J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Edward Montgomery: private, family man, defendant

Pvt. Edward Montgomery arrived in Boston in 1768 along with the rest of Capt. John Corrance’s grenadier company in His Majesty’s 28th Regiment of Foot. Like many of his fellow soldiers, he was ethnically Irish and most likely Catholic. This background made them very unpopular in pre-Revolutionary Boston, which had a whole holiday devoted to defaming the Pope.

But Bostonians didn’t really need their anti-Catholicism to resent the arrival of the 29th and three other regiments, probably about 1,200 soldiers in all, in late 1768. The town then had fewer than 3,000 white men—i.e., potential voters and militia fighters. The equivalent military presence in Boston today, with approximately 470,000 adults of both sexes and all ethnicities, would be 188,000, or far more than the entire U.S. troop strength in Iraq, all concentrated in a single city. (Even if we compared the men in the regiments to Boston’s total population in 1770, more than half of which was under age 16, the equivalent number of soldiers today would be nearly 50,000.)

Boston felt like a town under military occupation, with sentries at the gates and various corners challenging people as they walked by. Even after the royal authorities removed two regiments in late 1769, the locals still resented their presence.

Montgomery was unusual in his company, though probably not unique, because he brought his family with him. His wife Isabela and their children Mary, Esther, and William took lodgings near the North Battery in the North End, in a building owned by Royall Tyler, a wealthy and Whiggish politician. (He was the father of the Royall Tyler who became America’s first homegrown playwright and Chief Justice of Vermont.)

The family’s relationship with their neighbors might be summed up by this testimony from Caleb Swan:

at the time of the bells ringing for fire [on 5 Mar 1770], he heard a woman’s voice, whom he knew to be the supposed wife of one Montgomery, a grenadier of the 29th regiment, standing at her door, and heard her say it was not fire; the town was too haughty and too proud; that many of their arses would be laid low before the morning.

Upon which Susanna Cathcart said to her, I hope your husband will be killed.

On which the woman replied, my husband is able and will stand his ground.
(I especially admire the term “supposed,” with the implication that the Montgomerys might not really be married.)

That night Pvt. Edward Montgomery was indeed caught up in the violence soon dubbed the “Boston Massacre.” For some reason, when he was indicted for his role, his first name was set down as “Hugh.” After that, in all the court records for the case and the published transcript, he was called “Hugh.” However, all the regiment’s muster rolls and the town’s record of his family state his name as Edward.

I won’t yet mention what Pvt. Montgomery did on the night of 5 Mar 1770, or how the soldiers’ trial turned out for him. But in late 1770 he and all the other indicted soldiers sailed to New Jersey to rejoin their regiment. On 18 May 1771, Montgomery was listed as being on “Furloe.” On 23 Nov 1772 he was on duty in St. Augustine, Florida, and then on 4 Aug 1774 at Dover Castle in the U.K.

The 29th regiment was sent back to America in 1776 to relieve Québec from the American siege. The next year, the grenadier company was attached to Gen. John Burgoyne’s army attacking southward from Canada, which surrendered to the U.S. forces in the fall. If Pvt. Edward Montgomery was still with his company then, he was marched back to greater Boston as a prisoner of war in what became known as the “Convention Army.” I have no idea what he or his family thought of that fate, but I imagine it couldn’t have been pleasant.


J. L. Bell said...

I left out one detail about Pvt. Montgomery: under his grenadier's bearskin cap, he was bald. Since we rarely know such details about men of his class, I figure that’s worth preserving. And our source for that information was the trial testimony of Benjamin Burdick, Jr.

Anonymous said...

I’m not sure why you think Pvt Montgomery would be a Catholic. AFAIK the name (in relation to Ireland )is of Scot origin. All of the Montgomerys, related to Ireland, I can think of were protestant (or dissenter). One of the first Ulster settlers was a Montgomery, others were famous as military men (unfortunately). Two Montgomerys of note were fighting with the Scot army at Benburb when it was annihilated by Catholic Ulstermen. One was commanding the cavalry and became a PoW. I’m sure you must be familiar with an unlucky Montgomery in the Continental Army. The famous WW2 Montgomery (who ruined the allied airborne capability at Arnhem) was of North Irish descent also.

J. L. Bell said...

I’d be delighted to learn more about Pvt. Montgomery. As I wrote above, I think I’m the first person to start referring to him with the first name in the muster rolls (Edward) instead of in the Massachusetts trial records (Hugh).

I haven‘t found anything definite about Montgomery’s religion or family background, and therefore have to go with the historians’ consensus that a high proportion of the enlisted men in the 29th were Irish Catholics. It seems risky to conclude that because other military men named Montgomery were Protestant that this one must have been as well.