Mark R. Anderson, ed., Teresa L. Meadows, trans. The Invasion of Canada by the Americans, 1775-1776: As Told Through Jean-Baptiste Badeaux's Three Rivers Journal and New York Captain William Goforth's Letters. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016. 254 pp. $80.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4384-6003-1.
Reviewed by Tim Leech (Ohio State University)
Published on H-War (October, 2017)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
The invasion of Canada by the nascent American military forces in the early months of the Revolutionary War frequently gets short shrift in the annals of military history, beyond accounts of Benedict Arnold leading his troops across the Maine wilderness and descriptions of the failed assault on Quebec City. Although largely ignored in the United States, this campaign and its subsequent defeat are among the formative events in establishing Canadian national identity. In recent years, historian Mark R. Anderson has made important contributions to recovering many dimensions of this oft-forgotten conflict. His 2016 book, The Invasion of Canada by the Americans, 1775-1776, is a recent entry in the long-standing historiographic tradition of publishing edited volumes of primary sources. In the nineteenth century, the outstanding collection of sources on the American Revolution was the multivolume American Archives, compiled and edited by Peter Force. Many sources are now available online, as well as edited volumes of papers by significant figures in the war such as American generals Nathanael Greene and Charles Lee. Collections of those who never achieved the rank of general are rarer, and particularly valuable because of the additional perspectives they provide on conflict. Anderson’s volume is especially helpful, because the sources it contains focus specifically on the time period of the invasion from the last months of 1775 through the first half of 1776.
The Invasion of Canada by the Americans contrasts two sources, one a series of letters from a American army captain, William Goforth, and the other the journal of a Canadian civilian, Jean-Baptiste Badeaux. Anderson is well qualified to provide insightful editorial comments for these sources. As the author of The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony: America's War of Liberation in Canada, 1774-1776 (2013) he has delved deeply into the invasion that played a significant role in the opening months of the War of Independence. The two sources provide readers with the contrasting viewpoints of Goforth, a New York officer in the invading force, and Badeaux, a civilian who had to endure the American invasion. Badeaux was notary for the town of Trois Riveres, an office that in Quebec was similar to that of justice of the peace in eighteenth-century Anglo-phone colonies. Teresa Meadows translated his French journal for this volume.
It is the juxtaposition of the perspectives and experiences of a rear-echelon participant in a foreign invasion force and a low-level civil servant in the home front during an enemy occupation that makes this collection so interesting. Often, edited collections of sources instead concentrate on the papers of one individual or those who were all on the same side. Goforth and Badeaux, though both based in Trois Riveres during the occupation, unfortunately do not record their impressions of one another in their documents. Goforth’s letters, primarily written to his political patron Alexander McDougall, illustrate the struggles that the Americans faced in attempting to occupy territory where both the local population and the weather became increasingly hostile. They suffered from shortages of vital supplies and were eventually driven out of Canada by a combined force of British reinforcements, French-speaking inhabitants, and Native allies. In reading Goforth’s letters, excerpts from McDougall’s replies would have provided additional helpful context by giving readers access to both halves of the conversation. The first portion of Badeaux’s journal was written at the time of the events he documents, but in later entries he clearly wrote or fleshed them out after the fact. Anderson briefly points this out in his editorial comments, but it should be more strongly emphasized especially given that Badeaux’s protestations of affection for the British Empire were likely added when it was already clear that the British were going to come out on top in the Canadian theater of the war.
Badeaux’s efforts to maintain order and peaceable relations between the locals and the occupying forces raise interesting questions that pose perennial challenges for civilian officials in the face of a foreign invasion: How much cooperation with a foreign occupier is appropriate to ensure both individual and community survival? And when does cooperation stray over the line into active collaboration with the enemy? Exploring these timeless questions makes this book valuable to those who do not necessarily specialize in eighteenth-century history.
Anderson’s edited volume is useful for undergraduates and others who are looking for opportunities to work with primary sources but do not have the means for research trips to archives. It is also useful as an introduction to the sources for more serious scholars, who will want to view the original documents if they are conducting in-depth research on closely related subjects. The book, with its documentation of the daily struggles of its two characters, provides an opportunity to consider the invasion of Canada as a socially disruptive event—serving as a useful contrast and complement to more traditional military histories with their focus on engagements and the strategic considerations that drove them.
. Peter Force, ed., American Archives: Consisting of a Collection of Authentick Records, State Papers, Debates, and Letters and Other Notices of Public Affairs, the Whole Forming a Documentary History of the Origin and Progress of the North American Colonies; of the Causes and Accomplishment of the American Revolution, and of the Constitution of Government for the United States, to the Final Ratification Thereof, 9 vols. (Washington, DC: Peter Force, 1837-53).
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Tim Leech. Review of Anderson, Mark R., ed.; Meadows, Teresa L., trans., The Invasion of Canada by the Americans, 1775-1776: As Told Through Jean-Baptiste Badeaux's Three Rivers Journal and New York Captain William Goforth's Letters.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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