Women Who Marched to Quebec With the Continental Army 1775 – Those Indelible Camp Followers
“My mind was humbled yet astonished at the exertions of this good woman.” – John Henry
Why invade Canada? “The Continental Congress was looking for the
knockout blow that would make their revolt against the British Crown a brief one.” 1
This would prevent Canada from being used as a staging area for Crown Forces. Win over the French population residing in Canada. Include Quebec as part of the future United States.
At the time of the invasion there were approximately 600 Crown Force Regulars garrisoned in Quebec.
“General George Washington was impatient with the progress on invading Canada. He gave plans on invading Quebec to Colonel Benedict Arnold.” 2
“Arnold thought he could get up the Kennebec River, portage across an area known as the ‘Great Carrying Place’ to the Chaudire River, then on the Quebec. He estimated this as a three-week journey. Arnold gathered some 1,050 volunteers including Aaron Burr, Daniel Morgan and two ‘Mollies’ (camp followers) of Captain William Hendricks’ Rifle Company from Cumberland, Pennsylvania.” 3
Due to the hardships of Benedict Arnold’s march, historians know of only four women who left Cambridge with Arnold’s army. Only two are known to have reached Quebec, the others may have turned back early in the expedition or joined Colonel Roger Enos “who on October 25th, abandoned the enterprise with his division ignominiously taking the provisions, and returned to Cambridge.” 4
The two successful women were “Jemima Warner, teenaged wife of James Warner, and Suzannah Grier, the wife of Sergeant Joseph Grier.” 5
These two women marched along with their husbands. Sergeant Joseph Grier’s bride, six feet tall, was described by Rifleman Henry as a “large, virtuous and respectable woman. Jemima Warner went because she was worried about her husband’s health. 6
These women, were forced to struggle alongside the men, enduring the same privations (like the men of the Dutch Mess in an earlier article submitted by this author) and adversity that the rest of the army did.
The maps used to plan this endeavor were not accurate, nor was the rapids and waterfalls encountered anticipated. New England weather deteriorated. Food spoiled and was lost. “Jemima Warner and Suzannah Grier caught trout in the Kennebec River” but this was not sufficient. 7
Rations were so scarce that the men were forced to consume pet dogs and make gruel out of wax candles. “On October 31st some of Arnold’s companies were down to one pint of flour left for each man and no meat at all.” 8
“The trek had taken six weeks twice what Arnold had estimated.” 9
John Joseph Henry, a seventeen-year-old Lancaster, Pennsylvania youth who enlisted in Captain Matthew Smith’s Rifle Company was selected for the Quebec invasion; recorded in his journal: “Mrs. Grier has got before me,” while trudging though the swamps near Arnold River. “Her clothes more than waist high, she waded before me to firm ground. No one, so long as she was known to us, dared to intimate a disrespectful idea of her.” She kept up with her husband and endured the hardships stoically with all the others. “My mind was humbled, yet astonished, at the exertions of this good woman.” 10
Jemima Warner inspired even more reverence than Mrs. Grier. Mr. James Warner was described by Henry as, “a man who lagged on every occasion.” Lost in the swamps near Arnold River and Lac Megantic, Warner became separated from the company. “He had sat down, sick, under a tree, a few miles back.” Distraught, “his wife begged us to wait a short time, and with tears of affection in her eyes, ran back to her husband.” 11
“Finally, the company had to enter the pond, ‘breaking the ice here and there with the butts of our guns and feet’. They were once again waist-deep in water. Here they waited a little longer before Jemima Warner overtook them – alone. Her husband died sitting against a tree. The ground was frozen, she could not bury him, so she quickly covered his body with leaves and twigs.” 12
From Abner Stocking’s journal he adds to this tale. “His affectionate wife tarryed by him until he died, while the rest of the company proceeded on their way. Having no implements with which she could bury him she covered him with leaves and took his gun and other implements and left him with a heavy heart.” This caring woman, dedicated to her husband, returned to his side alone while the army marched on. Once he had died, with nothing left to do, she picked up his gun and marched onwards. Amazed Stocking wrote, after travelling 20 miles she came up with us.” 13 Her strength of body and character must have inspired the men to greater heights.
The stories of Suzannah Grier and Jemima Warner did not end well. Both women made it to Quebec City, Suzannah Grier still in the company of her husband and Jemima Warner now alone.
“In December, Jemima Warner then dressed in a formal gown that someone obtained from one of the local residences and marched 800 yards through deep snows to deliver General Richard Montgomery’s surrender terms. She was admitted into the city and delivered the surrender demand to Governor Carlton, but he promptly tore it up and imprisoned her. Five days later he released her but made her march out the gate between two rows of drummers, a gesture to indicate that as a rebel, she was being drummed out of the empire.” 14
“Soon after the siege of Quebec began, Jemima Warner was killed by a shot from the city (likely an artillery round)”. 15
“On daybreak December 18, there was one more American casualty. As she went to fetch water, a twenty-four-pound British cannon ball sheared off the head of Jemima Warner, who had lost her husband in the Chaudière swamps.” 16
In December, “British guns managed to destroy a rebel artillery battery at St. Roch, killing a man and a woman. The latter was Jemima Warner, probably the first woman to die in combat for a country that still had yet to formally declare its independence.” 17
“In April (1776) long after the desperate New Year’s Eve attack on the Quebec City and far into the drawn-out stalemate between sides, Caleb Haskell recorded the death of Suzannah Grier. ‘A woman belonging to the Pennsylvania troops was killed to-day by accident – a soldier carelessly snapping his musket which proved to be loaded.’ Like so many men who made the march, the expedition proved fatal for these two women as well. The anecdotes passed down regarding their intrepid deeds during the march stand as a testament to their enduring strength and fortitude.” 18
When we honor women, who support our reenacting units, they are following in the traditions forged by these two Patriot Women, Jemima Warner and Suzannah Grier.
1. Lee Enderlin, Invasion of Canada During the American Revolutionary War, August 1999, Military History Magazine.
4. John Joseph Henry, Account of Arnolds Campaign Against Quebec, published by Forgotten Books, p. 10
6. Willard Sterne Randall, Benedict Arnold, Patriot and Traitor, published by Barnes and Noble Books, p. 154
8. Henry Dearborn, Journal of Captain Henry Dearborn in the Quebec Expedition, 1775, published by Forgotten Books, p. 11
10. Henry, p. 67
11. Henry, p. 66-67
12. Randall, p. 183
13. Sam Brakeley, In the Wake of America’s Hannibal, Tracing Benedict Arnold and the 1775 Expedition to Quebec, published by Lulu Press, pages 118-119
15. Brakeley, p. 119
16. Randall, p. 211
18. Brakeley, p. 119