Three Letters to Canada

Before the Revolution began, there were those in the First (and Second) Continental Congresses who believed that the French Canadians would welcome the opportunity to throw off the British yoke. The first letter inviting French Canadians to join the Continental Congress was sent on October 26th, 1774. Also targeted by the letter were the populations in East and West Florida, St. John’s Island (now Prince Edward Island), and Nova Scotia.

The 18-page pamphlet, written by John Dickinson, was translated into French by  Pierre Eugene du Simitiere. It highlighted the fact that the 1763 Treaty of Paris that ended the Seven Years War and transferred Canada to England also gave its residents the same five rights granted to English citizens, i.e., representative government, trial by jury, writs of Habeus corpus, ability to own land and freedom of the press. At the time, none of these rights were being “practiced” within French Canada, which was the primary target of the letter.

Translated into French, 2,000 copies were sent to Montreal and Quebec City. The British Governor General Guy Carleton managed to have his troops seize most, but not all, of the copies. The letter, according to modern Canadian historians Marcel Trudel and Gustave Lanctôt, was Canada’s first lesson in constitutional law since it highlighted how the British government was ignoring the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris.

The letter with the title Letter to the Residents of the Province of Quebec specifically invited English and French-speaking Canadians to send a delegation to the First Continental Congress. Reception amongst the population to the letter dated October 26th, 1774, was mixed, and no delegation was sent.

Afraid that the growing unrest in the Thirteen Colonies would spread to Canada, the British Parliament passed what is known as the Quebec Act of 1774. It was an attempt to reiterate the rights of the French-speaking and Catholics in Canada of their rights as Englishmen. Its reception was also mixed and was seen by most Canadians as another example of their not being represented in Parliament.

After the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Saint John, the Second Continental Congress sent a second letter penned by John Jay titled Letter to the Oppressed Residents of Canada. Again, the response to the May 29th, 1775 document was tepid. However, there was enough support in Quebec to raise what became the 1st and 2nd Canadian Regiments of the Continental Army. These units took part in the 1775 invasion of Canada, which will be covered in future posts.

Still, the Continental Congress wanted to take non for an answer. It authorized a three-man committee to draft a third letter, this one signed by John Hancock and dated January 24th, 1776. When the Letter to the Inhabitants of the Province of Canada was sent, the Continental Army was occupying Montreal. In it, the Continental Congress promised to send additional troops and supplies to Canada to support a larger force that would ultimately kick the British out and provide the freedoms those in the Thirteen Colonies wanted and which were theoretically granted by England.

Just as with the first two, the letters had little effect. Ultimately, under the Royal Governor Guy Carleton’s leadership and with the support of the Catholic leaders in Quebec, Canada remained a staunch supporter of the British.

Image is of the cover sheet of the first letter to Canada.

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