Object of the Month

Montcalm and Wolfe

Montcalm and Wolfe, original manuscript, pages 282-286 (part II)

Montcalm and Wolfe, original manuscript, pages 282-286 (part II)

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  • In the manuscript of Montcalm and Wolfe displayed here, Francis Parkman describes the climax of the epic struggle between the French and English for possession of Canada at the Battle of Quebec on 13 September 1759.

    The Battle for Quebec

    For more than two months, a British army under the command of James Wolfe had laid siege to Quebec. The French commander, the Marquis de Montcalm, had successfully thrown back every attempt to take the city and time was running out for the British. The fierce Canadian winter was on its way. Wolfe decided to take one last gamble and move up the river and land behind the French (see an online presentation of a map of the battlefield. Within a few hours, several thousand British troops were standing on the Plains of Abraham, an open field outside of the fortress city. Montcalm decided to abandon the safety of Quebec's walls and meet Wolfe in battle. Here Parkman describes the crisis of the battle that ended with the death of both commanders, and ultimately decided the fate of North America.

    Francis Parkman

    Born into a prominent New England family, Francis Parkman (1823-1893) was one of America's most distinguished historians (see online presentation). Parkman suffered from chronic ill health, but he was determined never to give in and he constantly sought physical challenges. After graduating from Harvard College, he and his cousin Quincy Adams Shaw traveled on a hunting expedition to the far west. He published his experiences as The California and Oregon Trail in 1849.

    Francis Parkman was fascinated by the history of France in North America. Despite his poor health he traveled extensively in North America and Europe to visit archives and historic sites. Most of the research materials gathered by Parkman are located today at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Between 1865 and 1892 Parkman published his nine-volume study, France and England in North America including the two volumes of Montcalm and Wolfe (1884), the most famous works in the series.

    Although Parkman has been criticized for his bias towards the English and his unflattering descriptions of native people, his work remains extremely important. He wrote in the tradition of the romantic narrative, and his passion for collecting documents and visiting the actual sites of historic events stands today as a model for historical research.

    Lecture and booksigning on 24 February

    On Thursday, 24 February, at 5:30 P.M., William M. Fowler, Jr., the director of the Massachusetts Historical Society, will address an afternoon meeting of the Society on the subject of his new book: Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763, published by Walker Books. There will be a reception before the meeting at 5:00 P.M. Mr. Fowler will sign copies of his book after the lecture and meeting. If you are interested in attending, please call the reservation line at: (617) 646 0560.

    Suggestions for further research

    Fowler, William M. Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle for North America, 1754-1763. New York: Walker and Company, 2005.

    Parkman, Francis. Montcalm and Wolfe. New York: Modern Library, 1999.

    For the history of Canada, two extremely valuable websites are: Library and Archives Canada

    CyberMuse (Search here for Benjamin West's famous painting, "The Death of General Wolfe" in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada)

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