On taking up his task Nairne found that at Murray Bay there were thirty-two men between the ages of 16 and 55. When summoned to meet him they were respectful, but showed fear of having to serve in the army and pleaded that they were only a new settlement. Had there been, as is so generally supposed, many disbanded soldiers among them we should have had a different tale but, already, in 1775, most of the people at Murray Bay were French. Neither they nor their neighbours showed any zeal for the upholding of British rule in Canada. At Les Eboulements and Baie St. Paul, whither Nairne went, the inhabitants were respectful, as at Murray Bay, but also objected to military service. At Isle aux Coudres they disregarded Nairne’s summons to meet him, while at St. Anne de Beaupre they made open manifestations of hostility.
In the actual fighting, now imminent, Nairne was eager to take part, and, on August 12th, he wrote to Sir Guy Carleton offering himself for any service and applying for a vacant captaincy. On the 9th of September he received an urgent summons to Quebec, and, from that time, for six or seven years, he was engaged in the great fratricidal struggle.
Again, in a time of crisis, Great Britain made special use of the Highlanders. Many of those who had served during the conquest of Canada had become settlers in the New World. Now at the call to arms some of them—between one and two hundred—rallied again to fight Britain’s battles. They were formed into a regiment known as the Royal Highland Emigrants. It was not a regular corps but was organized for this special campaign only. Nairne’s rank in the regular army was that of Captain; now he was given the duty of Major, though this promotion was not yet permanent. Malcolm Fraser served in the same corps as Captain and Paymaster. The commanding officer, Colonel Allan McLean, was brave and indefatigable and he and his Highlanders played a creditable part in the work of saving Canada for Britain.
When the American colonies saw that the war was inevitable they saw too that Quebec was the key of the situation. Washington himself declared that in favour of the holders of Quebec would the balance turn in the great conflict. From the outset there was an eager desire to attack the Canadian capital. Washington believed—with some truth, indeed,—that its defences were ridiculous. He thought, too, that the Governor, Sir Guy Carleton, had no money to buy even provisions, that the Canadians were eager to throw off the yoke of Great Britain and to co-operate with the revolted colonies, and that some even of the few regulars to be found in Quebec would join the colonial army. To take Quebec seemed, therefore, comparatively easy, and the task was undertaken by a man with a sinister name for posterity as a traitor to the young republic, but a vigorous and able officer,—Colonel Benedict Arnold. Wolfe’s role Arnold essayed to play and Wolfe’s fame he fondly hoped would be his.