Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Richard Montgomery and the Dead Priest: Violence Outside Montreal, 1759

In the November 1873 Dawson's Historical Magazine the war stories of James Thompson of the 78th Highland Regiment were published. Among them is a rather violent story about Richard Montgomery
"It wasn't me"
that, if true, would cast a rather large shadow on his legacy.

According to Thompson, Captain Montgomery was stationed near the falls of Montmorency outside Montreal in 1759 and was told to advance to Ange Gardien. There they were met by a French-Canadian militia commanded by a priest. Montgomery's men killed many of the French-Canadians including the priest. At least one prisoner, who had surrendered to one of Montgomery's sergeants, was summarily put to death.

The only problem with this story? It couldn't possibly be Richard Montgomery. One of the biggest give aways is the fact the Richard was not a captain in 1759, but a lieutenant in the 17th Regiment of Foot which did not join the attack on Montreal until the spring of 1760. When the incident with the priest and the executed prisoner happened Richard was hundreds of miles away in the Mohawk Valley.

The Montgomery in question for the 1759 incident may have been Richard's much older brother Alexander who was a captain in the 43rd Regiment of Foot which was outside Montreal in 1759. He had already earned the nickname "Black Montgomery" for an incident involving a scalping earlier in the war.

So why then did Thompson remember Richard committing the violence? Perhaps by the time Thompson recorded his experiences time had played tricks on his memory. Richard had become the much more famous brother by the time of the Revolution. He was in fact one of the war's first martyrs.  Which leads to the question could Thompson, as a loyal British Army officer, have been trying to smear the reputation of an American hero?

We'll probably never know why Thompson leveled his accusation of unwarranted violence against Richard Montgomery. The one thing we do know is that it cant possibly be true, that Montgomery was nowhere near Montreal when the incident happened.

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