Sir Guy Carleton
First Baron of Dorchester
For a guy that had such an incredible impact of the history of Canada there is not a great deal of information about Sir Guy Carleton, the man. It is due in large part to Sir Guy that we are Canadians celebrating July 1st and not Americans celebrating July 4th.
Guy Carleton was born on Sept. 3, 1724, into a distinguished Irish family at Strabane in Tyrone County, Ireland. To all intents and purposes it would appear his upbringing was much like the average guy. Considering the extent of his knowledge and ability to strategize it is interesting to note that his exposure to formal education was fairly limited.
Upon entering the army at 18 years of age, Carleton rose through the ranks to become a Lieutenant . He first served, as an ensign in Lord Rothe’s 25th Foot regiment and by 1757 was a lieutenant colonel commanding the 72nd Foot regiment.
In 1758 he served under General Jeffery Amherst at the Siege of Louisburg and in 1758 was in command of a regiment of grenadiers when he fought along with General James Wolfe at the Battle of Quebec. It was during this battle that both he and Wolfe were injured at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. He however was spared unlike Wolfe who succumbed to his injuries and died post battle. Having been promoted as a result of his actions in Quebec, in 1761 Carleton was again wounded in the siege of Belle Isle, France and then once again during the capture of Havana Cuba.
In 1766 Carleton became the acting governor of Quebec, a position he would hold until 1770. It was during this period that Carleton proved to be a very able administrator. It was due to Carleton’s ability to communicate in both French and English combined with his great people skills he would be responsible for the vast improvement in the relationship between British and French Canadians. This as we well now know is no mean feat.
In 1774 the Quebec Act was passed which established that French and British Law be of equal status in Canada, This was accomplished in large part to the efforts Of Guy Carlton. Unfortunately, while he enjoyed success and admiration with British and French Canadians, which translated into loyalty, he also upset the American colonists that provoked some serious disenchantment that ultimately became the American Revolution.
Carleton assumed command of the forces in Canada 1775 and with his small but loyal army was forced back to Quebec when besieged by American forces bent on taking Montreal. He ultimately held the city and in doing so defeated the American forces led by non other than Benedict Arnold.
In 1782-83, Carleton was brought out of his retirement of four years to become the commander in chief of British forces in America at New York. Again he displayed his tremendous ability to use tact and diplomacy to suspend hostilities by withdrawing British forces from New York. He would refuse to evacuate the city until such time as all Loyalist refugees had been transported safely to Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Though a dependable officer he was criticized for his slowness in the counter-offensive after the American attack on Quebec but General Carleton deserves great praise for his actions as governor which doubtless saved Canada from falling to the American republic by keeping the local population on the side of the Crown.
Sir Guy Carlton is grossly under rated for his role in Canadian history. He was a great leader, a superb statesman and diplomat and yet was very much a man of the people for whom he cared a great deal. For his efforts he was rewarded with loyalty and good will by those he served, the people of Canada.
Article written by Julia McLaren, The Lord Durham Report editor julia@LDRB.ca
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