Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Norristown, Montgomery County
Namesake of Montgomery County, Richard Montgomery led the American attack on Quebec during the Revolution.
Richard Montgomery was born on December 2, 1736. After being encouraged by his father and brother, he joined the British army as an ensign on September 21, 1756. He quickly rose in rank, but quit his service to the king due to his disgust with his peacetime army rank and the treatment of the American colonies. After moving to New York in 1772, Montgomery was voted a Brigadier General in the American Continental Army. Victories at Fort St. Johns and Montreal led to his march to conquer Quebec in Canada. Montgomery died on December 31, 1775 in Quebec, Canada. He is the namesake of Montgomery County.
Richard Montgomery was born in Swords, County Dublin, Ireland on December 2, 1736. The son of Thomas Montgomery, a member of the Irish Parliament, and Mary Franklin, Richard Montgomery was introduced to his future career path at a young age. Due to his father’s political clout, young Richard Montgomery was guaranteed an education, and he attended St. Andrews School as a young boy. He enrolled in Trinity College in 1754 but only remained there for two years before dropping out due to his father and brother’s advice. According to Thomas H. Montgomery in Ancestry of General Richard Montgomery, both Richard’s father and Richard’s older brother were military men, and they strongly encouraged him to take the same path. Following their advice, Montgomery enlisted in the British Army on September 21, 1756. In a letter eventually written to his father-in-law, he describes his “ambition…sweetening a military life.”
Two years after joining the British army, Montgomery served under General Jeffrey Amherst during the French and Indian War. Montgomery traveled with the rest of the men in the 17th Regiment to Nova Scotia to formulate an attack on the Fortress of Louisbourg. During the siege of Louisbourg, Montgomery fought well and was promoted to a lieutenant on July 10, 1758. With his growing military prowess, Montgomery found himself a soldier in the victorious attack on Fort Ticonderoga in New York. The British also found Montgomery to be a vital asset in ensuing battles. After being appointed an adjutant on May 15, 1760, Montgomery fought under Colonel William Haviland during the attack on Montreal. The victory at Montreal led to Montgomery and the rest of the 17th Regiment fighting under Major-General Robert Monckton in the capture of the Caribbean island of Martinique in 1762. After being promoted to captain during the same year, he served under General George Keppel in the siege and capture of Havana. Following the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on February 10, 1763, Montgomery received leave to return to Europe for nine years.
In 1772, while still residing in Britain, Montgomery made the decision to resign from the King’s service and move to America. He made this decision after being denied a major’s commission in the army. Montgomery had become thoroughly resentful of British politicians’ actions toward the American colonists. Moreover, he found himself dissatisfied with his stagnant rank in the British army during times of peace. Montgomery left England and moved to a 67 acre farm in New York. In 1773, Montgomery married a former acquaintance, Janet Livingston, and they settled in Rhinebeck, New York. Around this time tensions between the American colonies and Britain reached the breaking point. Montgomery joined the colonists’ cause, and inevitably found himself appointed as a commander in the American Continental Army due to his previous military prowess in the British army. The Continental Congress named Philip Schuyler as the Major-General of New York and Montgomery second in command, the Brigadier General.
George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, requested Schuyler and Montgomery lead the attack in Canada. In a letter to a close friend in the Massachusetts Congress, James Warren, John Adams writes, “The Unanimous Voice of the Continent is Canada must be ours, Quebec must be taken.” It was strongly believed among early Continental delegates that the fate of the war depended strongly the conquest of Canada. Therefore, on July 18, 1775, Schuyler and Montgomery reached Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, where they began assembling their troops. The soldiers already garrisoned at the fort were volunteers who were undisciplined and insubordinate. Schuyler and Montgomery did their best to turn the volunteers into disciplined soldiers. The two generals started their Canadian offensive by passing north through Isle aux Noix, Canada, to their destination of St. Johns, Canada. They traveled along the Richelieu River. Schuyler’s poor health worsened during the Canadian campaign at this time, and he was forced to resign from his duties. While waiting to ambush the British at St. Johns, Montgomery’s men panicked and fled. Montgomery had little choice but to retreat back to Isle aux Noix. After receiving additional troop support from Schuyler upon his return to Fort Ticonderoga, Montgomery led a second siege of St. Johns. The eventual attack on St. Johns resulted in a quick surrender from Major Stopford, the British leader stationed there.
Montgomery set his focus upon Montreal. The British governor, Carleton, had already deserted Montreal two days prior to Montgomery’s capture of the city because Carleton realized that it would quickly fall to any attack. In a letter to Colonel Bedel, Montgomery wrote that he had “…information from a prisoner…that he carried verbal orders for the garrison to attempt an escape to Quebec.” Carleton had little choice but to salvage or destroy the military stores and retreat to Quebec. Montreal, a major fur-trading hub, contained a large population of 8,000 citizens whose wavering loyalty to the British was augmented by the desire of self-preservation. Montreal was a major cog in the British defense of Canada, but on November 13, 1775, a surprised Montgomery marched unchallenged into the city.
Quebec City was the prize Montgomery wanted to capture, and he quickly led his troops to the walls of the city. Meeting up with General Benedict Arnold, both generals planned an offensive on the city. Montgomery’s men brought much-needed clothing, supplies, and morale. After various ultimatums toward Carleton’s soldiers had been rejected, Montgomery knew that an attack was inevitable. While waiting for weather conditions to improve, Montgomery altered his course of attack. Finally, on December 31, 1775, Arnold and Montgomery led simultaneous attacks on Quebec from two different directions. Grapeshot fired from Quebec landed among Montgomery’s men, killing the front group of the advance.
Montgomery, who always led his troops into battle, was killed instantly, sustaining deadly injuries to his head and both thighs. A congressional member wrote to his provincial congress saying, “Had one third of the Succours been sent Montgomery, in all human probability, the Life of that brave and gallant Officer had been saved & Quebec long e’er this in our Possession.” The attack on Quebec failed on and off the field of battle. The Americans lost a great general, and even the British politicians and military leaders considered this loss a “great calamity.” One congressional delegate wrote to Schuyler his condolences on the death of Montgomery saying, “I sincerely Sympathize with you the Loss of that brave officer.”
Montgomery perished on the battlefield, but his legacy and name live on today. A monument in front of St. Paul’s Church in New York City praises his achievements and houses his remains. Modern day Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, was renamed after General Richard Montgomery for his heroic actions to secure freedom for the American colonies in 1784.
Chichester, H. M. “Richard Montgomery.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. Paul David Nelson. New York: Oxford UP, 2004.
Coffin, Alexander. The Death of General Montgomery, Or, the Storming of Quebec. New York:, 1814.
Gabriel, Michael P. Major General Richard Montgomery. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2002.
Griswold, Rufus, William Gilmore Simms, and Edward D. Ingraham. “Brigadier-General Montgomery II.” Washington and the Generals of the American Revolution. Philadelphia: Cary & Hart, 1848. 183,184-187.
Harley, J. K., M.E. “History of Montgomery County.” A History and Geography of Montgomery County, PA., Together with County and Township Government., 1883. 13-14-69.
Montgomery, Thomas H. “Ancestry of General Richard Montgomery.”New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (1871): 123,124-130.
Morse, Jedidiah. The Life of Gen. Washington. also, of the Brave General Montgomery. 8th ed. Philadelphia: Jones, Hoff and Derrick, 1794.