(b. December 2, 1738; d. December 31, 1775) Revolutionary War hero.
Richard Montgomery was born in County Dublin, Ireland, in 1738 to a wealthy gentry family. Richard's father, a member of the Irish parliament, and his older brother, an army captain, encouraged him to seek a position in the British Army, and in 1756 he enlisted. He rose fairly quickly through the ranks to become a captain by 1762, due in part to his good service in North America during the Seven Year's War and in part to the army's typical promotion of sons of privilege.
During his stay in North America, Richard Montgomery formed a favorable impression of the British colonists there, unlike most of his fellow British officers. Upon his return to England in 1765, he was outspoken on behalf of the colonists as conflicts over taxes and other imperial matters worsened. Montgomery resigned his army commission in 1772 and migrated to New York State, where he hoped to become a prosperous farmer.
Montgomery became a successful landowner, and he greatly enhanced his status the following year, when he married Janet Livingston, the wealthy daughter of New York scion Robert Livingston. Janet's wealth and family connections would influence not only the course of Montgomery's life, but also his fame after death.
As the imperial crisis between the American colonies and Great Britain heated up, Montgomery found a new chance to become an important public man in his adopted country. In 1775 he was elected to the Provincial Congress of New York, and when the Revolutionary War broke out that same year, the Continental Congress appointed Montgomery a brigadier-general of the Continental Army. Montgomery was appointed second-in-command of a planned invasion of Canada, but when his commander, Major General Philip Schuyler, became ill, most of the planning and everyday command of the operation fell to Montgomery.
Montgomery's Canadian expedition set out in September 1775, and, although his underprepared band of mostly New England troops faced a hard winter march through rough terrain, Montgomery's force was quite successful at first, capturing several forts and then the city of Montreal on December 13. Montgomery connected with another group of American troops commanded by Benedict Arnold outside of Quebec, and together the two forces laid siege to that city, hoping to capture it before the end of the year, when the first Continental Army enlistments formally expired. The American forces were weak and undersupplied, and with their siege failing, they attempted an attack on the city on the last day of the year. Montgomery was killed during the attack on Quebec, which ultimately also failed.
Immediately after his death, Montgomery's even more important career as an American martyr began. Montgomery, the well-born British army officer, who had chosen to cast his lot with the Americans during their revolution, became a symbol of the elite brand of heroism that expressed the sacrifice of the Revolutionary War to the American public and helped to inspire allegiance to the new American nation. Even the British instantly recognized Montgomery as a heroic figure. After the battle at Quebec, the British forces buried his body with honors outside the city's gates.
The Continental Congress learned of Montgomery's death on January 17, 1776, and the representatives, hoping to boost public support for the war and for the cause of American freedom, took immediate steps to commemorate him. A congressional committee commissioned a marble monument to Montgomery's memory, and the entire Congress convened in Philadelphia for a public funeral for Montgomery on February 19, 1776. Montgomery, along with Joseph Warren, a martyred hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill, became the subject of laudatory poems, pamphlets, and other popular printed materials. Praise for his bravery and sacrifice helped to cement support for American independence in July 1776, and he remained a potent figure of patriotic inspiration throughout the Revolutionary War.
Montgomery's memory lived on in the postwar years. In 1787 the monument to Montgomery commissioned by Congress was erected in Trinity Church in New York City. It became a popular tourist destination and the inspiration for further writings lauding Montgomery. Janet Livingston Montgomery did much to preserve the memory of her husband in the public mind. In 1818 she spearheaded a drive to have his remains reinterred in New York City at the site of his monument. This second burial was again accompanied by great public ceremony and praise, and the occasion provided an opportunity for Americans to rededicate their allegiance to the memory of the American Revolution, a primary basis of early American nationalism.
Although Richard Montgomery's symbolic importance receded somewhat by the end of the nineteenth century, he retained his reputation as a semi-aristocratic hero who served to inspire allegiance to the American revolutionary cause during the early republican period. Montgomery, as a heroic figure much praised by the public, embodied the values of the Revolutionary War and the American nationalism that grew out of it.
Gabriel, Michael P. Major-general Richard Montgomery: The Making of an American Hero. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
Purcell, Sarah J. Sealed with Blood: War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
Shelton, Hal T. General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution: From Redcoat to Rebel. New York: New York University Press, 1994.
Sarah J. Purcell
Richard Montgomery (1736-1775), a colonial general in the American Revolutionary War, was known for his leadership of the attack upon Canada.
Richard Montgomery was born in Dublin, Ireland, on Dec. 2, 1736. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and retained throughout his life "a studious habit, preferring the library … to the camp and the field." In 1756 he entered the British army as an ensign and went with his regiment to America to fight in the French and Indian War. He saw action in several major engagements. He returned to England in 1765. Seven years later he left the service and emigrated to America. He married Janet Livingston, daughter of a wealthy and socially prominent landowner in New York, and settled down on his wife's estate in Rhinebeck on the Hudson River.
By the time Montgomery arrived in America, the difficulties between England and the Colonies were brewing; Montgomery quickly adopted the colonists' cause. When hostilities broke out, he offered his services and was appointed by the Continental Congress in June 1775 as one of eight brigadier generals. He was sent to join Gen. Philip Schuyler as second-in-command of the expedition against Canada. He arrived at Ticonderoga, Schuyler's headquarters, to find Schuyler busily gathering troops and supplies, but soon Montgomery became impatient to move. Information from scouts indicated that the time to strike had come. Taking advantage of Schuyler's absence in Albany, Montgomery started the army on the way to Canada on August 28 without his chief's permission. When Schuyler received the news, he not only gave his approval but joined the advancing army.
In a superbly executed operation, Montgomery first took two forts on the Richelieu River. Next, he turned on Montreal, which he captured on November 13. The final objective was Quebec, where he was to be joined by Gen. Benedict Arnold, who had come up by way of the Maine woods. On December 3 the two forces met a few miles up the St. Lawrence River and began the siege of Quebec. Several factors, however, caused the two generals to decide in favor of storming the city rather than waiting for it to surrender. On December 31 they attacked in two columns in a blinding snowstorm. As Montgomery advanced at the head of his force, he was met by artillery fire, and in the first discharge he was killed. The British found his body in the snow and buried it on the spot. In 1818 it was removed to St. Paul's Church in New York.
A recent study with extensive material on Montgomery is Harrison Bird, Attack on Quebec: The American Invasion of Canada, 1775 (1968). Also useful is Donald B. Chidsey, The War in the North: An Informal History of the American Revolution in and near Canada (1967). See also Justin H. Smith, Our Struggle for the Fourteenth Colony: Canada and the American Revolution (2 vols., 1907), and John R. Alden, A History of the American Revolution (1969).
Shelton, Hal T. (Hal Terry), General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution: from redcoat to rebel, New York: New York University Press, 1994. □
MONTGOMERY, RICHARD. (1738–1775). Continental general. Ireland and New York. Richard Montgomery was born in Swords, Ireland, on 2 December 1738. The son of an Irish member of Parliament, he became an ensign in the Seventeenth Foot in 1756. Going to Canada the next year (1757), he took part in the siege of Louisburg (1758), was promoted to lieutenant, and served under Jeffery Amherst in the successful operations against Ticonderoga, Crown Point, and Montreal. Meanwhile, he became regimental adjutant in 1760. In the West Indies he was at the capture of Martinique and Havana (1762), becoming a captain by the end of those actions. Returning to Great Britain, he became a friend of Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox, two prominent Whig politicians of the time, and was greatly influenced by their liberal views. Disgusted with the British patronage system and his failure to advance further in the army, he sold his commission on 6 April 1772 and emigrated to America, settling on a 67-acre farm he had bought at Kings Bridge, New York. Having married Janet Livingston, the daughter of Robert R. Livingston, Montgomery became quickly involved in American politics and was elected a delegate to New York's first provincial congress in May 1775. He accepted a commission as Continental brigadier general on 22 June 1775.
Leaving his young wife and their new home near Rhinebeck (her estate), Montgomery went north to become second in command to General Philip Schuyler in the invasion of Canada in 1775 and 1776. With Schuyler soon evacuated for illness, Montgomery showed real military ability in leading an offensive into Canada, despite the poor quality of troops and subordinate leaders at his disposal and the logistical problems he faced. After taking St. Johns on 5 September-2 November 1775, and Montreal shortly afterwards, he pushed on to make the unsuccessful attack on Quebec (31 December-1 January 1776). He was killed in the latter action, never knowing that Congress had made him a major general on 9 December 1775. In death, Montgomery became a hero and martyr to the cause of American independence.
revised by Michael Bellesiles