“Grateful Remembrance”: A Monument to General Montgomery

It was New Years’ Eve, 1775. An American army, divided into two wings, assaults the lower town outside the walls of British-held Quebec, Canada. Through a blinding snowstorm, Col. Benedict Arnold led 600 men along the northern edge of the city’s walls, while Gen. Richard Montgomery advanced to the southeast with roughly 300 Continentals. The attack was a disaster. Outnumbered nearly 2 to 1, the Americans were cut to pieces and close to 400 men, including Capt. Daniel Morgan, were taken prisoner. Arnold was wounded early in the offensive, his left leg (the same that would be shattered at Saratoga less than two years later) struck by an enemy ball. Montgomery, the commander of the expedition, was cut down at the head of his column by a blast of grapeshot at near point-blank range. With his heroic death, Montgomery would become one of the first high-profile martyrs of the American cause, and the Continental Congress would memorialize him by commissioning a monument in his honor less than a month later. This monument, now situated at the front of St. Paul’s Chapel along Broadway in New York City, was the first ever commissioned by the American government.

General Richard Montgomery (nypl)

Following the news of his death, the public was quick to eulogize Montgomery through orations, sermons, songs, and poems. He became a symbol of American service and sacrifice in the great struggle for liberty. On January 25, 1776, the Continental Congress approved appropriations for a monument to be built in his memory to “transmit to Prosperity a grateful remembrance of the patriotism conduct enterprize & perseverance of Major General Richard Montgomery.” This monument would not be placed above the general’s grave as it is today—Montgomery’s body was still buried in Quebec. In fact, his remains would not be disinterred and transported to New York City until 1818.

Montgomery Monument and Tomb, St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City

The story of the Montgomery monument does not end yet. Jean-Jacques Caffieri, King Louis XVI’s personal sculptor, was commissioned by Benjamin Franklin in Paris on behalf of Congress to make the idea a reality. Upon its completion, the finished product was set to be shipped to Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Departing from the port in Le Havre, it journeyed to Edenton, North Carolina, where it was placed in storage. The war made its transfer to Philadelphia almost impossible, and the stone was seemingly lost and forgotten until after the conflict ended.

Close-up of the Continental Congress’s Inscription

With peace came a renewed resolve to have one of the nation’s “first” heroes memorialized. Rediscovered, the Montgomery monument (after a long campaign of letter writing by both Franklin and the general’s wife, Janet) was installed in St. Paul’s Chapel in June 1788, over twelve years since it was first commissioned. Thirty years later, the New York State legislature approved to transport Montgomery’s remains to New York City and entomb them beneath the monument. On July 4, 1818, the general lay in state in the capital building in Albany, and four days later he was finally interred on American soil, his adopted home he had died in the service of.[1]

1818 Tomb of General Montgomery Underneath the Monument

[1] More information on the Montgomery monument and its journey can be found at https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/blogs/archivists-mailbag/general-and-monument


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