Tuesday, December 7, 2010

In Search of a Lost Battlefield

On the night of September 24, 1775, Ethan Allen crossed the St. Lawrence near the city of Montreal with a force consisting of around 80 Canadian volunteers and 30 Americans. Allen hoped that his advance would inspire an uprising among the Canadians, and he would capture Canada’s largest city, and the British governor, in one fell swoop. Instead, Governor Carleton assembled an ad hoc force and put Allen’s force to rout. Rather than speed up the American conquest of Canada, Allen’s foray put that conquest into grave doubt. Hundreds of Canadians who had been sitting on the sidelines were inspired to join the British cause.

The defeat of Allen’s forces has been termed the battle of Longue-Pointe, but there is some uncertainty as to exactly where that battle took place. In this post I discuss where I believe the battle occurred. The battlefield area is shown in the map below. Montreal is at left (southwest) and the modern city of Longue-Pointe is at right (northeast). Both communities are on the Island of Montreal, and on the north shore of the St. Lawrence river.

The map shows several places referred to in this post. A - Where the citizens of Montreal assembled before the battle, B - Ruisseau Migeon (English: Migeon Creek), about 2 1/3 miles from Montreal (in 1775), C - Original site of the “Pierre-Joseph-Picard” house or “Maison Allen," which, according to tradition, is where Ethan Allen was captured, D - Ruisseau des Soeurs (English: Nun's Creek), later called Molson’s Creek, about 3 1/2 miles from Montreal.

Extinct watercourses northeast of Montreal (click to enlarge). [1]

The site of the battle was more-or-less forgotten during the 19th Century. Benson John Lossing went looking for the battlefield in the mid-19th Century. He met in Montreal, “An intelligent gentleman, who was one of the leaders in the rebellion there in 1837, assured me that the spot was unknown to the inhabitants, for tradition has but little interest in keeping its finger upon the locality, and not a man was living who had personal knowledge of the event. It is probable that the northern suburbs of the city now cover the locality, and that the place is not far from the present Longueuil ferry-landing.” [2]

In 1875, the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal arrived at a similar conclusion:

“The locality of Allen’s landing and the battle ground is unknown, but it is probable that the suburbs of the city now covers it, and that the place is not far from the present ferry-landing at Hochelaga, on the road to Longue Pointe.” [3]

Since then, Gustave Lanctôt (1967) asserted that the battle was fought at Ruisseau des Soeurs (see D, on the above map), a creek that fed into the St. Lawrence near what is today the western edge of the city of Longue-Pointe. [4] Lanctôt did not cite a source for this information, which leaves the basis for the attribution unclear (at least to me). However, this stream stood near the “Pierre-Joseph-Picard” house, also known as “Maison Allen” that stood near this creek (see C, on the above map). Allegedly, it was here that Allen was captured. [5] Louise-Amelie Panet-Berczy painted the nearby stream in 1839 and termed it the site of the “Combat de la Grange” of 25 Septembre 1775. [6]

Google street view of “Maison Allen” in Longue-Pointe.

Section of Panet-Berczy's painting of the Longue-Pointe battlefield. Ruisseau des Soeurs (at left) flows towards the St. Lawrence (which can be glimpsed in the background).

However, there are other sources of evidence about the site of the battle, and these provide reason to believe that the Hochelaga location suggested by Lossing and the Montreal Antiquarians (see B, on the above map) may in fact have been the true site of the battle.

The other sources of evidence can be found in 18th Century correspondence and memoirs. These sources indicate:

  • The battle was fought between 2 and 3 miles of Montreal. [7]

The mean distance among the various estimates seems to be a point between Ruisseau Migeon and Ruisseau des Soeurs. The former, however, falls within the range of estimated distances, while the latter does not.

  • The battle was fought “near Colonel Christie' s farm.” [8]

Christie was an unusual name for this area. Finding 18th Century land ownership records for this area would go a long way towards definitely establishing the site of the battle. However, I have not conducted such a search.

  • The battle was fought at “the little river Truteau.” [9]

Some streams in this area were known by more than one name. To the best of my knowledge, none of these streams is known to have been called Ruisseau Truteau. This statement indicates that the battle was fought by a stream, but it does not indicate which one.

  • A prominent ditch was perpendicular to Allen’s position. [10]

Allen indicated that his force was arrayed behind trees and buildings. When the British started to turn his right flank, Allen dispatched nearly half his force to a ditch that protected that flank. Ruisseau Migeon makes a 90-degree bend and then flows in an almost straight line parallel to St. Lawrence. It is impossible to say what conditions were like on the ground in 1775, but plausibly this stretch of stream was both ditch-like in appearance and suitable for the defense. Small streams on the island are known to have sometimes run dry [11], and September, 1775, appears to have been a time when some small streams ran dry. [12]

1869 map showing part of Ruisseau Migeon and the St. Lawrence River. [13]

  • Allen ran 1 mile away from the battlefield before he was captured. [14]

The “Maison Allen” (see C on the map above), which is associated with Allen’s capture was 1 mile from Ruisseau Migeon, and in the direction Allen was likely to have fled.

Other considerations:

Ruisseau Migeon is located at about the spot Allen likely landed when crossing the St. Lawrence from Longueuil. Thus, Allen, who in some respects was unfamiliar with the area, should at least have known about this stream. Allen allegedly advanced towards the Quebec suburb of Montreal in the hopes of sparking a mass uprising, but then fell back. [15] Ruisseau Migeon would have been the first good defensive site he would have come across and it (presumably) had the advantage of being near where his boats were moored.


There are strong indications that Ruisseau Migeon was the site of Ethan Allen’s defeat on September 25, 1775. A definite attribution cannot be made, however, without land ownership records and/or better information about the other names for “river Truteau.”

The Site Today:

Combining 19th Century maps of Ruisseau Migeon with the details in Allen’s memoir suggests that the British and American forces might have been arrayed during the battle of Longue-Pointe as follows.

Street maps of Montreal dating from the late 19th Century to the early 20th Century show the course of Ruisseau Migeon before it was obliterated by urban development. Using the Google Maps Street View feature, one can take a virtual tour of the area today. See images below.

1897 (left) and 1907 (right) maps showing Ruisseau Migeon.

Google Maps’ street view that may show a part of the battlefield (click to enlarge). The British advanced from Montreal (note skyscrapers in distance) along a road that has since become the busy highway pictured. The St. Lawrence is behind the buildings at left. Ruisseau Migeon flowed from right to left and crossed the road at a point roughly between the two approaching cars closest to the viewer. If this was the site of the battle, then Young’s 10-man detachment was perhaps arrayed in the parking lot shown at left (in 1775 this was behind the creek). Allen’s force would have been arrayed behind trees and buildings that stood to the right (including beyond the right margin of this image). Young’s force was defeated with little difficulty; Allen was forced to flee after his right flank was turned (this area is not shown).


1. Map source can be found here, from the remarkable site Under Montreal. A blog devoted to the extinct streams that once ran through Montreal can be found here.

2. Benson John Lossing (1851). The pictoral field-book of the Revolution...

3. Book link.

4. Gustave Lanctôt (1967). Canada & the American Revolution, 1774-1783.

5. See this March 16, 2008 article in the Montreal Gazette.

6. See this 2008 issue of the Bulletin de l'Altier d'histoire de la Longue-Pointe.

7. A number of primary sources appeared in a previous post. Estimates were: 1 league or less (a league was about 2.5 miles; Livingston to Montgomery), about 1 league (Sanguinet memoir), within 3 miles or less (Quebec Gazette, September 28, 1775; Johnson to Legge), about 3 miles (Carleton to Legge).

8. See this letter dated October 1, 1775.

9. Letters to Quebec Gazette of September 28 and October 19, 1775.

10. From Ethan Allen’s memoir.

11. A point of discussion on the website Under Montreal.

12. See this letter from James Livingston to Philip Schuyler, written in September, 1775.

13. For links to 18th, 19th, and 20th Century maps of Montreal, see here.

14. From Ethan Allen’s memoir.

15. From Simon Sanguinet's memoir.


  1. A well thought out an analysis as one has come to expect from your blog. Col Christie is probably Gabriel Christie. He came to Anerica with the 44th Foot in 1755 and served through the French & Indian War icluding being present at the siege of Quebec in 1759. He settled near Montreal and even owned some land in partnership with Moses Hazen near St John. Ended up as a British Major General but seems to have served in the West Indies during the AWI.

  2. Thank you for the kind words, Thomas.

    Hazen pops up quite a bit in this campaign; Christie has been more of an enigma to me. Thank you for writing with the additional information.

  3. Adam

    There is much more online about Gabriel Christie in the Canadian Dictionary of National Biography here:


    It has an interesting section on Christie's role as a landowner in Canada.

    I was mistaken on one thing he was an officer in the 48th (Dunbar's Regt) not the 44th (Halkett's). Checking through the casulaty lists it looks like he was with Dunbar's column not in the forward party with Braddock on 9th July 1755. It does mean of course that as a member of that unfortunate expedition he would have been acquainted with Thomas Gage, Charles Lee, Horatio Gates, Adam Stephen, Stephen Kemble, John Montressor and George Washington to name a few!

  4. Thanks for the link, and again for providing interesting background information.

  5. I found a clue that indicates the "Truteau" may be the Ruisseau des Soeurs/Molson, which was also formerly called Ruisseau de Grand-Prairie on older maps. A diagram of 1702 land cessions shows that Pierre Truteau held the property at the mouth of that stream. Also, that diagram shows the stream making a distinct sharp bend to the northeast very near the St. Lawrence shore, as depicted in the Panet-Berczy painting. Unfortunately, the only place I found this diagram was through a "Longue Pointe" Google image search that took me to someone's webshots account.
    I coincidentally found your blog as I was searching for the location of the ruisseau myself.

  6. Going through my notes, I found another reference: Montreal Grand-Vicar Montgolfier wrote to Bishop Briand, 23 October 1775, “Our city troop met them on the road to Longue Pointe, at a place named the Soeurs Creek, which forms the precise boundary between the two parishes,..." (my translation) Also, the diagram mentioned in my previous entry showed that the (former) Truteau property in question was immediately northeast of the parish boundary.
    The letter is from the Library & Archives Canada.

  7. This is very interesting information and I thank you for sharing it with me. I was able to find the webshots account and I saw that one Pierre Truteau was living on the Ruisseau des Soeurs/Molson site in 1702.

    Do you know if the Montgolfier letter has been published, and if so where? I'm not able to go to the library myself but would love to read it, or at least see a transcription of it.

    I have a number of images that show Ruisseau des Soeurs/Molson in the 19th and 20th Centuries that I am happy to send to you. Feel free to send me an email (link to contact info is at upper right).

    One can also use Google Maps' street view to explore the area where the creek once was. Search for:

    5141 Rue Notre-Dame Est, Montreal, QC H1N 3P2, Canada

    Again, thank you for writing. Looks like I will have to post a correction regarding the site of the battle.