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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sir Guy Carleton.....

1st Baron Dorchester, was a native of Co. Tyrone in present-day Northern Ireland who served in the British military with distinction and eventually became the Governor of the Province of QuebecHe gained the grudging respect of the French population of Quebec by implementing the Quebec Act of 1774, upholding their religious freedom and traditional customs. Called the “man of a thousand eyes”, he was  in charge of repulsing the American assault on the city in 1775. When Montreal fell to the rebels, Carleton barely had time to sneak out of the city dressed in civilian attire.
    In the midst of the subsequent siege, a woman from the American camp was secretly sent into town with letters addressed to the merchants of the city, promising them many benefits if Quebec was immediately surrendered. She also had a letter for Carleton, demanding the immediate submission of the city. Needless to say, he didn’t leap at the opportunity, since he was in a secure, well-fortified position. Instead, she was locked up in jail for several days, and then unceremoniously thrown out of town. He then ordered all those residing in Quebec who were liable to do military duty should take part in the defense. If they refused, they and their families had four days to get out of town, or otherwise suffer the penalty as traitors to the state.
    Major Preston, the British commander of the garrison at St. John’s, had no choice but to surrender the fort to the Americans. The rebels, so often derided by the British as "savages" who had no respect for authority, treated him with all the honor and decorum appropriate for a man station. Meanwhile, the American Major Meig, next in command after Benedict Arnold at Quebec, made British Captain Law his prisoner in the morning; however a few hours later, after the fortunes of war turned in favor of the British, Law made Meig his prisoner. They both dined together with great courtesy and lived up to the ideals of noblesse oblige.
    Over the course of the siege, General Carleton intercepted the letters between a wealthy Frenchman from Montreal who had joined the rebels and his family. After the local regiment he had raised for Montgomery was defeated and the American attack repulsed, he was captured and brought before General the governor. Carleton, displaying a cold veneer, inquired, “Sir, when did you last hear from your family?” The Frenchman replied, “General, I have not heard from them these three months.” After a lengthened pause, observing the man’s intense anxiety, Carleton quietly inquired, “Which way do you choose to go home, by land or water? If you choose to go by water, you shall have my barge; if you choose to go by land, you shall have my coach.”

    The unexpected reprieve completely broke down the Frenchman’s inhibitions, and he fell at Carleton’s knees sobbing, “O general, you are too good! You are too good!” He took his close call to heart, and remained faithful to the British regime from then on. Carleton also showed mercy to his American prisoners, making this declaration:

    “Whereas I am informed that many of his majesty’s deluded subjects of the neighbouring provinces, laboring under wounds and divers disorders, are dispersed in the adjacent woods and parishes, and in danger of perishing for want of proper assistance, all captains and other officers of militia are hereby commanded to make diligent search for all such distressed persons, and afford them all the necessary relief, and convey them to the general hospital, where proper care shall be taken of them: all reasonable expenses which may be incurred in complying with this order, shall be paid by the receiver-general. And lest a consciousness of past offences should deter such miserable wretches from receiving that assistance which their distressed situation may require; I hereby make known to them, that as soon as their health is restored they shall have free liberty to return to their respective provinces.”

    Later on, he had some of the American prisoners brought before him in small companies and addressed them:
    “My lads, why did you come to disturb an honest man in his government that never did any harm to you in his life? I never invaded your property, nor sent a single soldier to distress you. Come, my boys, you are in a very distressing situation, and not able to go home with any comfort; I must provide you with shoes, stockings, and good warm waistcoats. I must give you some good victuals to carry you home. Take care, my lads, that you do not come here again, lest I should not treat you so kindly.”

   Sir Guy also had the American General Richard Montgomery given a simple but decent burial after the battle. His knee buckles, his aid-de-camp’s gold broach, and several other personal effects were even returned to the Americans by the British. Montgomery had been greatly admired because of his courage, skill, and gentle mannerisms, loved by the Americans and respected by the British as a worthy opponent. Dr. Smith of Philadelphia wrote of him: 

    “O though swift winged messenger of destruction, how didst thou triumph in that moment! The stroke that severed Montgomery from his army deprived them of more than a member. It reached the vitals, and struck the whole body with a temporary death. As when the forked lightening, darting through the forest, amidst the black tempests of night, rends some towering oak, and lays its honors in the dust, the inferior trees which it had long sheltered from the storm stand mournful around. So stood the astonished bands, over their fallen chief! Nor over him alone, but over others, in their prime of glory, prostrate by his side.

    Such example of magnanimity filled even adversaries with veneration and esteem. Forgetting the foes in the heroes, they gathered up their breathless remains, and committed them to kindred dust; with pious hands, “and funeral honors meet;” so may your own remains and particularly thine, O Carleton, be honored should it ever be your fate to fall in hostile fields! Or if, amid the various chances of war, your lot should be among the prisoners and the wounded, may you be distinguished with an ample return of that benevolence which you have shown to others! Such offices of humanity, softening the savage scenes of war, will entitle you to an honor which all the pride of conquest cannot bestow.”

    While General Carleton's later cautiousness would be derided by some of his fellow officers and London politicians, he was one of the few British officers to make it through the war with the Colonies with his reputation basically unscathed. Furthermore, beneath a somewhat gruff and dour-faced exterior, he had a strong attachment to justice and a deep sense duty to his people. He even refused to return African slaves liberated by the British during the war and refused to break his word to them, in spite of the complaints of American officials.

   Carleton did everything in his power to rescue the Loyalists from America, vowing to “remain on duty until every man, woman, and child who wants to leave the United States is safely moved to British soil.” He also helped to settle these Loyalists in Canada so they could start their lives anew, where the United Empire Loyalist identity became entrenched and thrived. The present-day descendants of these original loyalists still hold of the privilege of using a special loyalist coronet on their coat-of-arms and the post-nominal UE after their names. The following lines are a testimony to their tenacity, and the legacy of a brave and generous British officer and gentleman: 

There where the Loyalists came
And the houses of men were few,
Little was all their wealth,
And great were the hardships they knew,
But greater the hardy faith
They kept unflinching and fine,
And chose to be naught in the world
For the pride of a loyal line

Not drooping like poor refugees they came,
In exodus to our Canadian wilds,
But full of hearts and hope with heads erect,
And fearless eyes, victorious in defeat 

Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester

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