Richard Montgomery was born in 1738 in County Dublin, British Ireland. He attended Trinity College, Dublin, for two years, until his father, insisting on a military career for him (as had been common for men in the family for generations before), bought him a commission in the army. (One did not achieve officer status in the British – or French or Spanish – army in that era unless one was both gentry and usually well-enough off to be able to “buy” an officer’s commission.) He became a junior officer in an Irish Regiment.
He fought against the French in America between 1758-1763. After the end of that war, his unit was sent to the frontier (what is today Michigan), and on his way through the Hudson Valley in 1765 he briefly met his future wife, a just out of her teens Janet Livingston. It seemed a cordial encounter, with no romantic overtones.
Worn down, and now a captain, he requested leave and returned to England. There, thanks to his family connections, he met and became close to prominent opposition politicians Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox. However, friendships with them did not serve him well in terms of advancement within the army. Lacking influence in the actual Government – and thus access to King George III, who gave commissions – he sought and failed to gain promotion to major. A “friend” of the Government was promoted instead.
Disgusted, he resigned from the army in 1772. At some point he had also decided his future was in New York. (Perhaps he remembered Janet?) He emigrated and bought a farm north of New York City, aiming to be a “gentleman farmer” for the rest of this life.
Living in New York, he became re-acquainted with Janet, who was a member of the influential Livingston family which was prominent in New York politics. In July 1773, he and Janet married and settled in a house in Rhinebeck. (The house is now an historical focal point in the town.)
Likely influenced by Janet’s family and its “patriot” views (and perhaps being denied promotion to major still bothered him, too), Richard moved to seeing himself more as American and to opposing the Crown he had served for so long in the British army.
As all of the colonies grew restive, in May 1775 he was elected to the New York Provincial Congress. Owing to his extensive military experience, he was made a brigadier general. After meeting George Washington on June 25 while Washington was on his way to Boston, Montgomery was made second in command (but essentially combat commander) of the American troops being gathered for an attack on British forces in Quebec.
His last words to Janet as he left her at Saratoga in the late summer of 1775 were, “You shall never have cause to blush for your Montgomery.” In the weeks after, he led his American troops into Montreal. From there, they marched on to Quebec City.
Early in the assault on the city on December 31, targeting a British blockhouse and leading as was now his habit (officers were learning the inexperienced and often teenage American soldiers usually would not go at the enemy unless an officer truly led them forward), last seen waving his sword and heard urging the men to follow him, he and several others a few feet behind him were killed when struck by cannon and musket fire about fifty yards from that British position.
He was thirty-seven years old.
The attack had only just begun; the Americans outnumbered the British defenders in and around the blockhouse. But no one could replace him. The dispirited troops behind fell back in disarray, leaving behind his body and those of the others and a heavy snowfall later that day and night covered them all.
On January 1, British troops found the remains in some three feet of snow and with the help of captured Americans identified Montgomery’s body. He had been shot through the chin, the groin and a thigh. A bloody fur cap bearing the initials “R.M.” was next to him. His ornate sword was found as well; he had apparently dropped it when he was hit.
He had been promoted by Congress to major general back on December 9, but never knew it.
Hearing weeks later of his death, across the Atlantic in London his friends Burke and Fox eulogized him movingly in Parliament. Their words disgusted Prime Minister Lord North, whose Government was committed to crushing the American rebellion. North huffed that he did not approve of “this unqualified liberality of the praises bestowed on General Montgomery by the gentlemen in Opposition, because they were bestowed on a Rebel.”
At that, Fox, who with his supporters would start to take to dressing in the buff and blue colors of Washington’s army, replied that the ministers needed to remember how they “owed the [British] Constitution which enabled them to sit in that House to a rebellion.”
Richard and Janet wrote to each other during the months he was en route to Quebec City. However, he began to lose patience with the tone of her letters, writing to her in one to “stop whining” because her worries and fears just added to his burdens. He wrote that he wanted only happy thoughts from her to help him take his mind off his troubles.
They had been married only two and a half years. In 1784, Horatio Gates – another British-born American general, and commander of the troops who surrounded and captured some 7,000 British and “Hessians” at Saratoga (they having invaded New York from Quebec) – fell in love with the widow now in her early forties, and asked her to marry him. She turned him down. Janet Montgomery never remarried.
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Well, re-reading that short book on Montgomery’s life consumed much of my past weekend. There is so much that you need to read as background to write an historical novel. You can’t just make it up as you go along. 😉
Hope you’re having a good day, wherever you are. 🙂