If the Battles of Lexington and Concord were “The Shot Heard Round the World”, then the Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold’s capture of Fort Ticonderoga in the summer of 1775 was the shock wave that shook the world. With its fall, Britain’s enemies: the Dutch, French and Spanish, all began to take the rebelling colonies seriously. The news caused King George III and the British Parliament to officially declare the Thirteen North American colonies “In Rebellion against The Crown”. Fort Ticonderoga was the gateway to Canada its capture left Canada open to invasion. Even worse, Canada was filled with mostly French speaking settlers and Indians who were hostile to the British Crown just ten years before. Moreover, the entire province of Quebec had but 800 English defenders. Most were at Fort St Jean, south of Montreal, with small 30-40 man garrisons at Trois-Rivieres, Montreal City, and Quebec City.
Lieutenant General George Washington wasted no time in exploiting this weakness and ordered Brigadier General Richard Montgomery to assemble a force to invade Canada. In August 1775, Montgomery did so with 2,000 New York and Connecticut militiamen, several hundred Canadian militia who wanted to make Canada a 14th rebellious colony, and Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys. Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, one of the victors at Ticonderoga, felt slighted that he wasn’t given command of the invasion so he left for Maine, then part of Massachusetts, to start his own invasion of Quebec (We will hear more of him later). Montgomery’s force entered Canada and began the Siege of Fort St Jean on 5 September, 1775. On 20 September, the impetuous Ethan Allen took fifty of his Green Mountain Boys and sixty Canadian militia to bypass the fort and seize Montreal in a surprise attack, then defended only by 30 British regulars. On 24 September, 1775, they landed at Longue Pointe on Montreal Island.
Unfortunately, Montreal was warned of Allen’s approach, and due to his rough reputation, its inhabitants thought that he had come to burn the city to the ground. The 30 British regulars were joined by 40 British Indian agents and Indians, and more than 200 Montreal militia determined to defend their homes from the Barbarian of Vermont. They attacked Allen’s small force the next morning and overwhelmed them. Pinned against the shore line and unable to escape, Ethan Allen was captured and would spend the next few years on prison ships in Great Britain. In an ironic twist of fate, it was his reputation that saved him from hanging: the British didn’t want to make him the first American martyr. Nonetheless, America lost one of its most competent and aggressive commanders in the early days of the War for Independence.
Whether or not the inhabitants of Montreal would have defended themselves with such fervor and in such numbers had another American commander been in charge is subject to much debate. The answer to that academic debate stopped mattering as soon as the first shot was fired: Ethan Allen’s defeat was the first time English and French speaking Canadians fought together against a common foe, and the shared pride in victory laid the seeds of Canadian nationalism, distinct from the American nationalism in the Thirteen British colonies to the south. The opportunity to bring Quebec into the American Revolution against the Crown was rapidly slipping away, and the Battle of Longue Point made that task exponentially harder.