate, with no method of retreat, nor cause to abandon their position within the City, the members of the detachment would have been forced to remain within their position and would have been present for the duration of the siege and eventual attack on Quebec City.
Though a small number of men this may be, it is a significant moment in the history of both Canada and the Revolution; having members of the 8th Regiment of Foot and most likely owing to their contact with Quebec, members of the Light Company present, it is a significant moment yet to be fully examined, in the history of the King’s Regiment. Following weeks of besieging Quebec City, on December 31st, 1775, Generals Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold would lead their men in a final assault in attempt to capture the City. Having been killed in action, Montgomery’s forces are lead in their continued assault by Arnold, who in turn, is wounded in battle. Despite their efforts, 431 American soldiers are captured upon surrendering to greater British presence. We can now be certain that the King’s Regiment played a role in this effort, not only in the Battle of the Cedars that would take place months later, but in the defence of Quebec City and the first, out of two occasions in which the Light Company would force Benedict Arnold to flee from his position within Canada.
Below, you will find the correspondence in question, dated November 11th, 1775, located on pages 484 to 485 of the Home Office records, as compiled by Richard Arthur Roberts on behalf of the Public Records office of the United Kingdom, published in 1899:
“9 Nov. Henry Caldwall, Quebec, to the Earl of Shelburn.
Mr. Hey, bearer of the letter, referred to, for an account of the “dangerous situation of this country," rather a desponding one. My ideas are not so much so ; for although almost everything done in this province these 12 months past has been diametrically opposite to any ideas of mine, yet it is my opinion that if a proper exertion is made of the force we may still have within ourselves, this city, and of course this province, may be secured till the middle of May next, when we may hope to receive succours from England, provided the garrison have a sufficient quantity of provisions and our generals have secured their retreat from Montreal (which must fall) with the handful of soldiers with them, and those of Col. Maclean at the Sorrel. Our garrison will then stand thus:—The remains of the 7th and 26th Regiments and a small detachment of the 8th, in all 160; recruits of Lt.-Col. Maclean's regiment, 220; artificers and volunteer seamen from Newfoundland and Halifax, 100; marines, 32; artillery, 6; seamen from a frigate and two sloops, 260 ; seamen from armed ships and other ships detained here, 200 ; total, 978. Independents of the militia, viz., British 280, and Canadians about 900. Out of both corps we may have some confidence in perhaps 600 or 700, and to this motley garrison the security of the province of Quebec is now entrusted. It will require not a little cleverness to manage the different tempers and inclinations of this oddly composed garrison, so as to make them amenable to order and discipline, and of course useful. What we have chiefly to guard against till next spring is being surprised.”
We must note that though there are a significant number of connections between the timeline in question as it pertains to the Siege of Quebec and the documentation that we are faced with, it is not an absolute certainty that the Light Company of the 8th was present. Given their historical connection to the locations in question, the actions of the Light Company at a later point and the proof at hand that the 8th Regiment of Foot was present within Quebec City during the advance of Montgomery and Arnold’s forces, it is a strong possibility that the Light Company may have been present, though if not the Light Company specifically, then either a mixed detachment of men from the Regiment, or a selection of a company’s men from locations such as Niagara, Erie, or present day Michigan. As with many things in the past, we cannot speak of certainties, but merely possibilities and likelihood; here, we are faced with proof that the King’s Regiment was present, a crucial moment in the history of both Canada and the Regiment, though one, until now, that has been more of a mystery, rather than a matter of fact. It is our hope that with a closer examination of the originals records that we may be able to access later this year, that we may discover further pieces to this story that we may be able to share with you; until then, we are left with the information at hand and the theories of this writer.
Marcio R. A. da Cunha – M.A., L.L.B.