Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester

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General The Right Honourable
The Lord Dorchester
General-Sir-Guy-Carleton 2.jpg
21st Governor of the Province of Quebec
In office
Monarch George III
Preceded by James Murray
Succeeded by Sir Frederick Haldimand
23rd Governor General of The Canadas
In office
Monarch George III
Preceded by Sir Frederick Haldimand
Succeeded by Robert Prescott
Personal details
Born (1724-09-03)3 September 1724
Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland
Died 10 November 1808(1808-11-10) (aged 84)
Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
Awards Knight of the Order of the Bath
Military service
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1742–1796
Rank Major-General
Commands America
The Canadas
Battles/wars War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
American War of Independence

Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester, KB (3 September 1724 – 10 November 1808), known between 1776 and 1786 as Sir Guy Carleton, was an Anglo-Irish soldier and administrator. He twice served as Governor of the Province of Quebec, from 1768 to 1778, concurrently serving as Governor General of British North America in that time, and again from 1785 to 1795.[1] The title Baron Dorchester was created on 21 August 1786.

He commanded British troops in the American War of Independence, first leading the defence of Quebec during the 1775 rebel invasion and the 1776 counteroffensive that drove the rebels from the province. In 1782 and 1783 he led as the commander-in-chief of all British forces in North America. In this capacity he was notable for carrying out the Crown's promise of freedom to slaves who joined the British, and he oversaw the evacuation of British forces, Loyalists and more than 3,000 freedmen from New York in 1783 to transport them to a British colony.

The military and political career of his younger brother, Thomas Carleton, was interwoven with his own, and Thomas served under him in the Canadas.[2]

Early career

Guy Carleton was born to a Protestant military family that had lived in Ireland since the 17th century, and was one of two brothers (Thomas Carleton) that served in the British military. He also had a sister Connolly Crawford. When he was fourteen his father, Christopher Carleton died, and his mother Catherine Carleton remarried Reverend Thomas Skelton. He received a limited education.[3]

In 1742, at the age of seventeen, Carleton was commissioned as an Ensign into the 25th Regiment of Foot, in which in 1745 he was promoted Lieutenant. During this period he became a friend of James Wolfe; he may have served with Wolfe at the Battle of Culloden during the Jacobite Rebellion.[4] Two of his brothers, William and Thomas, also joined the British army.

In 1740 the War of the Austrian Succession had broken out in Europe. Despite British troops having been engaged on the European Continent since 1742, it was not until 1747 that Carleton and his regiment were despatched to Flanders. They fought the French, but were unable to prevent the Fall of Bergen-op-Zoom, a major Dutch fortress, and the war was brought to a halt by an armistice. In 1748 the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was signed and Carleton returned to Britain.[5] He was frustrated to still only be a Lieutenant, and believed his opportunities of advancement would be limited with the end of the war.

In 1751 he joined the 1st Foot Guards and in 1752 was promoted to Captain. His career received a major boost when he was chosen, at the suggestion of Wolfe, to act as a guide to the Duke of Richmond during a tour of the battlefields of the recent war. Richmond would become an influential patron to Carleton.[6]

Bergen-op-Zoom where Guy Carleton first saw action in 1747. His son, George Carleton, would be killed in a later battle there.

Seven Years War


In 1757 was made a Lieutenant Colonel and served as part of the Army of Observation made up of German troops designed to protect Hanover from French invasion. The army was forced to retreat following the Battle of Hastenbeck and eventually concluded the Convention of Klosterzeven, taking them out of the war. After the Convention was signed Carleton returned to Britain. In 1758 he was made the Lieutenant Colonel of the newly formed 72nd Regiment of Foot. James Wolfe selected Carleton as his aide in the 1758 attack on Louisburg. King George II declined to make this appointment, possibly because of negative comments he made about the soldiers of Hanover during his service on the Continent.

For some time he was unable to gain active position, until he was sent back to Germany to serve as an aide-de-camp to Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick.[7]


Drawing by a soldier of Wolfe's army depicting the easy climbing of Wolfe's soldiers

In December 1758 Wolfe, now a Major General was given command of the upcoming campaign against the city of Quebec, and he selected Carleton as his quarter-master general. King George refused to make this appointment also until Lord Ligonier talked to the king about the matter and the king changed his mind.[8] When Lieutenant-Colonel Carleton arrived in Halifax he assumed command of six hundred grenadiers. He was with the British forces when they arrived at Quebec in June 1759. Carleton was responsible for the provisioning of the army and also acting as an engineer supervising the placement of cannon. Carleton received a head wound during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and he returned to England after the battle in October 1759.

France and Havana

On 29 March 1761, as the lieutenant colonel of 72nd Regiment of Foot he took part in the attack on Belle Île, an island of the coast of the northern part of the Bay of Biscay, 10 miles (16 km) off the coast of France. Carleton led an attack on the French, but was seriously wounded and prevented from taking any further part in the fighting. After four weeks of fighting, the British gained complete control of the island.

He was made colonel in 1762 and took part in the British expedition against Cuba, which also included Richard Montgomery, who went on to oppose him in 1775. On 22 July, he was wounded leading an attack on a Spanish outpost.

In 1764 he transferred to the 93rd Regiment of Foot.

Governor of Quebec

Sir Guy Carleton

On 7 April 1766, Carleton was named acting Lieutenant Governor and Administrator of Quebec with James Murray officially in charge. He arrived in Quebec on 22 September 1766. As Carleton had no experience in public affairs and came from a politically insignificant family, his appointment is unusual and was possibly a surprise to him.[9] One connection may have been due to the Duke of Richmond, who in 1766 been made Secretary of State for the North American colonies. Fourteen years earlier, Carleton had tutored the Duke. The Duke was the colonel of the 72nd Regiment of Foot, while Carleton was its Lieutenant Colonel. He appointed Carleton as commander-in-chief of all troops stationed in Quebec.

The government consisted of a Governor, a council, and an assembly. The governor could veto any action of the council, but London had also given Carleton instructions that all of his actions required the approval of the council. Most officials of the province at this time did not receive a salary and received their income through fees they charged for their services. Carleton tried to replace this system with one in which the officials received a regular salary, but this position was never supported in London. When Carleton renounced his own fees, Murray was furious.

After Murray resigned his position, Carleton was appointed Captain General and Governor-in-Chief on 12 April 1768. Carleton took the oath of office on 1 November 1768. On 9 August 1770 he sailed for England for what he thought was a few months' consultation on issues related to the integration of Quebec into the British system. During his absence, Hector Theophilus de Cramahé, the lieutenant governor, ran the provincial government, with the aid of the first chief justice, William Hey, and the Attorney-General, Francis Maseres. The British merchants of Quebec, many of whom had become disaffected to the colonial administration under Murray, were, at least initially, of good will. The merchants would later be agent for e.g. the Quebec Act of 1774 (14 Geo. III, c.83) and finally the partition of the two Canadas in the Constitutional Act of 1791 (31 Geo. III, c.31).[10]

Marriage and family

On 22 May 1772, at the age of nearly 48, Carleton married Lady Maria Howard.[11] Twenty-nine years his junior, she was the daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Effingham. Although the Barony is now extinct, they had issue:[12]

Later career

Carleton was promoted to Major-General on 25 May 1772. While he was in London, the Parliament passed the Quebec Act of 1774, based upon his recommendations. It determined how the province was to be administered and was part of a continuing effort to respect some French traditions while ensuring rights of citizens as understood by the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Carleton and Maria returned to Quebec on 18 September 1774, where he began implementing the provisions of the act. While the clergy and the seigneurs (landowners) were happy with provisions favorable to them, British merchants and migrants from the Thirteen Colonies objected to a number of the provisions, which they thought were undemocratic and pro-Catholic. Many of the habitants were unhappy with the provisions reinstating the tithe in support of the Catholic Church, as well as seigneurial obligations, such as the corvée (a labor requirement).

In late 1774, the First Continental Congress sent letters to Montreal denouncing the Quebec Act for being undemocratic and for promoting Catholicism by allowing Catholics to hold civil service positions and reinstating the tithe. John Brown, an agent for the Boston Committee of Correspondence, arrived in Montreal in early 1775 as part of an effort to persuade citizens to send delegates to the Second Continental Congress, scheduled to meet in May 1775. Carleton, while aware of this activity, did nothing to prevent it, beyond discouraging publication of the Congressional letter in the province's only newspaper.

American War of Independence

Defence of Canada

Canadian-British forces repel American rebels during the Battle of Quebec.

Carleton received notice of the start of the rebellion in May 1775, soon followed by the news of the rebel capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point, and the raid on Fort Saint-Jean. As he had previously sent two of his regiments to Boston, he had only about 800 regular soldiers left in Quebec. His attempts to raise a militia met with limited success at first, as neither the ethnic French nor the English residents were willing to join. Area Indians were willing to fight on the British side, and the Crown wanted them to do so, but Carleton turned their offer down because he feared the Indians attacking non-combatants. For the same reason, he limited Guy Johnson and his Iroquois allies, who had come to Quebec from New York, to operating only in Quebec.

During the summer of 1775, Carleton directed the preparation of provincial defences, which were focused on Fort Saint-Jean. In September, the Continental Army began its invasion and besieged the fort. When it fell in November, Carleton was forced to flee from Montreal to Quebec City, escaping capture by disguising himself as a commoner.

In December 1775 he directed the city's defences in the Battle of Quebec and the ensuing siege, which was broken by the arrival of British troops in May 1776 under command of John Burgoyne, who was appointed Second-in-Command. Carleton's younger brother Thomas was part of the relief effort.

Guy Carleton launched a counteroffensive against the rebels, which included repelling an attempted attack on Trois-Rivières. In June 1776, he was appointed a Knight of the Bath.

The next month Carleton commanded British naval forces on the Richelieu River, culminating in the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in October 1776 against a rebel fleet led by General Benedict Arnold. The British, with a significantly superior fleet, won a decisive victory, destroying or capturing most of the rebel fleet, but the delay prevented Carleton from continuing on to capture Fort Ticonderoga that year. His brother Thomas and nephew Christopher both served on his staff during the campaign. The morning following the battle, a small island in Lake Champlain was named Carleton's Prize, perhaps to Carleton's embarrassment at the time.

In 1777, command of the major northern expedition to divide the rebel colonies was given to General Burgoyne. Upset that he had not been given its command, Carleton asked to be recalled. He was replaced as governor and military commander of Quebec in 1778 by Frederick Haldimand,[14] and returned to England. In 1780 he was appointed by Prime Minister Lord North to a commission investigating public finances. This post he held until 1782, when General Sir Henry Clinton was recalled in the aftermath of the 1781 surrender at Yorktown. Carleton was appointed to replace Clinton as a military commander-in-chief of the war effort.

Evacuation of New York

In August 1783, Carleton was informed that Great Britain would grant the United States its independence. With his exit from New York imminent, Carleton asked to be relieved of his command. With this news, Loyalists began an exodus from the Thirteen Colonies and Carleton did his best to have them resettled outside the United States.

At a meeting with George Washington, among others, to arrange for the implementation of those parts of the Treaty of Paris relating to the evacuation of New York City, then commanded by Carleton and still occupied by the British Army, many Loyalists and former slaves, Carleton refused to deliver over the human property to the Americans at the time of the British evacuation. Instead, he proposed a registry so that "the owners might eventually be paid for the slaves who were entitled to their freedom by British Proclamation and promises."

Sir Guy noted that nothing could be changed in any Articles that were inconsistent with prior policies or National Honour. He added that the only mode was to pay for the Negroes, in which case justice was done to all, the former slaves and the owners. Carleton said that it would be a breach of faith not to honour the British policy of liberty to the Negro and declared that if removing them proved to be an infraction of the treaty, then compensation would have to be paid by the British government. To provide for such a contingency, he had a register kept of all Negroes who left, called the Book of Negroes, entering their names, ages, occupations, and names of their former masters. The Americans agreed to this, but as far as can be determined, the Crown never paid compensation.[15] The British transported about 3,000 freedmen and other Loyalists to Nova Scotia for resettlement. As the colony struggled, some of the freedmen later chose in the early 1790s to go to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where the British set up a new colony, which included the Black Poor from London.

Washington disagreed with Sir Guy’s actions and wrote: "…the measure is totally different from the letter and spirit of the Treaty but waiving the specialty of the point, leaving this decision to our respective Sovereigns I find it my duty to signify my readiness in conjunction with you to enter into agreements, or take any measures which may be deemed expedient to prevent the future carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American people."[16]

On 28 November, the evacuation was finished, and Carleton returned to England. John Campbell of Strachur succeeded him as Commander-in-Chief, North America, although the post was then much reduced in scope.

Post-war years

Upon his return to England Carleton recommended the creation of a position of Governor General of all the provinces in British North America. Instead he was appointed "Governor-in-chief", with simultaneous appointments as governor of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and St. John's Island (present-day Prince Edward Island). He arrived in Quebec on 23 October 1786. His position as Governor-in-chief was mostly ignored. He found quickly that his authority in any of the provinces other than Quebec was effective only while he was present in person.

He was raised to the Peerage in August 1786 as Lord Dorchester, Baron of Dorchester in the County of Oxford.

The Constitutional Act of 1791 split the large territory of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada, corresponding roughly to areas settled by ethnic British and ethnic French, respectively. Sir Alured Clarke was named as the lieutenant governor of Lower Canada and John Graves Simcoe the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. In August 1791 Carleton left for Britain and on 7 February 1792 took his seat in the House of Lords. He left for Canada again on 18 August 1793 to resume his duties there. His replacement, Robert Prescott, arrived in May 1796. On 9 July 1796 Carleton sailed from Canada to Britain, never to return.

In retirement Carleton lived mostly at Greywell Hill, adjoining Nately Scures, in Hampshire. After about 1805 he moved to Stubbings House at Burchett's Green, near Maidenhead, in Berkshire. On 10 November 1808, he died suddenly at Stubbings. He was buried in the parish church of St Swithun's, Nately Scures.

Honours and legacy

Alfred Laliberté's Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester sculpture in front of Parliament Building (Quebec)

He was honoured by numerous places and educational institutions named for him:

Historic plaque Fort-Saint-Jean 1926

See also


  1. "Canadian Encyclopedia". Historica Foundation, Toronto. 2011< Retrieved 31 Jan 2011> Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Nelson p.18-19
  3. Nelson p.17
  4. Wrong, p. 224
  5. Nelson p.18-19
  6. Nelson p.19
  7. Nelson p.20-21
  8. Nelson p.22
  9. Wrong p.225
  10. Browne
  11. "Maria Howard"
  12. "St Swithun Nately Scures: Guy Carleton 1st Baron Dorchester KB"
  13. Family: John Orde/Frances Carleton (F90265)
  14. The London Gazette: no. 11867. p. 1. 18–21 April 1778.
  15. Thomas W. Smith "The Slave in Canada," "Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, X. (1896-98), p. 22, n. 1,
  16. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, Vol. 26, 1 January 1783 – 10 June 1783. Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office.
  17. Map of "Wolfe Island" (1878, The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project), with Carleton Island to its South, and Simcoe (then Gage) Island to its North. Amherst Island is off-page to the North-West, while Howe Island is downstream to the North-East.
  18. "Wolfe celebrations set for 2009" 22 Sep 2008


  • Reynolds, Paul R., Guy Carleton, A Biography, 1980, ISBN 0-7715-9300-7
  • Billias, George Athan, Editor, George Washington's Opponents, William Marrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1969, 103–135.
  • Nelson, Paul David. General Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester: Soldier-Statesman of Early British Canada. Associated University Presses, 2000.
  • Wrong, George M. Canada and the American Revolution. New York, 1968.
  • Browne, G. P. (1983). "Carleton, Guy, 1st Baron Dorchester". In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. V (1801–1820) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
James Murray
Governor of the Province of Quebec
Succeeded by
Sir Frederick Haldimand
Preceded by
Governor-General of The Canadas
Succeeded by
Robert Prescott
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Henry Clinton
Commander-in-Chief, North America
Succeeded by
John Campbell, of Strachur
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Dorchester
Succeeded by
Arthur Carleton