Life During the British Occupation

After Vaudreuil surrendered Montreal to the British in 1760, 65,000 French Catholics suddenly became subjects of the British King. The French habitants could not have been more different than the English. According to James Murray, Quebec's military governor in 1760, the French were a conquered yet dignified people—they were quiet, pliant, hard-working, and humble. By contrast Murray viewed English settlers recently arrived from the Thirteen Colonies with contempt. The Americans were hard-working but, as the governor saw it, they were also arrogant and over-bearing. They were especially outspoken when it came to demanding privileges entitled to conquerors.

Although the French-Indian War was over in North America by 1760, the Seven Years' War continued in Europe and Asia for another three years. Despite the fact that Britain wanted to assimilate the French as soon as possible this could not realistically be accomplished during wartime. Therefore, Britain temporarily introduced military rule in Quebec until such time that a more permanent form of civilian government could be set up. In the military rule system, the English governor had virtually absolute power in the colony. His will was law. The only political body capable of limiting his power was Westminster (English Parliament) back in London, England.

Murray likely wasn't appointed governor because of his military knowledge. Instead, it is more likely he was made governor because he spoke French fluently (useful for meaningful interaction with the seigneurs). He was a unique man among the British: for most English people it was policy to hate the French. Murray respected them. He insisted that British soldiers treat the French with great respect.


The main reason no attempt was made at establishing a more permanent form of government in Quebec between the years 1760-1763 was because there still existed an outside chance that the colony might be returned to France at the conclusion of the Seven Years' War. Military governors did not want to waste their time radically changing Quebec society if the colony was just going to revert to France.

Daily Life

In the early 1760s, New France became officially referred to as Quebec. Though conquered the habitants were by and large thankful for the peace that followed the British occupation. In particular, in 1763 the French were still dealing with the effects of Wolfe's terror tactics of three years before, i.e. Starvation and disease confronted the people everyday.

In terms of religion, the Roman Catholic Church's influence was at an all-time low. Many priests died during the Siege of Quebec. Worse still the bishop of New France had been killed; and without a bishop no new priests could be ordained. Britain, despite its pragmatic toleration of Catholicism, refused to allow Pope Clement XIII to appoint a new bishop for the colony.

With the noted exception of Governor Murray, the British did not trust the Canadiens. The French habitants were believed to be no different than the peasants of Ireland that gave England so much troubles. Consequently, the military government enacted a series of restrictions aimed at controlling the French:

  1. It was illegal for a Canadien to own a firearm.
  2. The coureurs des bois were no longer allowed to trade furs with the First Nations.
  3. French people could not be found out-of-doors past 9 pm.

Military rule had the desired effect, in that, life in the new English colony was orderly and peaceful. However, a more permanent form of government was required to establish long-term security. The opportunity to set up such a government came once the Seven Years' War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763).

A Question of Options

In 1763, Britain decreed that the Canadiens had a year to decide whether or not they wanted to become British subjects. If they refused to take an oath of loyalty they would be expelled like the Acadians had been in 1755. In the end, Britain hoped the French would just leave on their own. However, as it turned out only 2,000 habitants actually left the colony for France and/or Louisiana.

Change the background color by typing a color name and clicking Submit.





Ireland crowned with a Viking helmet...

My last name is living proof assimilation does not work. In fact, more often than not the assimilators became the assimilated:

William the Conqueror conquered the British Isles in 1066 AD. He wanted to assimilate the peoples of Ireland and England respectively. To do so he transplanted some of my ancestors from his native Normandy to Southern Ireland. My family's name prior to being moved was de Laine (which meant "of the wool"). Assumedly my ancestors were shepherds or they were literally made of wool...anyways, once my family became established in Ireland the name changed over time to "Delainey" (resembling the Irish spelled and sounding name Delaney).

Actually, I can trace one more step backwards in my family's evolution over time: it is quite likely my ancestors were only incidentally French, e.g. The word "Normandy" literally means "Kingdom of the North Men." In the 9th Century, the area was conquered and settled by Vikings and the region was later confirmed to them by treaty in the 10th Century. So technically it is possible my roots are in fact traceable to Scandinavia. The red hair of my second son and my own reddish hair (despite a shaved head) seem to make a strong case for Viking roots. Apparently the origins of the genetic trait of red hair is traceable to Scandinavia.

So, I suppose my Viking ancestors were likewise influenced by the Goths, Gauls, Frankish and/or Celtic peoples that lived in northwestern France prior to the arrival of the Vikings.

Since the majority of Canadiens did not emigrate as Westminster had hoped, a realistic and long-term policy with respect to the treatment of the French had to be decided upon. The British had four possible options:

  1. Deport the French to a different colony or back to France.
  2. Don't make any changes and allow the French Canadiens to continue business as usual.
  3. Aggressively assimilate the French by prohibiting their language, customs, laws and religion, and make them into British subjects.
  4. Reach a compromise with the French and allow them to keep some of their laws, ancient rights, etc.

Royal Proclamation

In 1763, Westminster passed the Royal Proclamation. The Proclamati on established a more permanent form of government for Quebec by granting it a colonial elected assembly. In theory, Britain hoped an assembly would attract democratic-minded settlers from the Thirteen Colonies to Quebec. In practice, very few Americans actually made their way to French colony.

The Americans were particularly unhappy with the Proclamation because it effectivelRoyal Proclamation (1763)y blocked them from settling west of the Proclamation Line of 1763 (see map to the right). England had good reason to prevent the Americans from settling the Ohio. Following France's defeat and their expulsion from the Great Lakes region, France's former Native allies banded together to resist the English, i.e. Pontiac's Rebellion broke out in the Great Lakes area completely de-stabilizing the region. If the Americans were allowed to settle the Ohio, etc. Britain would be confronted with the expensive and unattractive prospect of continual frontier warfare. Therefore, to appease the indigenous population britain kept the Thirteen Colonies out of the Ohio Valley but in so doing angered their Americans colonies.

In the end, Governor Murray did not enact all the provisions of the Proclamation. He avoided making changes that would threaten to destabilize Quebec. For example, the provision giving the French colony a representative assembly was never carried out. This is because, as previously mentioned, the expected wide-scale American immigration to Quebec never took place. Since the Canadiens had no experience with representative or democratic institutions, Murray resolved to keep the military government in place. The French did not oppose Murray's continuation of a military-style government. On the contrary, the French appeared to be content keeping the military government so long as their culture—language, religion and civil laws, etc.—were left alone. Ultimately, Murray wanted to secure the loyalty of the French population and in this he was successful.

For the time being the British appeared to be following a policy of tolerance and compromise towards Quebec. Yet, appearances can be deceiving. In reality, the British accommodated the French because they needed to guarantee stability in their new colony while they addressed the growing problems with the Thirteen Colonies.

Governor James Murray

In 1763, James Murray became Quebec's first peacetime governor. As governor, he appreciated Quebec would remain French in character well into the foreseeable future. Therefore, he implemented only those provisions of the Royal Proclamation that did not outright threaten to alienate the French and thereby destabilize Britain's newest colony:

Governor MurrayFor example, the Proclamation established the legal groundwork for the creation of an elected assembly for Quebec. Murray, however, refused to implement this change to government. He knew it would be dominated by the English minority and the Canadiens wouldn't tolerate it. Instead, Murray's colonial government was based on the idea of an appointed council.

The council was composed of influential, i.e. wealthy, etc. British and French citizens. Members of the council advised and helped the governor make policy. The creation of an appointed council did not sit so well with the English. They were the conquerors after all and they were not well-disposed to the idea of sharing power with the conquered. Also, settlers from America transplanted certain democratic tendencies that were completely contrary to the idea of an appointed council.

Although the Proclamation stated that British law would replace the existing French system, Murray allowed both French courts and civil laws to remain in force. In short, the governor established a two-tiered system whereby the British system applied to the English while the French system to the habitants. Further still, he guaranteed Catholics the right to be judges, lawyers, and jurors (which was in clear violation of the Proclamation).

Moreover, the Proclamation legally replaced the French seigniorial land holding system with the British approach, e.g. Citizens of Quebec could own their own land. Murray nonetheless did not abolish the seigniorial system (a fact the seigneurs appreciated because they retained their ancient landowning privileges).

On a personal note, Governor Murray wasn't happy in Quebec. Actually, his wife wasn't happy and by extension he couldn't be. She detested life in Canada and left the colony for England never to return. Likely Murray's greatest source of unhappiness was a result of his conciliatory approach to the French. His policies made friends of the French but enemies of the English merchant class of Montreal. As a consequence, he was recalled to England by Westminster to stand trial for his apparent failure to implement the Proclamation. He was eventually acquitted of all charges; nevertheless, he did not return to Quebec. (I wonder if he told his wife that he was back in England? Heh.)

A New Governor

Guy Carleton took over for Murray in 1768. He was intimately familiar with Murray's problems with the merchants. Though careful not to alienate the English minority, he adopted a similar policy of conciliation towards the French.

One of Carleton's first acts as governor was to dismiss members of the appointed council that were a little too friendly with the French. The British merchants of Montreal rejoiced. Finally, here was a governor that understood them and what it was to be British.

Despite Carleton's apparent love for all things British, he fast became an admirer of the habitants and their simple way of life. This admiration led him to support and protect French rights (and rites) from the interference of the vocal English minority, I.e. The English were still calling for an elected assembly but Carleton refused. Even though Westminster decreed such an assembly be created back in 1763, Carleton like Murray before him refused reasoning: "Barring a catastrophe too shocking to think of, this country must to the end of time be peopled by the Canadien race, who already have taken such a firm root that any new stock transplanted will be totally hid amongst them." In short, any government in Quebec would have to include (not exclude) the French.

The English of Quebec insisted they were being denied their rights as good subjects of the king. Carleton didn't buy it: he knew the English only wanted to create an assembly so they could use it as an instrument of self-interest and control.

Governors Murray and Carleton did much to preserve the French identity in Quebec. The habitants for their part were under no illusions. They knew full well that if a less conciliatory governor were appointed the Canadien majority would be at the mercy of the English minority. Fortunately, for the French trouble was a brewing in the Thirteen Colonies; and this trouble paid huge political dividends for the French: England needed to ensure French loyalty (or at the very least neutrality) if a war with America broke out; therefore, Westminster passed the Quebec Act (1774) guaranteeing the unique Canadien identity within the British Empire.

The Quebec Act (1774)

The Quebec Act was enacted at a time when the Thirteen Colonies were asking for fairer treatment from Britain. Some Americans went further and demanded outright independence. The British feared that this "independence fever" might spread to Quebec. To prevent this from occurring, Westminster pursued a policy of gaining support of French Canada in the approaching conflict.

The Quebec Act (1774) essentially continued where Murray and Carleton left off. Below are the most important provisions of the act taken directly from Douglas Baldwin's book Revolution, War, and the Loyalists, Page 24:

  1. Quebec would receive no representative assembly; that is, government would not be elected. Instead, the colony would be controlled by an appointed governor who himself would appoint wealthy French and English citizens to a council of advisors. They would make laws for the colony.
  2. British criminal law, with trial by jury, would replace French criminal law. French law would be applied to all civil matters, such as business and property disputes.
  3. The seigniorial system of land holding would be preserved. Seigneurs would continue to collect their rents. However, people could own private property, as in the British system, if they chose.
  4. Freedom of religious practice would be granted to both the Roman Catholics and Protestants. Catholics could be judges, lawyers, and jurors. The Roman Catholic church could collect tithes from its members.
  5. Quebec's boundaries were enlarged to include the Ohio Valley region.
  6. No white people would be allowed to settle in the lands designated for Aboriginal peoples.
Click here to view the study "Companion to the Reactions to the Quebec Act" which will help you prepare for your section end test.