Richard Montgomery was an Irish-born soldier who first served in the British Army. He later became a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and he is most famous for leading the failed 1775 invasion of Canada.
Montgomery was born and raised in Ireland. In 1754, he enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin, and two years later joined the British Army to fight in the French and Indian War. He steadily rose through the ranks, serving in North America and then the Caribbean. After the war he was stationed at Fort Detroit during Pontiac’s War, following which he returned to Britain for health reasons. In 1773, Montgomery returned to the 13 original colonies, married Janet Livingston, and began farming.
When the American Revolutionary War broke out, Montgomery joined the American cause, and was elected to the New York Provincial Congress in May 1775. In June 1775, he was commissioned as a brigadier general in the Continental Army. After Phillip Schuyler became too ill to lead the invasion of Canada, Montgomery took over. He captured Fort St. Johns and then Montreal in November 1775, and then advanced to Quebec City, where he joined another force under the command of Benedict Arnold. On December 31, he led an attack on the city, but was killed during the battle. The British found his body and gave it an honorable burial. It was moved to New York City in 1818.
Richard Montgomery Facts: Early Life
- Richard Montgomery was born near Swords in the north of County Dublin in Ireland. He was born into an Ulster Scots gentry family from County Donegal.
- His father, Thomas Montgomery, was a former British Army officer and a Member of Parliament of Lifford in East Donegal,
- He was a brother of Colonel Alexander Montgomery and a cousin of Colonel Alexander Montgomery , both Members of Parliament for County Donegal.
- Richard Montgomery spent most of his childhood at Abbeville House in Kinsealy, near Swords, in County Dublin, where he learned to hunt, ride, shoot, and fence.
- Thomas Montgomery made sure that his sons received a good education; Richard attended the school of the Rev. Saumarez Dubourdieu in Leixlip, and learned French, Latin, and rhetoric. Richard Montgomery entered Trinity College in 1754.
- Despite his great love of knowledge, Montgomery did not receive a degree. He was urged by his father and his oldest brother Alexander to join the military, which he did on September 21, 1756. His father purchased an ensign’s commission for Montgomery, who joined the 17th Regiment of Foot.
Richard Montgomery Facts: The 17th Foot Regiment
- On February 3, 1757, the 17th Foot was ordered to march from its garrison at Galway and prepare to be deployed overseas. On May 5, Montgomery and the 17th Foot sailed from Cork for Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving in July.The British had planned an attempt on Louisbourg but the operation was called off, and they sailed instead for winter quarters in New York. In 1758, the 17th Foot was sent back to Halifax, once again with the goal of taking Louisbourg.
- The British commanders, Jeffery Amherst and James Abercromby drew up a plan to assault the French at Louisbourg, which is located on the Atlantic coast of Cape Breton Island, north of Halifax. The French garrison consisted of only 800 men, while the British force had 13,142 troops supported by 23 ships of the line and 13 frigates.
- On June 8, 1758, the attack on the fort began. Montgomery landed on the beach under heavy fire and ordered his troops to advance with fixed bayonets. The outer French defenses withdrew back toward the city. Montgomery’s unit and the rest of the British force chased the French back to a point just outside the Fort’s guns. At this point, the British prepared to besiege the city. Due to bad weather, artillery and other materials needed for the siege took several weeks to arrive onshore.
- Montgomery had his men dig entrenchments and build breastworks, also ordering his men stay alert to the possibility of a French attack. On July 9, the French attempted a breakout, but it failed. On July 26, following a series of actions resulting in the destruction of most their fleet, the French surrendered.
- General Amherst was impressed by Montgomery’s action during the siege, and promoted him to lieutenant.
- On July 8, 1758, James Abercromby attacked Fort Carillon on Lake Champlain, but was repelled with heavy losses. In August, Montgomery and the 17th foot sailed to Boston, marched to join with Abercromby’s forces in Albany and then moved to Lake George.
- On November 9, Abercromby was recalled; Amherst replaced him as commander-in-chief. The British high command, for the 1759 campaign, developed a plan for a three-pronged attack into Canada, in which forces including the 17th foot would assault Fort Carillon and also capture Fort St. Frédéric, near Crown Point, New York.
- Under Amherst’s command, Montgomery and the 17th Foot participated in the capture of Fort Carillon. While the army was gathering prior to the battle, Montgomery’s company was on guard duty; he ordered his men to remain vigilant for French and Indian ambush parties.
- On May 9 his suspicions proved correct when 12 men from the 17th were attacked. Montgomery and the 17th met stiff resistance at first. Montgomery ordered that his men were not to fire at night, fearing they would shoot their comrades.
- On July 21, the army began its movement toward Fort Carillon; by the 26th they were in position outside the fort’s walls, from which the French had already withdrawn most of their forces to Fort St. Frédéric. That night, after some exchange of cannon fire during the day, the French blew up Carillon’s powder magazine, and Fort St. Frédéric the next day, and withdrew to the far end of Lake Champlain.
- The 17th, which was placed under the command of Major General Robert Monckton late in 1759, spent the winter on garrison duty in the Mohawk River valley.
- On May 15, 1760, Monckton named Montgomery as regimental adjutant, a position awarded by the commanding officer to the most promising lieutenant in the regiment. In August, the 17th Foot joined with the Lake Champlain Division, and set out from Crown Point to participate in a three-pronged attack on Montreal.
- The 17th Foot captured the Île aux Noix and Fort Chambly before meeting with the two other divisions outside Montreal. The Marquis de Vaudreuil, Canada’s French governor, seeing that the city could not be defended, surrendered the city without a fight.
- With the fall of Montreal, all of Canada fell into British hands. In the summer of 1761, Montgomery and the 17th Foot marched from Montreal to Staten Island.
- After conquering Canada, the British government put together a plan to defeat the French in the West Indies. In November 1761, Montgomery and the 17th set sail for Barbados, where they joined other units from North America.
- On January 5, 1762, the force left Barbados and headed towards the French island of Martinique, arriving there in mid-January. The French, having received word of an impending attack, had built up their defenses. A beachhead was quickly established, and the main offensive began on January 24.
- The French outer defenses were overrun and the survivors fled to the capital, Fort Royal. The British prepared to launch an assault on the fort, but the French, seeing the situation was hopeless, surrendered.
- On February 12, the entire island surrendered. After the fall of Martinique, the rest of the French West Indies, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent, fell to the British without a fight.
- On May 6, 1762, in reward for his actions in Martinique, Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell promoted Montgomery to captain and gave him command of one of the ten companies of the 17th Foot.
- Spain entered the war in 1761 as an ally of France. The British high command believed that capturing Havana would destroy the lines of communication from Spain to its colonial empire. On June 6, the assaulting British forces arrived seven miles off the shore of Havana.
- The 17th Foot, including Montgomery’s company, was to capture Moro Fort, the key to the Spanish defense of the city. British battleships bombarded the fort, silencing all but two Spanish guns.
- On July 30, Montgomery and the 17th Foot stormed and captured the fort.
- In late August 1762, Montgomery and the 17th Foot were sent to New York, where they remained for the rest of the war. The conflict was ended by the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763.
- By the end of the French and Indian War, Richard Montgomery had seen success within Canada and in the Caribbean. He along with his 17th foot regiment had increased the size of the British Empire and he was well-respected by his peers.
Richard Montgomery Facts: Pontiac’s War and Parliament
- Pontiac was a chief of the Ottawa Indians and he organizes 18 other tribes that did not like British policy against them. With quick movements he and his allies captured eight British forts and caused two more to evacuate.
- In response to Pontiac’s uprising General Amherst sent for Montgomery and his 17th foot regiment.
- Montgomery’s service during this time was not as significant as it was during the Seven Years War. Instead he and the 17th built up defenses at Fort Detroit and also learned how to negotiate with the natives. Soon he was granted leave from the army and sailed to New York and then back to England.
- While in Britain, Montgomery regained his health and became active in politics. He associated with the Whig party which was headed up by Edmund Burke. This is where seeds of American freedom were first planted.
- In 1771 he was passed over for promotion, probably due to his political loyalties. By 1772 he had sold his commission in the British army and headed to America to become a farmer. He believed he would never marry or take up arms again.
- By 1773, after moving to New York, Montgomery married Janet Livingston.
- On May 16, 1775, Montgomery was elected as one of the ten deputies to represent Dutchess County in the New York Provincial Congress. Although Montgomery had only lived in New York for two years and had not sought political involvement, he was well known and respected in the area and he felt obliged to attend. He was reluctant to go, but nonetheless went to New York City, 80 miles south of Rhinebeck.
Richard Montgomery Facts: American Revolutionary War
- By 1775, Montgomery identified himself as an American rather than a British citizen. He was married to one of the wealthiest families in the colonies who just happened to be ardent Patriot supporters.
- In 1775, George Washington was named as Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Two men from New York were selected to serve under him. One as a major general and the other as a brigadier general. Philip Schuyler was selected as the major general and Richard Montgomery was selected as the brigadier general.
- Due to health reasons Philip Schuyler was unable to lead the invasion of Canada and Montgomery stepped up in his place.
- He along with Benedict Arnold invaded Canada and were initially successful. They captured Fort St John and Montreal and took control of Lake Champlain.
- They met disaster at Quebec and it resulted in the wounding of Benedict Arnold and the death of Richard Montgomery.
- The British buried Montgomery with honor and he was remembered for his heroism throughout the colonies and England. Many officers mourned his death.
Richard Montgomery Facts: Janet Livingston
- Janet would outlive Montgomery by 53 years. Janet always referred to him as “my general” or “my soldier” and guarded his reputation. After his death, Janet moved to the house near Rhinebeck on which Montgomery had begun work before the war. Janet remained interested in politics for the rest of the war and was always a harsh critic of Loyalists. After the war, former Continental Army general Horatio Gates proposed marriage to her, but she declined.
- In 1818, Stephen van Rensselaer, Governor of New York, obtained permission for Montgomery’s remains to be moved from Quebec to New York. In June 1818, Montgomery’s remains set off for New York City. On July 4 they arrived in Albany and took a boat down the Hudson to New York City. Janet stood out on her porch and watched the boat bring Montgomery’s remains down the river, fainting at the sight. When his remains arrived in New York City, 5,000 people attended the procession. His remains were interred on July 8, next to his monument at St. Paul’s Chapel in Manhattan, which had been completed in 1776. Janet was pleased with the ceremony and wrote, “What more could I wish than the high honor that has been conferred on the ashes of my poor soldier.”
- Years later, when Andrew Jackson was corresponding with Edward Livingston he wrote “Present me in the most respectful terms to your aged sister. Says to her, if I ever should be within one hundred miles of her dwelling I will visit and have the high honor of shaking by the hand the revered relict of the patriotic General Montgomery, who will ever live in the hearts of his countrymen.” Three months after this letter, Janet died, on November 6, 1824