Sunday, March 6, 2011

Struggle for Sorel

This is the most recent entry in a series of posts on the American invasion of Canada, for an index of past posts, see here.

Sorel was occupied by British Lieutenant-Colonel Allan Maclean in mid-October, 1775. Maclean’s force consisted of 120 men of the newly-raised Royal Highland Emigrants, 60-some men of the 7th Foot, and a number of Canadian militia. Maclean brought these men from Quebec with the intention of aiding in the relief of Fort Saint-Jean. He advanced up the Richelieu as far as Saint-Denis, where he found that a key bridge had been cut. Some local Canadians were welcomed into his camp, but these men then slipped away at the first opportunity – taking arms and ammunition with them. Maclean returned to Sorel and awaited the advance of Governor Guy Carleton’s force from Montreal.

Carleton’s army was defeated at the battle of Longueuil, which ended hopes of relieving Fort Saint-Jean. Maclean’s militia returned home once the dispiriting news was received. Maclean returned to Quebec soon thereafter, but he left behind an armed vessel (the Fell) and the detachment from the 7th Foot. Their task was to keep communications open between Montreal and Quebec.

Fort Saint-Jean formally surrendered on November 3rd. The victorious American commander, Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery then launched two strikes designed to capture British Governor Guy Carleton and the British garrison defending Montreal. The first strike was led by Montgomery himself, and was aimed directly at the city. The second strike was led by Colonel James Easton, and was aimed at taking Sorel. Montgomery hoped that Easton would cut off Carleton’s escape route to the east.

Montreal Campaign, Early November (click to enlarge).

Easton’s force consisted of his own regiment of New England provincials, and James Livingston’s Canadian Volunteers. These men were in Saint-Ours by November 3rd, and Sorel by the 7th. The British troops there stayed aboard the Fell, nearly 200 yards offshore. To defeat this force, Easton ordered a battery of two 6-pounders to be constructed on shore.

On the morning of November 8th, Easton’s guns opened fire. The Fell quickly cut its cables and moved downstream, but in the meantime, according to American Major John Brown, “we plumped her through in many places” with “at least twelve rounds.” Brown [1] relished hearing civilians on board crying out “O Lord! O Lord!” as the Americans blasted away. Two sailors on the Fell were wounded: William Money "had his thigh broke... by a Cannon Shot" and William Wadlow "had his right Breast shot off by a cannon shot" [2]. The Fell’s return fire missed the battery and landed in the village instead.

It was a small victory, but now Easton could lay a trap for Guy Carleton’s men.


1. It is remarkable how active the unheralded Brown was in this campaign. Brown tried to enlist the support of the Canadians for the American cause prior to the start of the Revolutionary War (discussed here). Then Brown participated in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May, 1775. Brown later became second in command of Easton’s regiment, but he was active in Montgomery’s operations before Easton arrived in Canada. As described in previous posts, Brown captured supplies bound for Fort Saint-Jean, fought the British at Rivière Saint-Jean, captured the village of La Prairie, conspired with Ethan Allen before the debacle at the battle of Longue-Pointe, and played a leading role in the capture of Fort Chambly.

2. There may have been other casualties – these two men were identified in a return of losses (signed by Hector de Cramahé and dated May 25, 1776) among Royal Navy personnel during the invasion of Canada.


  1. Dear Sir,
    Jolly good post! It is amazing how Brown was so active .

  2. Thanks, Jubilo. Brown would go on to help make the attack on Quebec city, and in 1777, he played an important role in the Saratoga campaign. But despite his manifest ability, he was promoted only to the rank of colonel. As best as I can tell, this is because he (and especially Easton) ran afoul of Benedict Arnold. (To get a sense of the mess, see here:



  3. The Canadian Campaign of 1775 is a forgotten struggle. Great post!

  4. Thank you, Derek! I agree -- it is one of the least discussed aspects of the Revolutionary War, and yet it did so much to shape the future of both the U.S. and Canada. Plus it's interesting in its own right -- no shortage of human drama.

    I look forward to reading your treatment of this subject (among others) in your 1775 book.