James Haltigan.

The Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies online

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Many of the citizens of Boston had left the town, but there re-
mained, of loyalists and others, more than six thousand. After
Bunker Hill, life in Boston became intolerable. Property was
liable to confiscation on frivolous grounds, or none at all ; drunk-
en soldiers committed robberies in the public streets, while their
officers passed indifferently by; loyalists, or tories, were snubbed,
and despised, and patriots were persecuted. The wounded
brought from Bunker Hill were lodged in private houses from
which their rightful owners were driven or allowed to remain
only on the footing of servants. The prisoners which the British
troops had taken were thrown into the common jail and the
wounded among them were neglected, or worse. In short, the
English army in Boston behaved like ill-conditioned savages,
wreaking upon the helpless the injuries which they could not, and
dared not to inflict upon their enemies in the open field. It was
time they were expelled,"

In addition to the cruelties which the British practiced
within Boston they also sent their warships to destroy the sur-
rounding seaports. We turn to Washington Irving for an ex-
ample of these crimes,

"Among the sturdy little New England seaports," he writes,
"which had become obnoxious by resistance to nautical exactions


was Falmouth, now Portland, Me. On the evening of the nth of
October, 1775, Lieutenant Mowatt, of the Royal Navy, appeared
before it with several armed vessels, and sent a letter on shore
apprising the inhabitants that he had come to execute a just
punishment on them for their premeditated attacks on the legal
prerogatives of the best of sovereigns. Two hours were given
them 'to remove the human species out of the town,' at the period
of which a red pendant hoisted at the main-topgallant masthead
and a gun would be the signal for destruction.

"The letter brought a deputation of three persons on board.
The lieutenant informed them verbally that he had orders from
Admiral Graves to set fire to all the seaport towns between Boston
and Halifax ; and he expected New York, at the present moment,
was in ashes. With much difficulty, and on the surrendering of
some arms, the committee obtained a respite until 9 o'clock the
next morning, and the inhabitants employed the interval in re-
moving their families and effects.

"The next morning the committee returned on board before
9 o'clock. The lieutenant now offered to spare the town on cer-
tain conditions, which were refused. About 9:30 o'clock the red
pendant was run up to the masthead and the signal gun fired.
Within five minutes several houses were in flames from a dis-
charge of carcasses and bombshells, which continued throughout
the day. The inhabitants, standing on the heights, were specta-
tors of the conflagration, which reduced many of them to penury
and despair. One hundred and thirty-nine dwelling houses and
two hundred and twenty-eight stores are said to have been burnt.
All the vessels in the harbor, likewise, were destroyed or carried
away as prizes.

"Having satisfied his sense of justice with respect to Fal-
mouth, the gallant lieutenant left it a smoking ruin, and made
sail, as was said, for Boston, to supply himself with more am-
munition, having the intention to destroy Portsmouth also. The
conflagration of Falmouth was as a bale-fire throughout the coun-
try. Lieutenant Mowatt was said to have informed the com-
mittee at that place that orders had come from England to bum
all seaport towns that would not lay down and deliver up their
arms, and give hostages for their good behavior."

General Greene, in a letter to a friend, expresses himself
with warmth on these outrages. "Oh," he writes, "could the
Congress behold the distresses and wretched condition of the poor
inhabitants driven from the seaport towns, it must, it would,
kindle a blaze of indignation against the commissioned pirates
and licensed robbers. People begin heartily to wish a declara-
tion of independence.**


General Sullivan was sent to Portsmouth, whose strong
fortification he had captured four months before Lexington, to
give the inhabitants his advice and assistance. Had the British
gone there they would have received a warmer welcome than they
bargained for.

General Washington branded, the warfare of the British as
void of every principle of humanity and wrote a strong but dig-
nified letter to General Gage on the matter. The latter answered
in true English style — arrogant, untruthful, and insulting. As
Washington's final letter to Gage on this subject contains an
epitome of the pure principles of his compatriots, the iofty mo-
tives which personally actuated him and the humane manner in
which hostilities on his part would be conducted, we print it here
as one of the most exalted documents of modern times:

"I addressed you, sir, in terms which gave the fairest scope
for that humanity and politeness which were supposed to form
part of your character. I remonstrated with you on the un-
worthy treatment shown to the officers and citizens of America,
whom the fortune of war, chance or a mistaken confidence, had
thrown into your hands. Whether British or American, mercy,
fortitude, and patience are most pre-eminent; whether our vir-
tuous citizens, whom the hand of tyranny has forced into arms
to defend their wives, their children, and their property, or thflk
merciless instruments of lawless domination, avarice, and re -
venge, best deserve the appellation of rebels and the punishmentj
of that cord which your affected clemency has forborne to inflict 5
whether the authority under which I act is usurped, or fouodecS
upon the genuine principles of liberty, were altogether foreign to
the subject I purposely avoided all political disquisition; nor
shall I now avail myself of those advantages which the sacred
cause of my country, of liberty and of human nature give me
over you ; much less shall I stoop to retort an invective ; but the
inteUigence you say you have received from our army requires a
reply. I have taken time, sir, to make a strict inquiry, and find
it has not the least foundation in truth. Not only your officers
and soldiers have been treated with the tenderness due to fellow-
citizens and brethren, but even those execrable parricides, whose
counsels and aid have deluged their country with blood, have been
protected from the fury of a justly enraged people.

"You affect, sir, to despise all rank not derived from the
same source with your own. I cannot conceive one more hon-
orable than that which flows from the uncorrupted choice of a
brave and free people, the purest source and original fountain
of all power. Far from making it a plea for cruelty, a mind'^


true magnanimity and enlarged ideas would comprehend and
respect it.

"What may have been the ministerial views which have pre-
cipitated the present crisis, Lexington, Concord, and Charlestown
can best declare. May that God, to whom you, too, appeal, judge
between America and you. Under His providence, those who in-
fluence the councils of America, and all the other inhabitants of
the united colonies, at the hazard of their lives, are determined
to hand down to posterity those just and invaluable privileges
which they have received from their ancestors. I shall now, sir,
close my correspondence with you, perhaps forever. If your
officers, our prisoners, receive a treatment from me different
from that which I wished to show them, they and you will re-
member the occasion of it."

Soon after this correspondence Gage was recalled to Eng-
land and never returned. General Howe was appointed in his
place as Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces, and under
him the same infamous policy was continued.

On October 15, 177^, a committee from Congress, consisting
of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Lynch, and Colonel Harrison, ar-
rived in camp to hold a conference with Washington. A Board
of Conference was accordingly organized, with Washington as
President and Joseph Reed as Secretary. Of these five members,
on whose conclusions the future destinies of this nation may be
said to have rested, two were Irish-Americans — a fact which
proves the great influence wielded by our people at the opening
of the Revolution.

It took Washington eight months to ^et his forces into
shape to drive the British out of Boston, and just as he was pro-
ceeding to do so, the British themselves, fearing the results of the
encounter, took to their ships and slunk away to Halifax.

On St. Patrick's Day, 1776, with General Sullivan, an Irish-
American, as officer of the day and "St. Patrick" as the coun-
tersign of his victorious army, Washington triumphantly entered
Boston and took possession of the town. Thus, on the most
eventful day in the history of Boston, the Commander-in-Chief
of the American army paid a most graceful compliment to the
Irish people.

The British never afterwards returned to Boston, but they
continued to wage their merciless and inhuman war in other
parts of the country.

One of the last acts of the British in Boston was typical of
their whole course throughout that war. Dr. Gordon, in his his-
tory, asserts that "in the hospital at Boston a large quantity of


medicine was left, in which it was discovered that white and yel-
low arsenic was mixed. The object can be easily guessed."

Neither the Indians or the Hessians, in their most barbarous
moments, could have surpassed the fiendishness of that terrible
act. Americans should remember it when an alliance with Eng-
land is proposed.



While the siege of Boston was in progress it was deemed
advisable to send an army into Canada in order to take advantage
of the good feeling prevailing in that country for the American
cause and to offset a threatened expedition of the British from
that quarter. Washington appointed General Philip Schuyler
as chief of the American forces, but as his health failed him the
command fell to the lot of General Richard Montgomery. Wash-
ington also sent Benedict Arnold, with eleven hundred men, by
way of the Kennebec River, to co-operate with Montgomery.
Three companies of the Irish riflemen, numbering nearly five
hundred men, under the command of Captain Daniel Morgan,
accompanied Arnold in his perilous march through the wilderness.

As the history of the invasion of Canada is coincident with
Montgomery's connection with the American army, it can best
be told in the life-sketch of that illustrious commander.

Authorities differ as to the birth-place of Montgomery. In
Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography it is stated that
he was bom in Swords, near Feltrim, Ireland, on December 2,
1736, but this does not agree with the Life of Richard Montgom-
^O^. by John Armstrong, in Sparks' American Biography, pub-
hshed in Boston in 1834, which is referred to by Appleton's as one
of its authorities.

John Armstrong, Jr., a brave soldier in the Revolution and
a brilliant writer of its memories, an account of whose life we
have already given in these records, states that Montgomery was
born in Convoy House, the name given to his father's seat, near
Raphoe, in the North of Ireland. His parents and connections
were highly respectable and such as secured him an early and
liberal education in the College of Dublin.

His father, Thomas Montgomery, of Convoy House, had
three sons — Alexander, John, and Richard, and one daughter.
Alexander commanded a grenadier company in Wolfe's army and
was present at the capture of Quebec. On the death of his father
he withdrew to his estate and for many years in succession repre-
sented the County of Donegal in the Irish Parliament. John
lived and died in Portugal, and the daughter married Lord Rane-
lagh and was the mother of two sons, Charles and Thomas, who,
in turn, succeeded to the title.



The difference in these accounts may be ascribed to the fact
that the elder Montgomery resided for a while at Feltrim House,
near Swords, in tlie County of Dublin, and Richard may have
been born there during that period. But whetlier he was born
in Dublin or Donegal, the fact remains that he was a genuine
Irishman, as his fathers were before him for many generations.
Nearly one hundred years after his death, however, one of his
degenerate descendants tried to prove the Scottish origin of the
family, evidently not knowing that if he went far enough in that
direction, he would eventually trace it back again to Ireland, the
place from which it originally sprung.

In like manner one of the Clintons of the present day re-
cently resented the statement that the founder of his family in
this country — Charles Clinton — was an Irishman, on the ground
that, although he was born and brought up in Ireland, where his
family had lived for three generations, his ancestors originally
came to England with the Normans.

Gratitude alone should have prevented this degenerate son
of the Clintons from disowning his Irish origin, for when De Witt
Clinton, in 1824, retired from the Governorship of New York
and found himself without office or means, it was the Irish peo-
ple, led by such '98 patriots as Thomas Addis Emmet and Dr.
William J. McNevin, who, justly claiming him as one of their
own race, rallied to his support and re-elected him Governor by
the greatest majority ever given to a candidate.

If this modern Clinton, who resents the imputation of being
Irish, would only study the history of these Normans he would
not be so ready to claim them as ancestors. The following earnest
words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of America's greatest think-
ers and writers, will enlighten him as to their character and ante-
cedents :

"The Normans," writes Emerson, "came out of France into
England worse men than when they went into it 160 years before.
They had lost their own language and learned the barbarous
Latin of the Gauls, and had acquired with the language all the
vices it had names for. The Conquest has obtained in the chron-
icles the name of the 'memory of sorrows.' Twenty thousand
thieves landed at Hastings. These founders of the House of
Lords were greedy and ferocious dragoons, sons of greedy and
ferocious pirates. They were all alike. They took everything
they could carry; they burned, harried, violated, tortured, and
killed until everything English was brought to the verge of ruin.
Such, however, is the illusion of antiquity and wealth, that decent
and dignified men now existing boast their descent from these
filthy thieves, who showed a far juster conviction of their own


merits by assuming for types the swine, goat, jackal, leopard,
wolf, and snake, which they severally resembled."

A decent man should be ashamed of his descent from these
filthy thieves.

At the age of eighteen, in conformity to his own tastes, a
commission in the British army was secured for Richard Mont-
gomery, and as an ensign in the Seventeenth Regiment of In-
fantry he was sent to Canada, where, from 1757 to 1762, he dis-
tinguished himself in the principal military movements in that
country, rising in the meantime to the rank of captain. In the
latter year he was ordered to the West Indies, where he fought
in the campaigns against Martinique and Havana.

Soon after the treaty of peace between France and England,
in February, 1763, Montgomery, with his regiment, returned to
New York, and sought and obtained permission to return home,
where he remained until the close of the year 1772. "Of his occu-
pation during these nine years," writes Armstrong, "the details
we possess are very imperfect; a circumstance the more to be
regretted, as it may be presumed that what remained of his life
took much of its color and character during this period. Such
were the origin and progress of the controversy between Great
Britain and her American Colonies ; the intimacy formed between
himself and those members of the English Parliament, like
Burke, Fox, and Barre, who most favored the pretensions of the
latter; his abandonment of the King's service in 1772, and lastly,
his determination to seek in America a future and permanent
home. On these points nothing written by himself has been
found, nor have we any better authority than tradition for stating
that finding himself twice circumvented in the purchase of a
majority, and being satisfied that there was a government agency
in both cases, he promptly determined to quit at once the country
and the service, and retire to America."

Having sold his commission he returned to New York in
January, 1773, and bought a farm of sixty-seven acres in Kings-
bridge, then twelve miles from the outskirts of New York, but
now well included within its bounds. In July of the same year he
married Janet, the eldest daughter of Robert R. Livingston, then
one of the Judges of the New York Supreme Court. Soon after
his marriage he purchased a handsome estate on the banks of the
Hudson, near Barrytown, and commenced the erection of a suit-
able home, but he spent the brief period of his married life at his
wife's residence in the same vicinity.

In April, 1775, he was sent as a delegate from Duchess
County to the First Provincial Congress of New York. Of his
labors in that body we have his own estimate, which, as Arm-


Strong writes, may be usefully offered as an example of unaf-
fected modesty and an admonition to the unfledged statesman of
the present day. In a letter to his father-in-law he says :

"For all the good I can do here I might as well and much
better have been left at home to direct the labors of my people.
On the simple question between us and England, I am, I hope,
sufficiently instructed, and will not go wrong; but how many
may be the views growing out of that and subordinate to it, of
which, in the present state of my knowledge, I am not able to
judge correctly? Inquiry and reflection may, in the long run,
supply this defect; but the long run requires time, and time stops
for no man. It is but justice to the convention to say that it has
in it both talents and knowledge sufficient for its purposes; and,
on the whole, no unwillingness to do business, which, notwith-
standing, is a good deal obstructed by long, useless speeches, an
opinion which after all may be mere prejudice, arising from my
own taciturn habits."

On June 15, 1775, Montgomery was appointed brigadier-
general by the Continental Congress, being the second on the
hst of eight appointed at the same time and the only one not re-
siding in New England. The spirit of self-sacrifice and patriotism
with which Montgomery left his happy home and parted with his
loving wife, though he was but two years in the country, may be
judged from the following letter which he wrote to a friend soon
after his appointment:

"The Congress having done me the honor of electing me a
brigadier-general in their service is an event which must put an
end for a while, if not forever, to the quiet scheme of life I had
prescribed for myself; for though entirely unexpected and unde-
sired by me, the will of an oppressed people, compelled to choose
between liberty and slavery, must be obeyed."

It is safe to say that had the man who penned that letter re-
mained in Ireland till 1798, he would be found in the ranks of
the United Irishmen, like so many of his class, fighting side by
side with the Emmets and Wolfe Tones of that period.

As compared with Generals Lee and Gates, two other officers,
who, like him, had served in the British army, it was said that
Montgomery, though perhaps inferior to Charles Lee in quickness
of mind, was much superior to both him and Gates in all the
great qualities which adorn the soldier.

As we have said, the entire command of the Canadian expe-
dition devolved upon Montgomery. Proceeding by way of the
Sorel River, and notwithstanding the mutinous conduct of his sol-
diers, the lack of proper munitions and incidental suffering, he
made the brilliant campaign that resulted in the reduction of the


fortresses of St. John's and Chambly and the capture of Montreal
during the latter part of_ 1775. At St. John's he had the honor
of capturing the first British colors in the Revolutionary War —
those of the Seventh Fusiliers.

In the early part of the campaign, in order to quiet the rest-
less activity of Ethan Allen, who, without commission or com-
mand, had attached himself to the army as a volunteer, Mont-
gomery sent him to Laprairie with an escort of thirty men and
orders "to mingle with the inhabitants and so to treat them as
would best conciliate their friendship and induce them to join
the American standard."

Allen succeeded in inducing fifty Canadians to join him, but
unwisely concluded to attack Montreal on his own account with-
out taking his commanding officer into his confidence. He crossed
the St. Lawrence on the night of September 24, 1775, and was
met in the morning by a British party, who, after a short and
slight conflict, during which his Canadian volimteers ran away,
captured him and thirty-eight of his followers.

Although Montgomery censured Allen for his rash conduct,
he went quickly to his aid when he learned that he was being
cruelly treated by his captors.

When the British General Prescott heard that Allen was
the man who captured Ticonderoga he flew into a great rage,
shook his cane over his head and called him many hard names,
among which he frequently used the word rebel.

Allen answered with such spirit that he was immediately
hustled into the hold of a warship, heavily ironed, to be trans-
ported, with all his fellow-prisoners, to England for trial; Pres-
cott giving him the parting assurance, sealed with a brutal oath,
that he would grace a halter at Tyburn.

General Montgomery immediately wrote to General Carle-
ton, then Governor of Quebec, protesting against the inhuman
severity with which Alien and his men were treated. '"Your
character, sir," he writes, "induces me to hope that I am ill-in-
formed. Nevertheless, the duty I owe to the troops committed
to my charge lays me under the necessity of acquainting your
Excellency that, if you allow this conduct and persist in it, I
shall, though with the most painful regret, execute with rigor
the just and necessary law of retaliation upon the garrison of
Chambly, now in my possession, and upon all others who may
hereafter fall into my hands. I shall expect your Excellency's
answer in six days. Should the bearer not return in that time, I
must interpret your silence into a declaration of a barbarous
war. I cannot pass this opportunity without lamenting the mel-
ancholy and fatal necessity, which obliges the firmest friends of


the constitution to oppose one of the most respectable officers of
the crown."

These latter words were drawn from Montgomery by the
fact that he and Carleton were formerly warm friends and com-
panions and that he knew him to be possessed of a generous and
sympathetic nature. Carleton, moreover, was an Irishman like
himself, having been born in Strabane, County Tyrone, within a
short distance of Montgomery's own home.

While resting in Montreal, waiting for Arnold to come up,
Montgomery addressed a letter to Congress on his future opera-
tions and detailing the many things of which he was in need.
"For the good fortune," he says, "which has hitherto attended us,
I am, I hope, sufficiently thankful ; but this very fortune, good
as it has been, will become a serious and unsurmountable evil
should it lead Congress either to overrate our means or to under-
rate the difficulties we have yet to contend with. I need not tell
you that until Quebec is taken Canada is unconquered, and that,
to accomplish this, we must resort to siege, investment, or storm."
Montgomery then discusses each of these alternatives in a manner
which showed his thorough knowledge of military science and
concluded his able letter as follows : "In reviewing what I have
said you will find my list of wants is a long one ; men, money,
artillery, and clothing accommodated to the climate. Of ammu-
nition Carleton took care to leave little behind him at this place.
What I wish and expect is that all this be made known to Con-
gress, with a full assurance that, if I fail to execute their wishes

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 38 of 67)