The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812

Canada at War with France

French Canadian Reaction

Colonel John Nairne, La Malbaie Regiment, Lower Canada Sedentary Militia, circa 1795

Caption: Colonel John Nairne, La Malbaie Regiment, Lower Canada Sedentary Militia, circa 1795

The situation in France was causing great concern. The execution of Louis XVI shocked many European countries. On February 1, 1793, Great Britain, together with several other countries, declared war on the French Republic, dragging along all of its colonies in its wake. Canada was thus by force of circumstance at war with France.

The news of the King's death reached Quebec in the spring of 1793. It caused much grief among French Canadians, who, noted Philippe Aubert de Gaspé in his Mémoires, "for a long time after the Conquest kept affectionate memories of their French princes." "From that day on," he added, "I understood the horrors of the French Revolution. Upon learning the news, a feeling of deep sadness affected all the kind souls ... and the sorrow was widespread." 55 Some French citizens who had fled to Canada confirmed the horrors committed in France. These new rumours, added to those already circulating about invading Republicans with their guillotines, were hardly reassuring.

For the moment, however, it was the activities of one Edmond-Charles Genêt that were of the greatest interest to the British authorities in North America. This French ambassador to the United States was the author of an appeal to Canadians entitled Les Français libres à leurs frères du Canada [From the free French to their brothers in Canada], inviting them to "awaken from their slumber," to take up arms, to call their "Indian friends" to the rescue and to "rely on the support of their cousins, the Americans and the French," 56 to fight the British. This appeal secretly made the rounds of the towns and villages during the second half of 1793. In spite of the attractions it may have had, in terms of fine promises from the mother country, experience had taught the French Canadians not to place too much stock in illusions. The appeal was not the success that had been hoped for.