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St. John's. customhouse Officer. Suspicious of an Israelite. Apparently treasonable Acts of leading Vermonters.
Early in October the Americans, under General Montgomery (Schuyler being ill), left the island and proceeded to St. John's, whence they marched victoriously to Quebec. From that time until the close of the Revolution no permanent garrison was established there, but the island was the halting-place for the troops of both parties when passing up and down the lake. It was the principal scene of the negotiations between some of the leading men of Vermont and British officers, which were so adroitly managed by the former as to keep an English army of ten thousand men quite inactive on our northern frontier for about three years." The British strongly fortified it in 1813, and it has been constantly garrisoned since.
We arrived at St. John's, on the Richelieu or Sorel River, between six and seven o'clock in the morning, where our luggage was overhauled by the custom-house officer, who was received on board at Isle Aux Noiz. The operation was neither long nor vexatious, and seemed to be rather a matter of legal form than induced by a desire or expectation of detecting contraband articles. In fact, the polite government functionary seemed to have great faith in mere assertions, and to rely more upon physiognomy than personal inspection of the luggage for assurance that her majesty's revenue laws were inviolate. He looked every trunk-owner full in the face when he queried about the nature of his baggage, and only two persons were obliged to produce their keys for his satisfaction. Our trunk was of prodigious size and weight, and made him very properly suspicious of the truth of my allegations that its contents were only articles for personal use. A descendant of Abraham at my elbow, with nothing but a rotund bandana handkerchief, appeared to be my scape-goat on the occasion, for while the officer was making him untie its hard knots, he ordered my luggage to pass. I was told that the word of a poor Jew is never believed by the uncircumcised Gentile who “sits at the receipt of customs;” but in this instance his incredulity was rebuked, for the Israelite's bundle contained nothing but a tolerably clean shirt, a cravat, and a small Hebrew Bible. At eight
* In 1779–80 the partial dismemberment of Vermont and its connection with New York and New Hampshire produced great bitterness of feeling, and the Legislature of the former demanded of Congress the entire separation of that state from the other states, and its admission into the confederacy upon a basis of perfect equality. The disputes ran high, and the British entertained hopes that Vermont would be so far alienated from the rebel cause, by the injustice of Congress, as to be induced to return to its allegiance to the British crown. Accordingly, in the spring of 1780, Colonel Beverly Robinson wrote to Ethan Allen from New York, making overtures to that effect. The letter was not answered, and in February, 1781, he wrote another, inclosing a copy of the first. These letters were shown to Governor Chittenden and a few others, and they concluded to make use of the circumstances for the benefit of Vermont. Allen sent both letters to Congress, and at the same time wrote to that body, urging the justice of the demand of his state. He closed his letter by saying, “I am as resolutely determined to defend the independence of Vermont as Congress is that of the United States; and, rather than fail, I will retire with the hardy Green Mountain Boys into the desolate caverns of the mountains and wage war with human nature at large.”* In the mean while, some British scouting parties had captured some Vermonters, and Governor Chittenden sent Ira Allen and others to negotiate with Colonel Dundas for an exchange of prisoners. They met upon Isle Aur Noir, and there Dundas, under the direction of General Haldimand, made verbal overtures similar to the written ones of Robinson to Ethan Allen. The proposals of the British officers were received by Allen with apparent favor. Haldimand and Dundas were delighted with their skill in diplomacy, and readily acceded to the proposition of Allen not to allow hostilities on the Vermont frontier until after the next session of its Legislature. The British force, consisting of about ten thousand men, was thus kept inactive. These negotiations with the enemy excited the suspicion of the Whigs and the fears of Congress; yet with such consummate skill did Allen manage the affair, that when he reported the result of his mission to the Legislature of Vermont, where British emissaries as well as ardent Whigs were in waiting, he satisfied both parties. Soon afterward a letter from Lord George Germain to Sir Henry Clinton was intercepted and sent to Congress. It contained so much evidence of the treasonable designs of the leading men in Wermont, that Congress felt more disposed to accede to the demands of that state, and thus retain her in the Union. Peace soon afterward ensued, and Vermont was one of the United States included in the treaty. How far the designs of the Allens, of Chittenden, the Fays, and others, were really treasonable, or were measures of policy to bring Congress to terms, and prevent hostilities upon their weak frontier, can not be certainly determined. The probabilities are in favor of the ruse rather than the treason. At any rate, they should have the benefit of a doubt, and a verdict of acquittal of all wrong intentions. * A convention, held at Westminster on the 15th of January, 1777, declared “That the district and territory comprehending and usually known by the name and description of the New Hampshire Grants of right ought to be and is declared forever hereafter to be a free and independent jurisdiction or state, to be forever hereafter called, known, and distinguished by the name of New Connecticut, alias VERMoxt.”—See Slade's State Papers, p. 70.
Military Remains at St. John's. Present Works. Athenaise.
Approach of the Americans in 1775.
o'clock my companion and our luggage proceeded by rail-road by way of La Prairie to Montreal, while I prepared to journey to the same city in a light wagon by way of Chambly and Longueuil. St. John's is pleasantly situated upon the western side of the Sorel, at the termination of steam-boat navigation on Lake Champlain, and near the head of Chambly Rapids. It has always been a place of considerable importance as a frontier town since the Revolution, although its growth has been slow, the population now amounting to not quite four thousand. The country on both sides of the river here is perfectly flat, and there is no place whence the town may be seen to advantage. A little south of the village, and directly upon the shore, is a strong military establishment, garrisoned, when we visited it, by three
companies of Highland infantry. Accompanied by an intelligent young gentleman of the village as guide, I visited all the points of historic interest in the vicinity. We crossed the deep, sluggish river in a light zinc shallop, and from the middle of the stream we obtained a fine view of the long bridge” which connects St. John's with St. Athenaise on the opposite shore, where the steep roof and lofty glittering spire of the French church towered above the trees." After visiting the remains of Montgomery's block-house, we recrossed the river and rambled among the high mounds which compose the ruins of old Fort St. John's. They occupy a broad area in the open fields behind the present military works. The embankments, covered with a rich green sward, averaged about twelve feet in height, and the whole were surrounded by a ditch with considerable water in it. We lingered half an hour to view a drill of the garrison, and then returned to the village to prepare for a pleasant ride to Chambly, twelve miles distant. Military works were thrown up at St. John's by the French, under Montcalm, in 1758, and these were enlarged and strengthened by Governor Carleton at the beginning of our Revolution. Here, as we have seen, the first organized American flotilla, under Arnold, made a regular assault upon British vessels and fortifications, and aroused Sir Guy Carleton to a sense of the imminent danger of Montreal and Quebec. Here too was the scene of the first regular siege of a British fort by the rebellious colonists. In September, 1775, the Americans, as we have already noticed, sailed down the Richelieu and appeared before St. John's. They were fired upon by the English garrison when about two miles distant, but without effect. They landed within about a mile and a half of the fort, and, while marching slowly toward the outworks, a small party of Indians attacked them and produced some confusion. In the evening General Schuyler was informed, by a man who appeared to be friendly and intelligent, that, with the exception of only fifty men retained in Montreal by General Carleton, the whole regular British force in Canada was in the garrison at St. John's; that this and the fort at Chambly were strongly fortified and well supplied; that one hundred Indians were in the fort at St. John's, and that another large body, under Colonel John Johnson, was hovering near; that a sixteen gun vessel was
* This view is taken from the eastern side of the river, near the remains of a block-house erected by Montgomery when he besieged the fort in 1775. On the right is seen the fort, which incloses the magazine; in the center is the building occupied by the officers, on either side of which are the barracks of the soldiers. The large building on the left is the hospital, and the smaller one still further left is the dead-house. The river here is about a quarter of a mile wide. The present military works are upon the site of those of the Revolution.
* It was built by the Honorable Robert Jones, the proprietor, and is called Jones's Bridge.
* This spacious church was not finished. The old one, a small wooden structure, was undisturbed within the new one, and was used for worship until the completion of the exterior of the present edifice.
Advance of Montgomery against St. John's. Mutiny in the American Camp. Operations at St. John's.
about ready to weigh anchor at St. John's; and that not a single Canadian could be induced to join the insurgent standard. The informer was doubtless an enemy to the Americans, for his assertions were afterward proved to be untrue. General Schuyler, however, gave credence to them, and returned with his troops to Isle Aux Noiz, where illness obliged him to leave the army in charge of Montgomery, and retire to the healthier post of Ticonderoga. Thence he soon went to Albany, and, his health being partially restored, he was active in forwarding re-enforcements to Isle Aux Noiz. Montgomery, with more impetuosity and less caution than Schuyler, determined to push forward at once, for the season was near when military operations there would be difficult. About this time a small train of artillery and a re-enforcement arrived, and he made vigorous preparations to invade Canada. Before leaving the island, a chevaux-de-frise was thrown across the channel to intercept the progress of Carleton's vessels up the lake. On the sevseptember, enteenth his whole force was landed on the west side of the Richelieu. On the 1775. eighteenth he led a corps of five hundred men, in person, to the north side of the fort, where the village now is. There he met a detachment from the garrison, which had just repulsed and pursued a small party of Americans under Major Brown, and a short skirmish ensued. Two field pieces and the whole detachment would doubtless have been trophies for the Americans had they been true to themselves; but here that insubordination which gave Montgomery so much trouble was strongly manifested, and caution, secrecy, and concert of action were out of the question." Montgomery pushed on a little further northwest, and, at the junction of the roads running respectively to Montreal and Chambly, formed an intrenched camp of three hundred men to cut off supplies for the enemy from the interior, and then hastened back to his camp to bring up his artillery to bear upon the walls of the fort. The supplies for a siege were very meager. The artillery was too light, the mortars were defective, the ammunition scarce, and the artillerists unpracticed in their duties. The ground was wet and swampy, and in many places closely studded with trees. In a day or two disease began to appear among the troops, and, in consequence of their privations, disaffection was working mischief in the army. To escape these unfavorable circumstances, Montgomery proposed to move to the northwest side of the fort, where the ground was firm and water wholesome, and commence preparations for an assault. But the troops, unused to military restraint, and judging for themselves that an attack would be unsuccessful, refused to second the plan of their leader. Unable to punish them or convince them of their error, Montgomery yielded to the pressure of circumstances, and so far gratified the mutinous regiments as to call a council of war. It resulted, as was expected, in a decision against his plan. Disorder continually reigned in the American camp. Irregular firing occurred almost daily, and the enemy threw some bombs, but it was a waste of ammunition by both parties. At length the proposed plan of Montgomery was adopted, and the camp was moved october 7, to the higher ground northwest of the fort, where breast-works were thrown up. 1775. While the main army was thus circumvallating St. John's, but, for want of ammunition and heavy guns, unable to breach the walls, small detachments of Americans, who were joined by many friendly Canadians, were active in the vicinity. One, under Ethan Allen, attempted the capture of Montreal. Of this foolish expedition I shall hereafter write. But another, and a successful one, was undertaken, which hastened the termination of the siege of St. John's. Carleton, supposing that the fort at Chambly, twelve miles northward, could not be reached by the Americans unless the one at St. John's was captured, had neglected to arm it, and kept but a feeble garrison there. Montgomery was informed of this by Canadian scouts, and immediately sent Colonel Bedell of New Hampshire, Major Brown of Massachusetts, and Major Livingston of New York, with detachments, to capture the fort. The method of attack was planned by Canadians familiar with the place. Artillery was placed upon bateaux, and during a dark night was conveyed past the fort at St. John's to the head of Chambly Rapids, where it was mounted on carriages and taken to the
* Montgomery's dispatch to General Schuyler.
Attack upon and Surrender of Fort Chambly. Repulse of Carleton at Longueuil. Surrender of St. John's. The Spoils.
point of attack. The garrison made but a feeble resistance, and soon surrendered. This
Fort AT CHAMBLY."
was a most important event, for it furnished Montgomery with means to carry on the siege of St. John's vigorously.” The large quantity of ammunition that was captured was sent immediately to the besiegers, who, by vigorous exertions, erected a strong battery within two hundred and fifty yards of the fort. A strong block-house was also erected before it, on the opposite side of the river. The former was mounted with four guns and six mortars, and the latter had one gun and two mortars. While these preparations were in progress, Carleton, informed of the capture of Fort Chambly, left Montreal with a re-enforcement for the garrison at St. John's. He embarked upon the St. Lawrence in bateaux and flat-boats, and attempted to land at Longueuil, a mile and a half below the city. Colonel Seth Warner, with three hundred Green Mountain Boys, was on the alert in the neighborhood, and lay in covert near the spot where Carleton was about to land. He allowed the boats to get very near the shore, when he opened a terrible storm of grape-shot upon them from a four pound cannon, which drove them across the river precipitately and in great confusion. The tidings of this event reached Mont- November 1. gomery toward evening, and Colonel Warner soon afterward came in with several 1775. prisoners captured from one of Carleton's boats that reached the shore. The commanderin-chief immediately sent a flag and letter to Major Preston, the commandant of the garrison, by one of Warner's prisoners, informing him of the defeat of Carleton, and demanding a surrender of the fortress to prevent further effusion of blood. Hostilities ceased for the night, and in the morning Preston asked for a delay of four days before he should make proposals to surrender. The request was denied and the demand renewed. There was no alternative, and the garrison surrendered prisoners of war. The siege had continued six weeks, and the bravery and perseverance of the British troops were such, that Montgomery granted them honorable terms. They marched out of the fort with the honors of war, and the troops
* This is a view of the south and west sides of the fort, looking toward the river. It stands directly upon the Richelieu, at the foot of the Chambly Rapids, and at the head of the navigation of the river up from the St. Lawrence. It is strongly built of stone, and, as seen in the picture, is in a state of excellent preservation.
* The spoils taken at Chambly were 6 tons of powder; 80 barrels of flour; a large quantity of rice, butter, and peas; 134 barrels of pork; 300 swivel shot; 1 box of musket shot; 6364 musket cartridges; 150 stand of French arms; 3 royal mortars; 61 shells; 500 hand grenades; 83 royal fusileer's muskets with accouterments; and rigging for 3 vessels. The prisoners consisted of 1 major, 2 captains, 3 lieutenants, captain of a schooner, a commissary and surgeon, and 83 privates. The colors of the seventh regiment of British regulars were there, and were captured. These were sent to the Continental Congress, and were the first trophies of the kind which that body received. There were a great number of women and children in the fort, and these were allowed to accompany the prisoners, who were sent with their baggage to Connecticut.
Surrender of St. John's. Insubordination. Retreat of the Americans out of Canada.
grounded their arms on the plain nearby. The officers were allowed to keep - their side-arms, and their fire-arms were reserved for them. Canadian gentlemen and others at St. John's were considered a part of the garrison. The whole number of troops amounted to about five hundred regulars and one hundred Canadian volunteers.' The Continental troops took possession of the fort, and Montgomery proposed to push on to Montreal. Insubordination again raised its hydra-head in the American camp. The cold season was near at hand, and the raw troops, unused to privations of the field, yearned for home, and refused, at first, to be led further away. But the kind temper, patriotic zeal, and winning eloquence of Montgomery, and a promise on his part that, Montreal in his possession, no further service would be exacted from them, won them to obedience, and all but a small garrison for the fort pressed onward toward the city.” The fort at St. John's remained in possession of the Americans until the latter part of May, 1776, when they were completely driven out of Canada. Arnold and Sullivan, with their detachments, were the last to leave that province. The former remained in Montreal until the last moment of safety, and then pressed on to St. John's, with the enemy close at his heels. Two days before, he had ordered the encampment closed there, and a vessel upon
the stocks to be taken apart and sent to Ticonderoga. Sullivan, who was stationed at the mouth of the Sorel, also retreated to St. John's. The commanders wished to defend the fort against the pursuing enemy, but the troops absolutely refused to serve longer, and they all embarked, and sailed up the lake to Isle Aux Noir. When every loaded boat had left the shore, Arnold and Wilkinson, his aid, rode back two miles and discovered the enemy in rapid march under Burgoyne. They reconnoitered them a few moments, and then galloped back,
* The spoils of victory were 17 brass ordnance, from two to twenty-four pounders; 2 eight-inch howitzers; 7 mortars; 22 iron ordnance, from three to nine pounders; a considerable quantity of shot and small shells; 800 stand of arms, and a small quantity of naval stores. The ammunition and provisions were in considerable, for the stock of each was nearly exhausted.
* Armstrong's Life of Montgomery.