When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
September 13, 1759 — Battle of Quebec, also called Battle of the Plains of Abraham, was decisive defeat of the French commanded by Marquis de Montcalm by a British army under Maj. Gen. James Wolfe. Both commanding officers died from wounds sustained during the battle, and within a year French Canada had capitulated to British forces.
In the middle of the 18th century, France and Great Britain were both out to dominate European trade. Their rivalry played out on the ground in North America, sparking an official conflict between the two countries in 1756. The French–English war that ensued was waged on three continents: America, Europe, and Asia.
Québec City was the capital of New France, the French colonial empire in North America and the seat of the only Catholic diocese north of Mexico. Whoever held that strategic location could effectively control access to the entire colony. The British planned an invasion of the St. Lawrence River Valley—the heart of New France—with three different points of attack, including Québec City. Determined to capture the capital, they sent 30,000 soldiers and seamen. The French monarchy had every intention of defending their seat of power in North America, but their troops were tied up fighting in continental Europe and the supremacy of the British navy limited their ability to send reinforcements.
Wolfe and his men were in Québec City waters by June. They spent an unsuccessful summer trying to gain a foothold on the north shore, but were consistently repelled by Montcalm and his troops. Given the impossibility of taking the city, the British General resolved to destroy it, and set about bombarding it from the south shore.
But as the cold weather approached, the need for a decisive victory grew and on September 12, 1759, the British landed at Anse au Foulon, slightly upriver of Québec City. Only the next morning did the French learn to their dismay that over 4,000 British soldiers had succeeded in scaling the cliffs of Cap Diamant up to the promontory known then as “Abraham Heights,” since the fields had belonged to Abraham Martin in the 17th century.
The siege left Québec City in a sorry state. But it did remain the capital of the new province of Québec. And the British, having recognized its strategic location, completed the defensive system begun by the French.
The arrival of an English, Protestant community in the years that followed had a lasting effect on Québec. The city was integrated into the political, economic, and cultural life of the British empire. It gradually developed a British parliamentary system and its lumber industry flourished in the 19th century, buoyed by the winds of British trade. At a deeper level, Québec was profoundly influenced by the introduction of a new language, a new religion, and new ways of doing things, particularly where its architecture was concerned. Indeed, the city’s built environment, with French and English architectural traditions side by side, is unique in the Americas.
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