British Governor Guy Carleton abandoned Montreal on November 11, 1775, and headed for Quebec. Carleton sailed with an 11-vessel flotilla that included the British regulars that had garrisoned Montreal. The flotilla reached Sorel on the 15th, where they found their passage blocked by American forces under Colonel James Easton. Easton had placed a 12-pounder gun was placed in a gondola that was rowed out into the shipping channel. He also had on shore one battery of two 6-pounders, and another of one 9-pounder and three 12-pounders. Overseeing the guns was Lieutenant Martin Johnston of Lamb’s artillery company.
When the British vessels neared these guns, the Americans fired seven cannon balls into the lead vessel (probably the Gaspee), causing havoc on board . According to Benjamin Trumbull, the British then attempted to land some of “their men and Effects,” but they were thwarted by Canadian volunteers allied with the Americans. The flotilla then turned about and anchored upstream.
Easton sent a message to Carleton, in which he gloatingly wrote, “You are very sensible I am in Possession at this Place, and from the Strength of the United Colonies on both sides, your own situation is Rendered very disagreeable.” He warned that if Carleton did not surrender, “you will cherefully take the Consequences which will Follow.”
Soon thereafter, Easton advanced some guns close to the British anchorage, and forced them to retreat still further upstream. This time they anchored near Lavaltrie.
When American Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery learned that Carleton had been trapped, he asked Colonel Timothy Bedel to take his regiment (Bedel’s Rangers) and the Green Mountain Boys to Easton’s assistance. As an incentive to the troops, he offered them “All public stores, except ammunition and provisions.” Bedel’s men chose to march; the Green Mountain Boys did not.
At Lavaltrie, Governor Carleton weighed his options. The wind was still not in his favor, and the Americans were closing in. He accepted the offer of one of his Canadian ship captains (Bouchette) to lead him past the Americans in a small boat. Carleton then ordered Brigadier-General Richard Prescott to make his way as best he could with the flotilla. As a last resort, Prescott was to throw his guns and gunpowder overboard and surrender.
On the night of November 16-17, Captain Bouchette, Governor Carleton, and two of Carleton’s aides (de Lanaudière and de Niverville) rowed quietly downstream (the oars were wrapped in cloth to dampen the noise). When their boat neared the Americans, the men silently paddled with their hands. By morning, they were well out into Lac Saint Pierre. Carleton reached Quebec on the 20th.
Prescott did not attempt a breakout, and on the 19th he agreed to surrender. The Americans thus captured 11 officers, 9 sergeants, 5 drummers and fifers, 113 rank and file, a large number of sailors, some prominent French and English Canadians, and a few artillerymen. Also on board was a large supply of provisions, including 760 barrels of pork and 675 barrels of flour. Prescott had most of the gunpowder thrown overboard, but the Americans still captured much-needed ordinance and ammunition .
In this manner, the Americans finished off the 26th Regiment of Foot, and Montgomery obtained the means to convey his army from Montreal to Quebec. Montgomery was astonished by the ease of this victory, writing “I blush for His Majesty's troops! Such an instance of base poltroonery I never met with!”
1. As was the case with the attack on the Fell, I’m unsure how many casualties were inflicted. At least one soldier was killed -- a sergeant in the 26th Regiment (see here).
2. Most of the infantry were from the 26th Regiment; the rest were odds and ends of the 7th Regiment and the Royal Highland Emigrants. Click on the following links for a tally of the loss in officers, enlisted men, ordinance, and provisions.