Milice du district de Montréal
Origin and History
In July 1657, the Sieur Chomedey de Maisonneuve returned to Ville-Marie (present-day Montréal) after a sojourn of two years in France. On his arrival, the settlement already counted more than 200 inhabitants including some 160 able men. Maisonneuve invited the settlers to enlist for the defence of the town. He raised the Soldats de la Vierge composed of 63 men organised in 9 squads. Each of these volunteers assumed watch duty in turn at the outskirt of the cleared lands. Many of them gave their life for the defence of the colony. These soldiers formed the garrison of Ville-Marie.
On January 27 1663, the militia of the Soldats de la Sainte Famille de Jésus, Marie et Joseph (aka Milice de la Sainte-Famille) was established by Maisonneuve in Montréal, 140 settlers volunteered to serve. Twenty squads of 7 men each were thus formed. Each squad was placed under the command of a corporal elected among the soldiers. This new militia supported the garrison. It built redoubts at the outskirt of the cleared lands around Ville-Marie, thus making raids by the Iroquois Indians much more difficult.
In 1664, the incursions of the Iroquois Indians forced the general assembly of the militia of Montréal.
During the campaign of January 1665, Courcelle mentioned for the first time that the 110 men from the militia of Montréal, who had joined the French force at Sorel, wore blue capots (hooded coats). This militia company was under the command of Captain Charles Lemoyne; assisted by Lieutenants Picotté de Beleste, Charles d'Aillebout, Vincent Dumesnil et de St-André; with Abbot Jean Dollier as chaplain. The expedition consisted of 600 soldiers of Carignan-Salières Regiment and of 600 militiamen and Indians. Hurons and Algonquins Indians guided the expeditionary force.
In 1666, during a short campaign against the Iroquois, the militia of Montréal was supplemented by companies of well equipped volunteers: long dark blue hooded coat, breeches, moccasins, mitasses and mittens. During the following winter, 70 militiamen from Montréal took part in an unsuccessful expedition against the Iroquois.
In 1673, Governor Frontenac published an ordonnance organising all valid men (between 16 and 60 years old) of the various parishes into militia companies which would serve in wartime. Service thus became mandatory. The captain of each company was chosen by the settlers. Militia company assembled once a month for training.
In the summer of 1687, the militia of Montréal took part in a new expedition against the Iroquois. In 1691, 180 men of the militia of Montréal along with 120 Indian Allies repulsed an attack of a force led by Schuyler on Lake Champlain (August 10).
In 1696, Frontenac organised a large expedition against the Iroquois. The expeditionary force (2,200 men) consisted of 4 regular battalions and 4 militia battalions from various governments.
By 1711, the militia of Montréal could field 1,200 men.
In 1744, a French force of 60 regulars and 700 militiamen from unspecified origin (Québec, Trois-Rivières or Montréal) took part in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture Port-Royal in Acadia. In 1745, 1,300 militiamen from various part of Canada were sent to reinforce Louisbourg which finally surrendered on June 28 to a force of provincial from New England. In May 1746, Ramezay at the head of 680 militiamen from Québec, Trois-Rivières and Montréal marched towards Acadia to make raids in various locations. In February 1747, the vanguard of this column (240 men) under Coulon de Villiers, attacked the British garrison of Grandpré (present-day Horton) and forced them to surrender. Ramezay's column finally returned to Canada in June of the same year.
Service during the War
During the Seven Years' War, the militia of Canada were involved in numerous campaigns, sieges and battles. However, most sources don't specify the origin of the various militia units. It is therefore quite difficult to ascertain the exact role played by the militia of Montréal. However, the militia of Montréal, because of the geographical location of this town were probably involved in most campaigns on Lake Champlain and Ontario. Detachments of the militia of Montréal might have been present at the following campaigns and actions:
- operations on the Ohio River in 1754
- ambush on the Monongahela on July 9 1755
- expedition against Fort Bull in 1756
- operations on Lake Ontario in 1756
- operations on Lake Champlain in 1756
- expedition against Fort William Henry in 1757
- skirmish of Snow Shoes on March 13 1758
- Battle of Carillon on July 8 1758
However, it is certain that, in February and March 1757, at least 50 volunteers from the militia of Montréal took part in the winter raid against Fort William Henry.
As per a census, in January 1759, there were 6,405 men fit for militia duty in the Government of Montréal. On May 20, Governor Vaudreuil sent a letter to all captains of militia to instruct them to prepare their company for active duty. On May 29 and 30, the Chevalier de Lévis arrived at Québec with all 5 battalions of regulars along with the militia of the Government of Montréal to take part in the defence of Québec. In June, the militia of Montréal (about 4,200 men) was posted on the left wing in the entrenchments of Beauport. On July 31, the militia of Montréal took part in the combat of Beauport where the French repulsed Wolfe's landing attempt. Early in August, the Chevalier de Lévis was sent back to Montréal with 100 regulars and 700 militia. On September 13, at the Battle of Québec, battalions of the militia of Montréal were posted on the left and right wing. In mid October, Lévis sent part of the militia of Montréal to to Île-aux-Noix to reinforce Bourlamaque.
By March 1760, combined with the Milices du district de Trois-Rivières, the Montréal Militia contributed 500 men to the expedition against Québec (not withstanding the numerous militiamen incorporated into the French regular line infantry for this operation). From April 21 to 25, transport vessels gradually sailed from Montréal for Québec. Overall this militia then counted 287 men and 59 non-combatants for a total of 347 men. On April 28, this militia took part in the Battle of Sainte-Foy where it was deployed in the second line. Despite this victory, the French army had to retire towards Montréal when a British relief fleet arrived at Québec. The militia of Montréal was later among the troops who faced the British three pronged attack against Montréal. In mid August, La Reine Infanterie and Royal Roussillon Infanterie were sent to Saint-Jean under the command of M. de Roquemaure who was later reinforced with all the Milice du district de Montréal.
Militiamen had no uniforms. At the beginning of a campaign, they were supplied with a shirt, a hooded coat (capot), breeches, mitasses, moccasins and a blanket.
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This article contains text translated from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Bibaud, M.: Histoire du Canada, sous la domination française, Montréal: John Jones, 1837, pp. 314-315
- Tricoche, Georges: Les milices françaises et anglaises au Canada 1627-1900, Paris: Charles-Lavauzelle, pp. 10-54
Bertrand, Camille: Histoire de Montréal
N.B.: the section Service during the War is partly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.
Luc Bertrand for additional information provided for this unit