Major General Richard Montgomery: The Making of an American Hero
Michael P. Gabriel

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This biography covers familiar ground as a military study, although Michael P. Gabriel unearthed new sources that fill out Richard Montgomery’s early life. As a younger son of Irish gentry, he absorbed the social, intellectual, and political values of his time, and he absorbed military culture while a commissioned officer in the British army; those combined into a lifelong devotion to duty and service. He fought in the Americas at the sieges of Louisbourg (1758) and Havana (1762). He met Janet Livingston, his future wife, while recuperating in New York, then he returned to the British Isles where he acquired Rockingham Whig views that made him question the sincerity of British rule in both Ireland and America. Gabriel implies he became a halfway dissenter. Then, frustrated from lack of promotion, Montgomery sold his captaincy in 1772 and migrated to New York. There, he bought into the Hudson River valley gentry and married.

An inbred noblesse oblige transformed him into a gentleman farmer predisposed toward patriot views as revolutionary currents roiled New York but ambivalent because of leveling tendencies in the Sons of Liberty. Ultimately, Gabriel argues, the rage militaire of 1775 pricked his belief in duty, honor, and service (perhaps with a dash of fatalism), and he accepted a brigadier general’s epaulettes. Richer sources once he went to war allows Gabriel, in company with Hal Shelton a decade ago, to deal with Montgomery the reluctant warrior in detail. He shaped American military success north of Lake Champlain when he seized the initiative from an inert Philip Schuyler and took St. Johns by siege, kept his democratic army together, negotiated with Canadians and English in what had become a civil war, then marched into Montreal as Guy Carleton evacuated to Quebec. Gabriel lauds Montgomery’s abilities, as most scholars do, keeps his readers close to each scene, re-creates action and place in the swamps and snows. Deepening winter, Benedict Arnold’s arrival outside Quebec, and a personal sense of urgency drew Montgomery down to the St. Lawrence to invest the last British stronghold in Canada. Of course time ran out, but Gabriel defends Montgomery’s decision to attack as a calculated risk, albeit overly optimistic. He failed and died, dooming both himself and the Continental Congress’s cause in Canada.

Montgomery achieved instant martyrdom for his reputation and noble character, modesty, and sacrifice in service. He was a rebel, not a revolutionary, but became a revolutionary as contemporaries apotheosized him in the sermons, poems, speeches, and plays that Charles Royster consulted to the same end in A Revolutionary People at War (1979). And Royster, like Gabriel, explored Janet Livingston’s career as a widow. This latest study of Montgomery expands our sense of his life, character, and thought and explains how early Americans thought about and identified their heroes. Along with Hal Shelton’s General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution, this is the most complete study of its subject to date and should sit in college and university as well as larger public libraries.

—Reginald C. Stuart, The Journal of American History, September 2003

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Photograph courtesy of Louise Dell-Bene Stahl © 2001

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