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 organized in 9 squads. Each squad was directed to elect from among its number a corporal as its leader. 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'Ailleboust, 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.
On January 10, 1666, de Courcelles marched from Sillery with about 100 volunteers from the militia of Québec. At Trois-Rivières, he was joined by 80 more from that settlement and at Montréal by another party of 70 under the command of Charles Le Moyne. Nearly all of these were experienced frontiersmen, accustomed to make long journeys on snow-shoes, and well trained in the warfare of the woods by frequent encounters with the Indians. Consequently, de Courcelles gave them the post of honour, placing them in the advanced guard, when advancing, and in the rear guard while retiring, evincing great reliance upon these auxiliaries whom he familiarly called ""his blue caps.” Detachments from the garrisons of regular soldiers at Trois-Rivières, Montréal and the forts along the Richelieu, swelled the strength of the column to some 550. On January 30, de Courcelles marched with this force from Fort Sainte-Thérèse. After advancing to the vicinity of Albany, he learned to his great surprise that the province of New Holland had fallen into the hands of the English, and as the snow was deep and the weather unfavourable, he decided to abandon his expedition and returned to Montréal early in March. In September, de Tracy personally led an expedition (600 regulars, 600 militia and 100 “domiciled” Indians against the Iroquois. During this 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. The large detachment of Canadian militia showed such remarkable endurance, hardihood and resourcefulness that the regulars hailed them as worthy comrades. During the following winter, 70 militiamen from Montréal took part in an unsuccessful expedition against the Iroquois.
In 1672, very soon after his arrival at Quebec, Governor Frontenac asked for a body of regular troops, but he was told that the war with the Dutch Republic made it impossible to comply with his request and advised to organize and exercise the inhabitants. He took immediate measures to do this by enrolling them in companies and appointing officers. Militia took part in the establishment of Fort Frontenac (present-day Kingston) on Lake Ontario.
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. Militia companies were also made responsible for the maintenance of roads and bridges, the service of legal writs, and the conveyance of letters and despatches.
In 1683, the settlements were divided into 82 parishes. Captains of the militia were appointed in each parish with subalterns and sergeants. In 1685, the militia of the colony assembled at Montréal and, including the troops that had recently arrived, the governor found himself in command of 1,200 men of whom 350 were Indians. On June 11, 1687, Denonville left Montréal for Cataraqui accompanied by 830 regulars, nearly 1,000 militia and 300 Indians residing in the colony. He destroyed the principal town of the Senecas and three other villages. On his return to Montréal, Denonville prepared a report in which he warmly praised the militia for their services. In 1690, militia from Montréal took part in the raid on Shenectady. The Canadian militia were also instrumental in repulsing the amphibious expedition sent against Québec. They also took part in the victorious combat of La Prairie. 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 August, Frontenac brought back 300 militia from Québec to support those defending Montréal. The same year, militia from Montréal, along with Troupes de la Marine, defeated an Iroquois party at Long-Sault.
In January 1693, a force consisting of 100 Troupes de la Marine, 200 Indians and more 400 young Canadian volunteers, was assembled at Montreal for an expedition against Mohawk villages. All captured villages were destroyed and the expedition began its retreat with 300 prisoners but was closely pursued by Schuyler with nearly 700 men. On March 17, it reached Montréal, completely exhausted. Parties of militia were constantly employed in conveying stores to Niagara, the Illinois, and Mackinac, or in making raids upon the British settlements on the frontiers of Acadia, in Newfoundland, and Hudson Bay.
In July 1696, Frontenac personally led a large expedition against the Onondaga Iroquois. The expeditionary force (2,200 men) consisted of 4 regular battalions and 4 militia battalions (for a total of 1,000 men) that from Montréal was under the command of d'Eschambault, crown attorney for that town. After devastating the territory of the Onondagas, the expedition returned to Montréal. On September 8, 1700, peace was finally signed with the Iroquois.
In 1708, during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13), 200 militia assembled at Montréal took part in an expedition against the village of Haverhill in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The militia and volunteers were commanded by Hertel de Rouville and Saint Ours des Chaillons. Early in January 1709, the greater part of the colonial troops were assembled at Montréal and the militia ordered to be in readiness to move on short notice. During the spring, de Ramezay, governor of Montréal, was ordered to march against a British force assembled on Lake Champlain with a body of 1,500 men among them being 600 militia, organized in six companies, commanded by de Rouville, Saint-Martin, des Jordis, de Sabrevois, de Ligneris and des Chaillons. After a small success, the French retired towards Montréal and the British soon abandoned their design and retired from Lake Champlain.
By 1711, the militia of Montréal could field 1,200 men. In 1713, the French inhabitants of Canada were reported to number 18,440 of whom 4,444 were males fit for military service between the ages of fourteen and sixty.
In 1723, M. de Beauharnois, governor of Canada, issued orders for the draft of a militia force to go to the relief of Louisiana. This force consisted of 440 men including some Indians, but most of the latter deserted on the march. A junction with the troops from Louisiana was effected at Fort Saint-Francois on the Mississippi, not far from the site of the present city of Memphis.
A census taken in 1744 showed a total of 4,647 men fit for military service in the district of Montréal.
In 1744, during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), 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 November 1745, 300 militia and 300 Indians under Marin set out from Fort St-Frédéric and attacked Saratoga. In May 1746, Ramezay at the head of 680 militiamen from Québec, Trois-Rivières and Montréal sailed from Québec in seven small ships under the orders of M. de Ramezay, for Minas Basin. Ramezay then retreated to Beaubassin, leaving Coulon de Villiers with 300 Canadiens at Minas to protect the Acadian population. In February 1747, 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.
In 1750, the Milice du Gouvernement de Montréal comprised
- urban militia: 12 infantry coys and 1 canonnier coy for a total of 64 officers, 41 sergeants and 570 soldiers
- rural militia: 67 infantry coys for a total of 251 officers, 179 sergeants and 4,127 men
Identification of a few commanders
Charles Le Moyne commanded a company of the militia of Montréal in the expeditions of 1666 and 1684.
At the end of the XVIIth Century, Jacques-Alexis Fleury Deschambault was colonel of the militia of Montréal. In the expedition of 1696, he commanded the militia battalion of Montréal.
In 1750, Jean-Baptiste Neveu (74 years old) was colonel of the Milice de Montréal.
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.
Most sources agree on the fact that militiamen had no uniforms. However, the work of the Historical Section of the General Staff (see the “References” section) states that, around 1657, the militia of each district adopted a distinctive colour. The militiamen of Montréal wore a long blue hooded coat, a blue cap and blue sash. According to the same source, this distinctive dress was retained among the habitants until the conquest.
Each militiaman had to provide his own musket, usually a hunting musket. Therefore, a wide variety of muskets were in use. In some cases militiamen who had no musket were provided with a musket from the royal arsenal, but they had to return their musket at the end of the campaign. Some times, militiamen improvised a kind of “plug bayonet” with a knife.
From 1744, shoes, shirts, mitasses (Indian style leggings) and other pieces of clothing were systematically distributed to militiamen participating in campaigns.
In 1757, each Canadien militiaman was issued with:
- for Summer:
- 1 capot or bougrine (hooded coat)
- 1 woollen cap
- 1 blanket
- 1 coverlet
- 2 cotton shirts
- 1 pair brayet (loincloth)
- 1 pair of mitasses (Indian style leggings)
- 2 skeins of thread
- 6 needles
- 1 awl
- 1 tinder-box
- 6 flints
- 1 hunting knife
- 1 comb
- 1 gun worm
- 1 hatchet
- 2 pairs of deerskin moccasins
- for Winter (in addition to the equipment supplied for Summer):
- 2 pairs of short stockings (socks)
- 2 pairs of mittens
- 1 waistcoat
- 2 folding knives
- 1/2 aune (approx. 60 cm) of blanket to make mitasses (Indian leggings)
- 2 pairs of deerskin shoes
- 1 greased deerskin
- 2 portage collars
- 1 toboggan
- 1 pair of snowshoes
- 1 bearskin rug (officers only)
N.B.: Curiously, breeches were not supplied, they had to be provided by the militiamen. This might be explained by the fact that the brayet and mitasses were considered more appropriate for long expedition in canoes.
Furthermore, by the time of the Seven Years’ War, each militiaman had an allocation of 1 pound of gunpowder; 2 pound of musketballs; and 1 pound of tobacco. One axe was provided for every two men; and one tarpaulin and one cooking boiler for every 4 men.
Equipment was usually allocated only for expeditions. Thus, militiamen garrisoning the various forts received no equipment. They had to buy their own clothing in the store of the fort…
Since 1745, militia were commanded by officers of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine. The dignitaries carrying charges in the militia as colonels, majors and captains seem to have taken no active part in the command of the field units issued from this same militia. They usually remained in their parish undertaking administrative tasks.
no information found
Urban militia had drummers.
Militia did not carry any colour.
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
- Historical Section of the General Staff: A history of the organization, development and services of the military and naval forces of Canada from the Peace of Paris in 1763, to the present time, Vol. 1 – The Local Forces of New France, p. 5-28, 34
- Tricoche, Georges: Les milices françaises et anglaises au Canada 1627-1900, Paris: Charles-Lavauzelle, pp. 10-54
Bertrand, Camille: Histoire de Montréal
Dechêne, Louise: Le Peuple, l’État et la Guerre au Canada sous le Régime français, Éditions du Boréal, 2008, pp. 129, 150, 230, 233, 237, 309, 322, 327, 339-341
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