Continentals and coureurs de bois: The American invasions of Canada and Illinois in the Revolutionary War



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Although the American invasion of the francophone British territories of Canada in 1775 and the Illinois Country in 1778 had radically different endings, the course of the invasions were remarkably similar. Each was defensive in nature, intended to preempt attacks on the colony of New York from Canada and the Virginia county of Kentucky from Illinois. Each featured charismatic and gifted commanders, Brigadier General Richard Montgomery in Canada and Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark in the Illinois Country, who understood that a critical part of their respective missions was to win the hearts of the French populace and turn them into allies against the British if possible. Each featured early and relatively easy victories; in bloodless conquests, Montgomery took Montreal and Clark took the French villages of Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. Each suffered setbacks, as British governor Guy Carleton escaped the Continental occupation of Montreal to lead the defense of Quebec, and British lieutenant governor Henry Hamilton of Detroit organized a counterattack on Vincennes as a base to retake the Illinois Country from Clark. However, Montgomery led a long and fruitless siege of Quebec before dying in a desperate attempt to take the city, while Clark’s similar desperation play broke Hamilton’s defense of Vincennes and secured a substantial part of the Old Northwest for the nascent United States. This work is a rare if not unique comparative study of the two invasions. After considering the relative conditions of each in terms of backgrounds, religious atmosphere, Indian relations, and commerce, the actual invasions are examined. The crucial difference is found to be that the Illinois Country bordered on Spanish possessions, which provided Spain with the opportunity to use its resources and influence to damage its ancient enemy by assisting Clark and his Virginians, while no such aid awaited Montgomery in Canada.



American Revolution, Canada, Illinois, Spain, Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Quebec, Montreal, George Rogers Clark, Guy Carleton, Hurons, Potawatomi, Roman Catholic Church