1759 - British expedition against Québec – Capture and Defence of Québec

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1759 - British expedition against Quebec >> Capture and Defence of Québec

The siege lasted from June to December 1759. This article describes the fourth and last phase of the campaign from September 14 to December 1759.


The British and French preparations, the arrival of French reinforcements and the arrival of the British expeditionary forces are described in our article 1759 - British expedition against Québec – Preparations and Arrival.

The French attack with fireships, the construction of British batteries at Pointe Lévis, the British installation at L'Ange-Gardien, the passage of part of the British navy above Québec and the battle of Beauport are described in our article 1759 - British expedition against Québec – Siege till the Battle of Beauport.

The British raids in the countryside, the British operations above Québec and the battle of the Plains of Abraham (aka battle of Québec) are described in our article 1759 - British expedition against Québec – Siege till the Battle of Québec.


Map of the siege of Québec in 1759 - Source: An Historical Atlas of Canada, by Lawrence J. Burpee, 1927
Courtesy of Tony Flores

Québec with its fortifications stands on the north bank of the Saint-Laurent river. It is located on a rocky headland where the river narrows from a width of some 30 km down to a strait of about 1 km. Immediately to northward of this rock, the Saint-Charles river flows down to the Saint-Laurent. Some 11 km to eastward of the Saint-Charles, the shore is cut by the rocky gorge through which pours the cataract of the Montmorency.

Description of Events

French Retreat

On September 13, after the defeat at the battle of Québec (aka battle of the Plains of Abraham), utter confusion reigned in the French camp. The governor Pierre François de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil went from the hornwork guarding the bridge on the Saint-Charles river to his quarters on the Beauport road and called a council of war and there was tumultuous debate. A messenger was sent to the dying marquis de Montcalm for advice and returned with the reply that there were three courses open, to retreat up the river to Jacques-Cartier, to fight again, or to surrender the colony. There was much to be said for fighting, for when Montcalm's aide-de-camp Bougainville had gathered all his force from the river above, he would have 3,000 men; and these, joined to the garrison of Québec, the sailors at the batteries, and the militia and artillerymen of the Beauport camp, would form a body of fresh soldiers more than equal to the British then on the Plains of Abraham. Add to these the defeated troops, and the victors would be greatly outnumbered. Bigot gave his voice for fighting. Vaudreuil expressed himself to the same effect. Finally, the officers voted for retreat. After the council, Vaudreuil gave order for immediate retreat. He also sent a courier to Montréal to summon the chevalier de Lévis to his aid.

At 9:00 p.m., the French began their retreat in one column (the Milice du district de Québec, followed by 600 men of the Milice du district de Montréal, the Milice du district de Trois-Rivières and the 5 regular bns). Québec was abandoned to its fate. The cannon were left in the lines of Beauport, the tents in the encampments, and provisions enough in the storehouses to supply the army for ten days.

Before midnight the British had made good progress in their redoubts and entrenchments, had brought cannon up the heights to defend them, planted a battery on the Côte Sainte-Geneviève, descended into the meadows of the Saint-Charles and taken possession of the general hospital, with its crowds of sick and wounded.

During the night of September 13 to 14, Montcalm was breathing his last within the walls of Québec. Bishop Pontbriand, attended his deathbed and administered the last sacraments.

On September 14 at 3:00 a.m., the French column reached Charlesbourg and continued its march towards Lorette. Bougainville took no part in the retreat but sturdily held his ground at Cap-Rouge. The only instructions left with the garrison of Québec were to surrender as soon as provisions should fail. Meanwhile, around 4:00 a.m., Montcalm died peacefully at the age of 48. At 6:00 a.m., the French column arrived at Lorette. At 5:00 p.m., it reached Pointe-aux-Trembles (present-day Neuville) while Bougainville was taking position at Saint-Augustin.

Capitulation of Québec

With the retreat of the French army, Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay, governor of Québec, now had only his garrison to defend the town. This garrison consisted of about 150 regulars, 450 men from the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, a considerable number of sailors and the local militia. The inhabitants who, during the siege, had sought refuge in the suburb of Saint-Roch, had returned after the battle, and there were now 2,600 women and children with about 1,000 invalids and other non-combatants to be supported, though the provisions in the town, even at half rations, would hardly last a week. Ramezay had not been informed that a good supply was left in the camps of Beauport and, when he heard at last that it was there, and sent out parties to get it, they found that the Indians and the famished country people had carried it off. Murmurs and complaints against the army that had abandoned Québec rose to a general outcry. Merchants, all of whom were officers of the town militia, met at the house of M. François Daine, the designated spokesman for the inhabitants . There they declared for capitulating, and presented Ramezay a petition to that effect.

On September 15 at daybreak, the French column set off from Pointe-aux-Trembles. Meanwhile, at 6:00 a.m., Lévis received the messenger from Vaudreuil announcing the defeat on the plains of Abraham. Vaudreuil required Lévis to join him as soon as possible on the Jacques-Cartier river. At 9:00 a.m., Lévis quitted Montréal. At noon the French column passed the Jacques-Cartier River. At 11:00 p.m., Lévis reached Maskinongé where he spent the night.

Townsend, who had now succeeded Wolfe as commander of the British army, pushed his trenches forward against Québec with the greatest energy. The French, despite their precipitate retreat, were still in superior force in his rear; and though certainly demoralised might rally on joining the unbeaten troops of Lévis. It was therefore imperative to press the garrison hard while still overpowered by the despairing sense of its isolation. Accordingly, Townshend pushed his trenches nearer and nearer to the walls of Québec, in spite of the cannonade with which Piedmont and his artillerymen tried to check them.

On September 16 at daybreak, Lévis resumed his advance towards Jacques-Cartier, stopping briefly at Trois-Rivières. Meanwhile, the French column was taking a day's rest at Jacques-Cartier.

On September 17 at 10:00 a.m., Lévis reached Jacques-Cartier and found the French army in great disorder and without baggage or proper equipment. A large number of Canadiens had deserted and almost all Indians had taken the road to their villages. Lévis blamed the retreat and urged Vaudreuil to march back with all speed to Québec. Lévis intended to attack the British if he found them ill posted, or to prolong the siege by throwing men and supplies into the town. Finally, if he could not save Québec, he planned to evacuate and burn it, so that the British could not possibly winter there. Meanwhile, leaving command to Lévis, Vaudreuil retired to Montréal and Bougainville retired from Saint-Augustin to Pointe-aux-Trembles.

On September 17 in the evening, the British ships of war moved up against the Lower Town of Québec, and a scarlet column approached the walls from the meadows of the Saint-Charles, as if to storm the Porte du Palais. The French drums beat to arms, but the Canadian militia refused to turn out. Ramezay finally ordered the white flag to be raised and ordered Armand de Joannès to go to the British camp and get what terms he could. Joannès went to the quarters of Townshend and undertook negotiation. Finally Townshend sent him back to confer with Ramezay, threatening to storm Québec if the place was not given up before 11:00 a.m.. The same day, 100 mounted Canadians, who formed part of Bougainville's command were sent to Québec, each with a bag of biscuit across his saddle. They were to circle round to the Beauport side, where there was no enemy, and whence they could cross the Saint-Charles in canoes to the town. Bougainville followed close with a larger supply. Vaudreuil sent Ramezay a message, revoking his order to surrender if threatened with assault, telling him to hold out to the last and assuring him that the whole army was coming to his relief. Meanwhile, during the negotiation for the capitulation of Québec, the conditions granted by Townshend were favourable, for he knew the danger of his position and was glad to have Québec on any terms. The troops and sailors of the garrison were to march out of the place with the honours of war and to be carried to France. The inhabitants were to have protection in person and property, and free exercise of religion. On this Ramezay signed the articles, and Joannès carried them back within the time prescribed. Scarcely had he left the town, when the Canadian horsemen appeared with their sacks of biscuits and a renewed assurance that help was near, but it was too late. Ramezay had surrendered and would not break his word.

On September 18 in the morning, the French army, led by Lévis, marched from Jacques-Cartier retracing their steps towards Québec. In the afternoon a British company of artillerymen with a field-piece entered Québec and marched to the place of arms in the upper town, followed by a body of infantry under lieutenant-colonel Murray. Detachments took post at all the gates while seamen under captain Hugh Palliser of the Royal Navy took possession of the lower town. The British flag was raised on the heights near the top of rue de la Montagne. The British found a large number of artillery pieces in Québec:

  • 1 x 6-pdr brass gun
  • 3 x 4-pdr brass guns
  • 2 x 2-pdr brass guns
  • 10 x 36-pdr iron guns
  • 45 x 24-pdr iron guns
  • 18 x 18-pdr iron guns
  • 13 x 12-pdr iron guns
  • 43 x 8-pdr iron guns
  • 66 x 6-pdr iron guns
  • 30 x 4-pdr iron guns
  • 7 x 3-pdr iron guns
  • 3 x 2-pdr iron guns
  • 1 x 13 inch brass mortar
  • 3 x 8 inch brass howitzers (British pieces previously captured on the Monongahela in 1755)
  • 9 x 13 inch iron mortars
  • 1 x 10 inch iron mortar
  • 5 x 8 inch iron mortars
  • 2 x 7 inch iron mortars

N.B.: 37 additional artillery pieces were found between the river Saint-Charles and Beauport.

The same day (September 18 ), the French army encamped at Pointe-aux-Trembles for the night. Meanwhile, Bougainville moved forward from Saint-Augustin to Cap-Rouge.

The French army retires

On September 19, Bougainville marched towards the Saint-Charles River while the main army marched towards Lorette. Upon reaching the Saint-Charles River, Bougainville was informed that Québec had surrendered. He retired to Cap-Rouge while the main army retired to Saint-Augustin.

During the following weeks, British troops strengthened the defences and made provision against the winter. Indeed, it had been decided that the fortress must be held at all risks. Monckton was still too far disabled to assume command; Townsend, fresh from the House of Commons, had no mind for such dreary duty as winter-quarters; so Brigadier-General James Murray was left as governor with a garrison of 7,500 men (10 bns, the artillery and 1 ranger coy), his battalions being strengthened by drafts from the 62nd Foot and 69th Foot, which were serving on board the fleet.

On September 20, a detachment of 400 men under M. Louis Legardeur de Repentigny guarded the bridge on the Upper Cap-Rouge River while Bougainville retreated to Saint-Augustin and the main French army marched towards Pointe-aux-Trembles.

On September 21, the main French army arrived at Pointe-aux-Trembles while Bougainville retired to Saint-Augustin. Desertions continued among the Canadiens.

On September 24, the main French army retreated to Jacques-Cartier while Bougainville was taking position at Pointe-aux-Trembles and Repentigny at Saint-Augustin. Royal Roussillon Infanterie and Guyenne Infanterie were sent to Deschambault to prevent a landing of the British and to protect the line of communication with Trois-Rivières.

On September 25, 2 British frigates sailed upstream up to Saint-Augustin.

On September 26, most of the Indians left the French army while many sick were evacuated. Two British flat bottomed boats came reconnoitring the French positions.

On September 27, more sick were evacuated while 4 British boats made another reconnaissance near Saint-Augustin.

By September 28, 400 British troops occupied Saint-Antoine on the south bank of the Saint-Laurent opposite Jacques-Cartier.

On September 29, the French began the construction of a fort at Jacques-Cartier.

On September 30, Vaudreuil and Bigot quitted Jacques-Cartier for Montréal.

On October 2, the British offered Lévis to sign a truce for the duration of the winter. Lévis declined this offer.

On October 9, Lévis reconnoitred the south bank of the Saint-Laurent in front of Jacques-Cartier to determine if it would be possible to establish a fort on this bank.

By October 15, the French army at Jacques-Cartier had only provisions for 9 more days.

On October 16, M. de Céleron who operated on the south bank of the Saint-Laurent with a party of 50 men was ordered to burn all stored firewood up to Pointe Lévis.

On October 19, Lévis was informed of major-general Jeffrey Amherst's movements on Lake Champlain and immediately sent back to Île-aux-Noix the mixed battalion of Montréal and some of the militia of Montréal.

On October 20, Lévis sent a detachment of militia under the command of M. Joseph Boucher de Niverville to Île-aux-Noix.

On October 25, Lévis sent Royal Roussillon Infanterie and Guyenne Infanterie as additional reinforcements for the brigadier François-Charles de Bourlamaque at Île-aux-Noix.

On October 28, the piquets and grenadiers of Béarn Infanterie retired from Pointe-aux-Trembles. Lévis received intelligence that the British fleet had now sailed from Québec and that only a 12-guns frigate and a bomb-ketch had been left behind for the winter.

On October 29, II./Béarn Infanterie set off from Jacques-Cartier to retire to its winter-quarters.

On October 30, Lévis was informed that Amherst had abandoned his enterprise against Île-aux-Noix.

At the end of October, Admiral Saunders fired his farewell salute and dropped down the river with his fleet, carrying aboard the Royal William (100) the embalmed remains of Wolfe, to be laid by his father's body in the parish church of Greenwich. The marines, the grenadiers from Louisbourg, and some of the rangers had reembarked in the fleet. The British garrison of Québec numbered about 6,000 men and consisted of:

Saunders had also left captain lord Colville in command of a small squadron in North America. This squadron consisted of:

The bomb vessel Racehorse (8), under commander George Miller, and the sloop Porcupine (16), under commander John Macartney, were left to winter at Québec.

Both Armies prepare for Winter

Late in October. it was rumoured that some of the French ships in the river above Québec were preparing to run by the batteries. This was the squadron which had arrived in the spring with supplies and had lain all summer at Batiscan, in the Richelieu, and at other points beyond reach of the British.

At the beginning of November, Vaudreuil sent back his British prisoners in an exchange.

In November, 2 French frigates along with 2 other vessels were sent to winter at Sorel. Winter quarters were prepared for the French regulars:

Furthermore, it was resolved to leave:

  • 300 men from the Compagnie Franche de la Marine at Fort Lévis under the command of M. de Désandroins
  • 100 regulars and 300 men of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine at Île-aux-Noix under the command of M. de Lusignan
  • 150 regulars and 150 men of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine at Saint-Jean
  • 150 regulars and 450 men of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine at Jacques-Cartier under Major-General Dumas (from this force, a detachment of about 250 men should be sent at Pointe-aux-Trembles under the command of M. de Repentigny)

On November 7, La Sarre Infanterie left to take its winter quarters.

On November 10, Lévis quitted Jacques-Cartier for Montréal.

On November 13, Lévis arrived at Montréal.

On November 21, Kanon's squadron appeared anchored off Sillery.

On November 22, Kanon's squadron was caught at moorings by strong winds and the merchantmen Soleil Royal (22), Maréchal de Senneterre (28) and Duc de Fronsac (24), drove ashore and were lost.

On the dark night of November 24, Kanon tried to pass the town on the ebb with a favourable breeze. Although the British garrison was ready for them and every possible gun was fired at them, 7 or 8 vessels of his squadron got past safely. Another merchantman, the Elisabeth (10), was stranded on the south shore. Her crew made preparations for blowing her up and then, with the assistance of the crews of the merchantmen Machault (30), and Chézine (22), boarded and carried a British schooner in which they escaped.

On the morning of November 25, Commander Miller of the Racehorse (8) with a lieutenant and above 40 men, went on board the Elisabeth and ordering a light to be struck, inadvertently blew up the ship. Most of his party were killed by the explosion and the rest, including the 2 officers, were left in a horrible condition between life and death. Thus they remained till a Canadian, venturing on board in search of plunder, found them, called his neighbours to his aid, carried them to his own house, and after applying, with the utmost kindness, what simple remedies he knew, went over to Québec and told of the disaster. Fortunately for themselves, the sufferers soon died.

Meanwhile, the British troops, driven by cold from their encampment on the plains, were all gathered within the walls of Québec. The town swarmed with troops. There were guardhouses at 20 different points; sentinels paced the ramparts, squads of men went the rounds. While some of the inhabitants left town, others remained, having no refuge elsewhere.

December came, the clothing of the British troops was ill-suited to the climate, and, though stoves had been placed in the guard and barrack rooms, the supply of fuel constantly fell short. Parties of axemen, strongly guarded, were always at work in the forest of Sainte-Foy, about 8 km from Québec.

In December, Lévis started the preparations for a winter expedition against Québec. The same month, the French prisoners exchanged with Amherst arrived at Montréal. Lévis received intelligence that a French 30-guns vessel, who had sailed from France in August, was now anchored at Gaspé.


This article is mostly an abridged and adapted version of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 440-445
  • Clowes, Wm. Laird, The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 204-209
  • Fortescue J. W., A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 360-388
  • Lévis, chevalier de, Journal des campagnes du chevalier de Lévis en Canada de 1756 à 1760, Montréal, Beauchemin, 1889, pp. 175-185, 192, 211-236
  • Malartic, Comte de Maurès de: Journal des Campagnes au Canada de 1755 à 1760, Dijon: Damidot, 1890, pp. 287-303
  • Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe, Collier Books, New York, 1884, pp. 406-408, 416-441, 457-491

Other sources

Doughty, Arthur George: The Siege of Quebec and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, Dussalt & Prolux, Quebec, 1901, pp. 128-129