This is the 1775-1776 journal of Captain William Humphrey, detailing the secret expedition to Quebec under the command of Colonel Benedict Arnold. The journal also captures the ensuing Battle of Quebec during which Captain Humphrey was taken prisoner. He continues his journal as a prisoner of war until he and his comrades were paroled.
Table of Contents
The transcription of this diary was produced from an 1880s-era family copy of the original journal. The photos on this page depict the handwritten family copy.
William Humphrey, born in 1752, served in Colonel Israel Angell’s Rhode Island Regiment during the American Revolutionary War. In September 1775, he set out on Colonel Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Quebec. The Second Continental Congress had authorized the invasion of Quebec on July 1775, amid growing concerns that the British would use the city as base for military movements into New York.
As the expedition was setting off, William recorded the initial entry in his journal. The first entry, written on September 9, reads:
Left Prospect Hill Fort in order to join the party going on a secret expedition under the command of Col. Benedict Arnold, consisting of two Battalions. One Commander Lieut. Col. Enos and the other by Lieut. Col. Green.
The journal gives in-depth descriptions of the entire journey to Quebec. On September 30, William wrote:
This day proceeded towards the aforesaid Falls through very rapid water. Here is the second carrying place. We found that the course of the river differed from the draft that we had seen. I carried my bateau across the island and encamped on the main land on the west side of the river. There is a new mill erected and the worst constructed I ever saw. The people call the place Canaan. A Canaan indeed for here is as good land as I ever saw. The timber is large. There is pine, oak, and hemlock. Last night it froze so hard as to freeze our wet clothes that we did not hi upon and the ice was as thick as window glass on the water that stood in a pail. The land is I think very fine and will produce very fine grain of any kind in abundance. The people here are very courteous and strictly adhered to the cause of liberty. But they ask a prodigious price for their produce. Their provisions are chiefly poultry and moose and deer meat salted and dried. Here they catch in abundance salmon. The cataracts are not so high nor so rapid as those at the forts but being very narrow causes the water below them to run very swift. The carrying is difficult because the land is high. We had to carry our boats, provisions and baggage.
The journey was rough and ran into numerous issues along the way. Provisions were often hard to come by. On November 2, William recorded:
This day we proceeded on our way through much fatigue sixteen miles. It is an astonishing thing to see almost every man without any sustenance but cold water. This you must think is weakening rather than strengthening. Here a boy returned and tells us that there was provision within three miles of us. I saw several when they came to see the provision shed tears. They were so much overjoyed at the sight of relief.
As the expedition neared enemy territory, minor engagement began to occur. On November 13th, boats were fired upon as the forces began to cross the St. Lawrence River:
This day continued fixing ladders for the above said purpose. Received some favorable accounts from Gen. Montgomery. In the afternoon a council of war was held wherein it was resolved to cross the river this night. It was a calm moonlight night and cold. At three o’clock in the morning the hunter boats rowed down. Was held by our people but bringing too she was fired upon and it was thought that some of the men were killed or wounded for there was a deal of hollering in her.
On November 19th, intelligence began to arrive from Quebec:
This day relieved guard as usual. Sent boats across the river in the night and transported some men and flour. Intelligence came from Quebec of their strength which by the best accounts that we can get is about eight or nine hundred men. We likewise received intelligence that they had discovered our strength both in men, ammunition, of which we are very scant not having at this time more than five rounds per man, and it was said that they were preparing to sally out upon us with seven fieldpieces to cut off our retreat if possible, at which time there was a frigate went up the river, which made us suspect that the news was true. A council of war called and orders that three days provisions be delivered out and to hold ourselves in readiness to march at a moment’s warning. About three o’clock set out for Pointe-aux-Trembles.
In an entry dated December 30 and 31, likely written the day after, William gives his description of the Battle of Quebec:
This day the enemy kept up a smart fire all day upon St. Rocks but did little or no damage. This evening about ten o’clock received orders that it was the General’s determination to storm the city of Quebec, then we ordered our men to get their arms in readiness to go and storm it. It was very dark and snowed.
The plan of executing design is as follows. General Montgomery with the York troops to proceed round Cape Diamond to a place by the name of the Potash, and make his attack there. Col. Livingston with a party of Canadians to make a false attack upon Cape Diamond and St. John’s gate. An advanced party of twenty-five men to proceed to Drummond’s wharf. Col. Arnold’s detachment to attack the lower town in the following order. Capt. Morgan’s company in the front., the front commanded by Col. Arnold and Lieut. Col. Greene. Next Capt. Lamb of Artillery would fieldpiece Capt. Dearborn, Capt. Topham, and Capt. Thayer’s Company. Capt. Ward and Major Biglow in the center. Capt. Henrich, Capt. Smith, Goodrich, and Hubbard and Major Megs in the rear.
We were to receive a signal by three sky rockets when to attack but, not observing them, we were about one half hour too late. Capt. Dearborn’s company, on account of being quartered on the other side of Charles River and the tide being high, not coming up; however, we proceeded without them to drive up the rear.
We found and took the guard. The Capt. was drunk and not able to stand on his legs without assistance which I think a very scandalous action for any gentleman, more especially on guard. They fired very briskly upon us. We passed along the street and they killed and wounded a number of our men. Among the rest that were wounded was Capt. Hubbard, who afterwards died in the general hospital. After we had gained the first barracks, we sallied our men and tried to scale the second barrier and, not withstanding their utmost efforts, we got our ladders up, and were obliged to retreat, our guns being wet so that not one in ten would fire them.
We now concluded to retreat which we did to the first barrier that we had taken, and when we came there we found we could not retreat without losing all our men, or at least the most of them. Of our party there were killed Lieut. Humphrey and Lieut. Cooper together with Capt. Henrich with a number of privates, and in Gen. Montgomery’s party the brave Gen. Montgomery, his aide-de-camp McParson, Capt. Cheeseman, and some privates.
Col. Campbell then took command and ordered them to retreat so that the force of the garrison came upon us. Capt. Lamb among the rest was wounded. There was no possibility of our retreating. They promising us good quarters, we surrendered ourselves. Col. Arnold being wounded in the front of the action was carried off to the general hospital. This after a long and tedious march. I having been unfortunate enough to become a prisoner. Hence you may see the power of fortune; being in danger of starving in the woods and in danger of drowning in the river where some of our men died. Yet fortune was kind enough to save me from either starving or drowning, to bring me to this place to be made a prisoner, which I think to be no great favor. Now you may see that in fortune there is nothing solid, not permanent in her greatest favors, for after the very moment of victory we have the most to fear.
The officers killed and wounded attempting to storm Quebec.
General Richard Montgomery killed
Capt. Cheeseman “
Capt. Henrich “
Aid-de-camp McParsons “
Lieut. Humphrey “
Lieut. Cooper “
Wounded Capt. Hubbard who died
As to the men, privates, I can give no account of how many were killed or wounded. But let there be as many as there will. In my opinion they have died in a glorious cause and every man that’s. I was carried off after my resigning myself prisoner to the main guard where I dined in the afternoon. I, among the others that were taken, was carried to the seminary where they provided for us straw beds, mattresses and blankets which made our lodgings very comfortable.
William kept journaling for the first several days of confinement, including this entry on January 1, 1776:
Here I spent a very solitary New Year. 1776. I wish it lay in my power to make my confinement more agreeable. Every thinking man must know now that it cannot be very agreeable to any person to be in prison or to be a prisoner etc.
The last entry until May 1776 was made on January 5. After that, William notes in May that his pen and ink had been taken from him by the general’s orders. He continues the journal on May 7, 1776, still in captivity. For the next several months, William records numerous insights from confinement, including war reports that are received and ships that are sighted in the nearby river.
On several occasions, there are indications that parole is near. Finally, in August 1776, word comes that parole has been granted. William writes:
This day is fair and clear. Our men were called together to sign some papers, what it was I don’t know. We received orders to embark tomorrow at nine o’clock.
This day about 9 o’clock we embarked on board of the ship called by the name of John Christopher. About 10 o’clock, 80 of our men came on board.
The journal ends on August 11, 1776. A full transcription of the journal is available further down on this page.
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Journal of Benedict Arnold’s Expedition to Quebec and the Ensuing Battle
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