Richard Montgomery

December 2, 1738–December 31, 1775 — Revolutionary War Hero

Richard Montgomery was a Brigadier General in the Continental Army during the early days of the American Revolutionary War. He led part of the American forces during the failed Invasion of Canada and captured key positions before he was killed during the Battle of Quebec.

Brigadier General Richard Montgomery led American forces during the early part of the Canada Campaign. He died at the Battle of Quebec and is remembered as a hero of the American Revolution for his service to his country.

Richard Montgomery was born in Ireland and was the son of a member of Parliament. He joined the British Army at a young age and served in the French and Indian War. After the war, he began to sympathize with the American colonies and eventually moved to New York. When war broke out between the colonies and Britain, he was named Brigadier General of New York’s military forces and eventually led part of the Continental Army in the failed Invasion of Quebec.

Facts About His Early Life, Education, and Family

  • Born near Dublin, Ireland on December 2, 1738, in Swords.
  • His father was Thomas Montgomery, a member of Parliament.
  • His mother was Mary Franklin Montgomery.
  • He was sent to Trinity College in Dublin in 1754.
  • Married Janet Livingston on July 24, 1773. Her father, Robert Livingston, was a prominent New Yorker and a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Facts About His Political, Military, and Professional Career

  • His father and brother, Colonel Alex Montgomery, urged him to join the military, and he joined as a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) on September 21, 1756.
  • He joined the 17th Foot as an Ensign.

Facts About His Role in the French and Indian War

  • His regiment arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia in July 1757.
  • His regiment participated in the Siege of Louisbourg in 1758, under the command of General Jeffery Amherst at the Battle of Ticonderoga and capture of Fort Carillon in 1759.
  • In late 1759, the 17th Foot was placed under the command of Major General Richard Monckton.
  • In August 1760, the regiment set out for Montreal, as part of a three-pronged attack to take the city. The 17th Foot captured Isle aux Noix and Fort Chambly and met up with the other forces outside of Montreal, which forced the French to surrender the city.
  • The fall of Montreal gave the British control of North America, and they turned their attention to the West Indies.
  • Montgomery and his regiment set sail for Barbados on November 17, 1761. They participated in the successful Invasion of Martinique in early 1762, which allowed the British to take all of the West Indies from the French.
  • On May 6, 1762, he was promoted to Captain by Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell and given command of one of the 17th Foot’s companies.
  • After the West Indies, the British turned their attention to Cuba. British forces landed off the shore of Havana on June 6, 1762. The 17th Foot captured Fort Moro on July 30, which helped the British take Havana.
  • The 17th Foot was sent to New York in August 1762.
  • After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, his regiment returned to the colonies and was stationed at Fort Detroit during Pontiac’s War.

Facts About His Role in the Siege of Louisbourg

  • His regiment participated in the Siege of Louisbourg, under the command of Jeffery Amherst, in 1758.
  • Montgomery led a charge on Louisbourg on June 8, 1758, that forced some of the outer defenses of the French to fall back to the fort.
  • Montgomery had his men dig entrenchments and build breastworks.
  • The French attempted to break the siege lines on July 9 but failed.
  • The French surrendered Louisbourg on July 26.
  • Amherst was impressed with Montgomery and promoted him to the rank of Lieutenant.

Facts About His Life After the French and Indian War

  • During his time in New York, he developed an affinity and favorable opinion for the colonists, unlike his fellow officers.
  • In 1765, his regiment returned to Britain.
  • He affiliated himself with the Whigs, and supported the rights of the colonists.
  • He grew frustrated with how the government treated the colonies, and also because he was passed over for a promotion in 1771 when he attempted to purchase a Major’s commission, but was denied.
  • He moved to New York in January 1772.
  • He sold his commission on April 6, 1772.
  • He bought a farm near King’s Bridge (present-day Borough of The Bronx), which was about 13 miles outside of New York City at the time. During the war, Fort Independence was built on the site of the farm, due to its proximity to the city.
  • He enhanced his status when he married Janet Livingston in 1773. She was a member of a prominent New York family. They settled on her estate at Rhinebeck, New York.

Facts About his Role in the American Revolution

  • After war broke out in April 1775, he was elected to represent Dutchess County in the New York Provincial Congress on May 16, 1775.
  • He was chosen to organize the defenses and militia of the colony.
  • In June, the Continental Congress chose George Washington to lead the Continental Army. In need of officers, Congress asked New York to choose two men to serve under Washington, one as a Major General and one as a Brigadier General.
  • The New York Provincial Congress chose Philip Schuyler as Major General, which Montgomery disagreed with because Schuyler lacked military experience. However, Montgomery was still appointed Brigadier General on June 22, 1755.

Facts About His Role in the Invasion of Quebec

  • On June 26, Washington was passing through New York on his way to Boston. He met with Schuyler and Montgomery and gave them their orders to assemble an army and invade Canada.
  • Through July and August, roughly 2,000 men gathered in upstate New York. Montgomery arrived in Albany on July 15 and was transferred to Ticonderoga on August 17. Schuyler and his troops stayed behind in Albany.
  • When he arrived at Ticonderoga, he was told that Governor Carleton was building ships on Lake Champlain, so Montgomery made plans to attack Isle aux Noix on the Richelieu River, near Fort St. John. He sent a letter to Schuyler, informing him of his plan.
  • On August 30, Montgomery made out his will, which was signed for authenticity by Benedict Arnold.
  • Montgomery was so unhappy with the poor condition of his men, many of whom were sick, and the failure of the Continental Congress to provide him with additional men and supplies, that he tried to resign three times. Congress refused to accept his resignation every time.

Richard Montgomery, Embarkation of Troops from Crown Point

Montgomery’s troops preparing to leave Crown Point (Library of Congress).

Facts About his Role in the Siege of Fort St. John

  • Montgomery set out for Isle aux Noix on August 26, but his progress was slowed by high winds and he did not arrive there until September 5. Schuyler arrived on the same day.
  • Schuyler fell ill at the start of the invasion and Montgomery assumed command on September 16.
  • The siege began on September 17, 1775.
  • Montgomery’s forces captured Fort Chambly on October 19.
  • After a British attack, led by General Sir Guy Carlton, was repulsed, the commandant of the fort, Major Charles Preston, surrendered on November 2, 1775. The siege ended on November 3, 1775.
  • After Montgomery captured Fort St. John, the British evacuated Montreal.

Facts About His Role in the Capture of Montreal

  • Montgomery advanced on Montreal and landed troops on Isle des Soeurs (also known as Nun’s Island) in the St. Lawrence River outside of the city on November 11.
  • On November 12, Montgomery met with a committee of citizens who agreed to surrender the city to him. The American occupation began on November 13.
  • Once again, he grew frustrated at the condition of his men and lack of supplies and tried to resign twice. Again, Congress refused him.
  • Montgomery was encouraged by Benedict Arnold’s successful march to Quebec and still believed it was possible to sway the Canadians to support the American cause if they were able to take the city.
  • On November 28, he left for Quebec with a small force of 300 men. He left Montreal, Fort St. John, and Chambly with 500 men under the command of Brigadier General David Wooster.

Facts About His Role in the Battle of Quebec

  • After Montreal surrendered, Montgomery led his men to Quebec and met up with another force led by Benedict Arnold at Pointe aux Trembles on December 3.
  • Montgomery established siege lines around Quebec and the siege began on December 5. Montgomery demanded the surrender of the city, which was rejected.
  • On December 9, Montgomery was promoted to the rank of Major General.
  • The enlistments of many of the men under the command of Montgomery and Arnold were set to expire at the end of the year, so they decided to launch an attack on Quebec before the enlistments expired.
  • Montgomery led a small force of 200 men in an attack in the early morning of December 31, during a fierce snowstorm. Their plan was to attack the Lower Town portion of Quebec and open the Battle of Quebec.
  • Montgomery led his men along the bank of the St. Lawrence River from Cap Diamant towards the District of Pres-de-Ville. At the same time, Arnold led a force of 600 men from Saint-Roch toward Rue Sault-au-Matelot.
  • Montgomery and Arnold were going to meet up in Lower Town, unfortunately, deserters had alerted the British to their plan.
  • The British saw them coming and fired on them. Montgomery was instantly killed. Aaron Burr, Montgomery’s aide-de-camp, tried to retrieve his body but had to leave it behind due to the weather.
  • Arnold’s force was also ambushed and eventually forced to surrender. Arnold was injured early in the attack and removed from the field.
  • After the failed attack, the Americans maintained the siege until the spring when British reinforcements arrived and forced them to fall back to Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain.

Death of Richard Montgomery by John Trumbull

Painting by John Trumbull depicting the death of Montgomery at the Battle of Quebec (WikiMedia).

Facts About His Legacy

  • The British discovered his body after the attack and took it to General Sir Guy Carleton. He ordered Montgomery’s body to be buried with full military honors. Montgomery’s body was buried in Quebec on January 4, 1776.
  • Montgomery died before he learned that he had been promoted to Major General.
  • After Montgomery’s death, Benedict Arnold purchased most of his wardrobe.
  • Montgomery was wearing a gold watch at the time he was killed. Governor Carleton had it sent to Colonel Campbell, who had taken command of the American forces in Canada. Campbell sent it to David Wooster in Montreal, who had it sent back to New York to Mrs. Montgomery.
  • The Continental Congress learned of his death on January 17, 1776, and commissioned a monument of him.
  • On February 19, Congress convened for a public funeral held for him.
  • Like Joseph Warren, he was considered a martyred hero of the war for colonial independence from Britain.
  • In 1787, the monument commissioned by the Congress was erected at St. Paul’s Church in New York City.
  • In 1818, his wife led a successful movement to have his remains reinterred in New York City.
  • 14 states have counties named “Montgomery” after him. Those states are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
  • Montgomery, Massachusetts is named after him.

Richard Montgomery Monument, Illustration

Illustration of the monument to Montgomery.