Battle of Fort Saint-Jean

Fort Saint-Jean was located near present-day Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. It was a gateway to Montreal, thus it was considered the main point in the defence of Quebec.

In late August 1775, the Congress ordered to the American Continental Army to invade Quebec. Troops were commanded by Major General Philip Schuyler. The Americans crossed into Quebec territory and encamped at Isle-aux-Noix. After a failed assault in May 1775, when a group of Green Mountains Boys tried to seize the Fort Saint-Jean, but fled back across the border after a brief skirmish, Fort Saint-Jean had been reinforced and contained roughly 300 infantry under the command of Major Charles Preston.

On 31 August 1775 the Continental Army attempted to storm the fort, but was turned back before reaching its walls. Five days later, the Americans set out from their base at Isle-aux-Noix, landing 1 mile from the fort, but they were ambushed by one hundred Indians under the leadership of Captain Gilbert Trace, a New York Loyalist.

On 10 September, General Schuyler had regrouped and led a force of 800 towards the Fort Saint-Jean, but many simply broke and ran off, fearing an ambush like the one suffered a few days earlier. The force retreated to the Isle-aux-Noix camp without even having encountered the enemy.

After this last failure, Schuyler was replaced by Richard Montgomery, an Irish immigrant who had settled in New York. Now, the Americans changed their tactics. They laid siege to Fort Saint-Jean through a force which would include about 2500 regulars. The settlement was subject to constant bombardment. Governor Carleton of Quebec could not send any reinforcements, as he had no men to spare. During the night of 17 October, Montgomery’s men managed to slip several cannons past the stronghold. The artillery sailed 10 miles downriver, and the Americans took Fort Chambly.

This small outpost lost, Preston and his men at Fort Saint-Jean were completely cut off. They held out for as long as possible, but on 3 November, with winter setting in and provisions running low, Fort Saint-Jean was surrendered to Montgomery. In the nine weeks of the siege, the defenders lost about 40 men.

The American casualties were much greater. More than 100 were killed and wounded. A further 900 had been lost to illness. In fact, the battle of Saint-Jean lacked great action and drama, yet had important effect. Indeed, with the fort removed as an obstacle, the American revolutionaries were free to advance north.  Ten days later Governor Carleton ordered that Montreal be evacuated.

Within hours, victorious Americans entered the city. Yet although the British had lost Fort Saint-Jean, their defiance had prolonged a siege that had been expected to last no longer than a few days. In doing so, the British delayed the planned assault on Quebec City, thereby ensuring that the Americans would have to overcome the hardships of a Quebec weather.

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