Before the formal United States gained independence, the Continental Congress was the governing body over the 13 colonies. On January 25th, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized the first national Revolutionary War memorial in honor of Brigadier General Richard Montgomery who was killed during an assault on Quebec a few weeks prior.
Montgomery was a fascinating man. Born and raised in Ireland, he initially joined the British Army to fight in the French and Indian War. After years of rising up through the British ranks, he became stationed at Fort Detroit, he relocated to the Thirteen Colonies and became a farmer. After living a very quiet life with his wife Janet Livingston, the American Revolutionary War suddenly broke out prompting him to take up the cause for his new country.
He became a brigadier general in the Continental Army just one month after getting elected to the New York Provincial Congress in May 1775. Montgomery was sent north to lead the invasion of Montreal and St. Johns in modern-day Canada. He then joined a different force under the command of Benedict Arnold, and would lead the attack on Quebec City. In this battle, Montgomery would perish.
George Washington was devastated upon hearing of Montgomery’s death. He believed that victory in Canada was no longer achievable. In a message to Congress, Washington wrote “My amiable friend, the gallant Montgomery, is no more; the brave Arnold is wounded; and we have met a severe check, in an unsuccessful attempt on Quebec, May Heaven be graciously pleased that the misfortune may terminate here.” Montgomery’s loss was also mourned throughout Britain, except by Prime Minister Lord Frederick North who said “I cannot join in lamenting the death of Montgomery as a public loss. Curse on his virtues!”
Benedict Arnold would ultimately get his own memorial site, in Stillwater, New York. Also a Brigadier General, Arnold experienced multiple successes during the Revolutionary War before he went the opposite route and made his name synonymous with the word traitor. Arnold’s memorial does not mention him by name, instead reading, “In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental army, who was desperately wounded on this spot, winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution, and for himself the rank of Major General.” The house where Arnold lived in central London describes him as an “American Patriot.”
On this day, the practice of memorializing fallen American heroes began, and it began with a man who trudged his soldiers through a Canadian blizzard in the middle of night to defeat the enemy.
Now to close things out a little bit off topic, here is Thomas Jefferson’s Facebook page as interpreted by a school child.
— Garren Barna (@mrbarnatweets) January 23, 2017