Carleton, Guy

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Carleton, Guy

CARLETON, GUY. (1724–1808). British general, governor of Canada, commander in chief at New York (May 1782 to December 1783). Born in Strabane, Ireland, Guy Carleton was a member of an old Anglo-Irish family in the Protestant ascendancy. He is best remembered for his abilities as a general and statesman, and for his cold and aloof personality. Through family connections, he and his brothers, William and Thomas, gained valuable early political patronage from William Conolly, a member of the Irish parliament.


On 21 May 1741, Carleton enrolled as an ensign in the Twenty-fifth Regiment, known as Lord Rothes' regiment in honor of its colonel, Major General John Leslie, Earl of Rothes. He was promoted lieutenant in the same regiment on 1 May 1745. In 1747, during the War of the Austrian Succession, he served on the European continent as aide-de-camp to the duke of Cumberland and was involved in the fighting for Bergen op Zoom, in the Netherlands. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the First Foot Guards on 22 July 1751. In early 1753, upon the recommendation of his friend James Wolfe, he became military tutor of Charles Lennox, third duke of Richmond. He used the Duke's patronage to secure promotion to lieutenant colonel of the First Foot Guards on 18 June 1757.

In early 1758, Carleton was chosen by General Jeffery Amherst to join a military expedition against Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island in New France. King George II refused to confirm this appointment, however, because Carleton had made disparaging remarks about Hanoverian troops. Instead, Carleton spent the summer of 1758 as an aide-de-camp to Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in central Europe. Also in 1758 he was chosen lieutenant colonel of the Seventy-second Regiment by its colonel, the duke of Richmond. In early 1759, when Wolfe organized his campaign against Quebec, Carleton was commissioned quartermaster general of the army, with the local rank of colonel. The king once again protested, but Wolfe finally prevailed upon the stubborn monarch to relent.

In the campaign, Carleton distinguished himself as quartermaster, military engineer, and commander of an elite corps of grenadiers. Fighting bravely in the battle of the Plains of Abraham on 14 September while leading his grenadiers, he was wounded in the head, and his friend Wolfe was killed. Carleton returned to England in November 1759. In March 1761 he served as local brigadier general in an expedition against Belle Isle, off the French coast, and was again wounded. Promoted to colonel on 19 February 1762, he joined the earl of Albemarle as quartermaster general in the conquest of Havana with the local rank of brigadier general. On 22 July he was wounded for the third time while leading a successful assault upon a Spanish fortification.


By the age of 38, Carleton had made an impressive military record, through shrewd use of patronage and because of his own martial abilities. He had served in three theaters of war, been wounded three times, held important ranks, and secured a permanent colonelcy. On 7 April 1766 he was appointed lieutenant governor of Quebec, although effectively he acted as governor from the outset, replacing the nominal governor, James Murray, who had been called home. Carleton was officially appointed governor on 12 April 1768. On 21 August 1766 he sailed into New York, where he consulted with General Thomas Gage, commander in chief of North America. He then traveled to Quebec, arriving on 22 September and taking the oath of office two days later. On 3 October he was appointed brigadier general in America. Immediately, Carleton asserted control over the members of his council and began governing more or less independently. When challenged in these actions, he was supported by his superiors in London: Henry Seymour Conway, secretary of state for the Southern Department; Charles Lennox, duke of Richmond, who succeeded Conway; and Lords Wills Hill, Viscount Hillsborough and William Legge, earl of Dartmouth.

As governor, Carleton paid particular attention to the fur trade, which was a staple of the Canadian economy. He battled without success to eliminate the fee system that was used to pay government officials, and he worked to improve the defenses of Quebec. From the outset he befriended the French Canadians, protecting them, he declared, against English "commercial adventurers," who had descended upon Quebec like a cloud of locusts. In 1767, when Parliament began studying plans for the reorganization of Quebec's government, Carleton advocated retention of the French cultural and legal heritage in the St. Lawrence River valley. He returned to England in 1770 to present his views on these and other matters. On 12 April 1772 he was appointed colonel of the Fouty-seventh Regiment, and on 12 May he was promoted to major general. He married Lady Mary Howard on 22 May 1772 and together they had eleven children. In 1774, Parliament enacted the Quebec Act, which incorporated most of Carleton's recommendations. On 18 September 1774 he returned to Quebec, where he was greeted warmly by the populace.


Immediately, Carleton was confronted with growing discontents against Britain by the lower thirteen colonies, and had to face the possibility of an American invasion of his own province. Part of the discontent was due to the Americans' hatred of the Quebec Act. Asked by General Gage to dispatch the Tenth and Fifty-second Regiments to Boston, he acquiesced, although he was left with only two regiments to defend Canada. He would rue his haste in the following year. He attempted to organize the old French citizens into militia units, but most of the habitants remained neutral. He refused to use Indian allies, considering native warriors to be unreliable in civilized warfare. In the fall of 1775, the anticipated American invasion came, with General Richard Montgomery seizing Montreal on 13 November. Carleton, who had established his headquarters in that city, was driven down the St. Lawrence River toward Quebec. In the meantime Benedict Arnold approached Quebec through Maine.

Carleton reached Quebec on 19 November, just before Arnold surrounded the city, and he prepared the citizens for a winter siege while awaiting reinforcements from Britain. On the evening of 31 December, he repulsed an American attempt to capture the city under cover of a blowing snowstorm from the northeast. Montgomery was killed, along with 51 of his fellow rebels; Arnold and 36 Americans were wounded; and 387 Americans fell into Carleton's hands as prisoners.

Although the rebel army was reinforced and maintained the siege until spring, Carleton and his garrison were rescued on 6 May 1776 by the arrival of the expected troops from England. Carleton learned at that time that he had been promoted general in America on 1 January 1776. He began a campaign to drive the Americans from Canada, culminating in the successful battle of Trois Rivières on 8 June. His strategy was to allow the rebels to escape, and even to release prisoners of war, in hopes that he might induce them to renew their loyalty to the Crown. Some of his officers thought this policy delusional. On 6 July 1776 he was given the Red Ribbon of a Knight of the Bath for his successful defense of Quebec.

After the Americans had escaped from Canada, Carleton lacked the necessary shipping to pursue them up Lake Champlain toward Fort Ticonderoga. Therefore, he paused for three months in the summer of 1776 to prepare a fleet for operations on Lake Champlain. He moved a number of small warships up the St. Lawrence and Richelieu Rivers, dismantled them, and then rebuilt them at St. Johns. He was promoted lieutenant general on 29 August 1776. On 5 October he sailed southward to engage an American flotilla commanded by Arnold. He attacked and destroyed the enemy vessels on 11 and 12 October at Valcour Bay, then pushed on toward Fort Ticonderoga. After reconnoitering that post on 27 October he decided that it was too strong to assault, and that the season was too far advanced to continue the campaign. Hence, he withdrew his army into Canada and began preparations for operations in the following summer.

Lord George Germain, who had been appointed colonial secretary on 10 November 1775, was dismayed when he heard of Carleton's decision. Germain already believed that Carleton had mishandled the defense of Quebec and had been too lackadaisical in his pursuit of the rebels to Fort Ticonderoga. Hence, in early 1777, Germain appointed General John Burgoyne to replace Carleton as commander of British forces in Canada during the following year's campaign. On 6 May 1777 Carleton welcomed the first ship of the year from England to Quebec, and learned of Burgoyne's appointment. Hurt and angry, Carleton wrote Germain on 27 June, resigning as governor of Canada and asking to be relieved. His replacement, Lieutenant General Frederick Haldimand, did not arrive until 28 June 1778, so Carleton remained in Canada during Burgoyne's operations in the summer of 1777. Following the instructions he received from the government, Carleton supported Burgoyne, and was not blamed by officials in London when Burgoyne was defeated at Saratoga on 17 October. Carleton returned home in July 1778.

On 18 February 1782 Carleton was appointed commander in chief in America, replacing Sir Henry Clinton. Lord Charles Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown on 19 October 1781, and the war against America was coming to an end. Because of his administrative experience, Carleton was selected by King George III to handle sensitive matters relating to the evacuation of British troops and Loyalists from the United States. Along with Admiral Robert Digby, he was appointed a peace commissioner. He accepted these commissions with the understanding that the government supported his intention to persuade the Americans, even at this late date, to remain within the empire. He landed at New York on 6 May 1782, and immediately was embroiled in financial matters and acrimony between Loyalist and Patriot militias. He was dismayed in August to learn that Britain was granting independence to the United States. Angrily he attempted to resign his commission, but was persuaded to remain and effect the Loyalist and troop withdrawals. In the next few months, he dispatched 30,000 troops and 27,000 refugees from America. Many of the refugees went to Canada. He departed New York on 5 December 1783.


In London, Carleton was feted by the king and politicians, and his advice was sought on how to accommodate the large influx of Loyalists into Canada. Following his suggestions, new provinces were created and a new office of governor-general was established. Baron Sydney, secretary of state for home affairs, wanted to appoint Carleton to the new post, but Carleton agreed to accept only if he were given a barony in return. After months of resistance, Sydney relented in September 1785. On 21 April 1786 Carleton was created first baron of Dorchester, and on 23 October he arrived in Quebec.

Carleton's second administration was not as successful as his first, for he was burdened with problems beyond his, or perhaps anyone's, ability to master. He continued to advocate the interests of the old French inhabitants, but he also sympathized with the new Loyalist community. Finally in 1791 he supported Parliament's division of Quebec into Lower Canada, largely French-speaking, and Upper Canada, mostly English-speaking. On leave in England from 1791 to 1793, he was promoted general on 12 October 1793.

Back in Quebec, Dorchester (as Carleton was now called) dealt successfully with problems caused by the French Revolution. He was less successful in his relations with John Graves Simcoe, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada. He seemed to go out of his way to frustrate and anger Simcoe, his able subordinate, during the next few years. He also aggravated diplomatic and military tensions between Britain and the United States. Adopting a condescending and truculent tone toward the United States in 1794, he appeared to be trying to provoke an incident between Americans and Britain's Indian allies in the Northwest Territory. When the American government complained to London, Dorchester was mildly scolded by Thomas Dundas, the home secretary. Angrily, Dorchester requested permission to resign, and in May 1796 Robert Prescott replaced him. Dorchester sailed for England on 9 July, but was shipwrecked on Île de Anticosti, near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. No one was killed or injured. Resuming his voyage, he reached home on 19 September.


In his final years, Dorchester lived the life of a country gentleman, keeping up his interest in things military. In 1790 he had been appointed colonel of the Fifteenth Dragoons. On 18 March 1801 he became colonel of the Seventeenth Light Dragoons, and on 14 August 1803 colonel of the Fourth Dragoons. Upon his death on 10 November 1808, his wife carried out his wish to destroy all his personal papers.

A man of stern rectitude, Dorchester was intensely loyal to King and country. He vindicated the trust of his many supporters by performing bravely and excellently as a soldier. He also was a capable administrator, and as governor of Canada he laid the groundwork for a New French Canadian-Loyalist immigrant polity in British North America. Although he seemed to lose his grip on government in the 1780s, nevertheless his policies became a model for other British imperial governors. He was one of the great soldier-statesmen of early British Canada.

SEE ALSO Arnold, Benedict.


Bowler, R. Arthur. "Sir Guy Carleton and the Canadian Campaign of 1776 in Canada." Canadian Historical Review 55 (1974): 131-154.

Bradley, Arthur G. Sir Guy Carleton (Lord Dorchester). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1907.

Burt, Alfred L. Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester, 1724–1808. Rev. ed. Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association, 1968.

Lawson, Philip. The Imperial Challenge: Quebec and Britain in the Age of the American Revolution. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1989.

Leroy, Perry Eugene. Sir Guy Carleton as a Military Leader During the American Invasion and Repulse in Canada, 1775–1776. 2 vols. Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State Univesity, 1960.

Neatby, Helen. Quebec: The Revolutionary Age, 1760–1791. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1966.

Nelson, Paul David. General Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester: Soldier-Statesman of Early British Canada. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000.

Smith, Paul H. "Sir Guy Carleton: Soldier-Statesman." In George Washington's Opponents: British Generals and Admirals in the American Revolution. Edited By George A. Billias. New York: Morrow, 1969.

                        revised by Paul David Nelson

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