French/Indian War and Revolutionary War – Richard Montague

Painting by Erastus Salisbury Field of General George Washington surrounded by figures from the Civil War

Richard Montague, who would serve in both the French/Indian and Revolutionary Wars, was born in Sunderland in May 1729 to Deacon Samuel Montague, who was a farmer and owner of a large estate. Richard presumably grew up as a normal farmer’s son, and then on May 23, 1750, he married Lucy Cooley (born 1730). They would eventually have 11 children together–9 sons and 2 daughters–but only 7 of their sons survived past infancy. Their first child, Hannah, was born in 1752, and her first brother, Zebina, followed her in 1754.

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Toy carriage at the Family Museum

Other key events in 1754 lead to the open hostilities between French and English colonists known as the French and Indian War. While territorial disputes between the English and the French were nothing new, this war in particular, over the Ohio country, had been brewing since 1747 when the Governor-General of New France ordered a military expedition of the region to confirm the original French claim to the region, to determine the influence of the British there, and to impress the Native Americans with a show of force. Ensuing demands, raids, failed negotiations, and fortifications for war (mostly on the part of the French) led to a British response of force beginning with the Battle of Jumonville Glen. In 1755, expeditions designed to push back French forces began, and Sunderland’s own Richard Montague served with Rogers Rangers at expedition St. Frances and Crown Point.

The war inspired doubts in Richard about the justness of the King of England’s reign, presumably because Britain focused on the war in Europe and left the colonists to largely fend for themselves in the American theater. Also, after the war, because the royal treasury had been depleted by war, the crown imposed numerous, seemingly unreasonable taxes on the colonies. However, during the war, which lasted until 1763 (1760 in the Americas) when British forces were routinely successful and the French threw in the towel, Montague’s 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th children were born. Uriel was born in 1756, Oreb in ’58, Nathaniel in ’61, and Moses, who died the same year, in ’63.

Before moving to North Leverett in 1765 and becoming one of the town’s founders, Richard and Lucy had another child in 1764, who they also named Moses but who also unfortunately died in the year of his birth. While in Sunderland, Richard had been very active as a public figure; he had been the town clerk, a school teacher, and a scribe for the town. When he settled in Leverett, he was a licensed inn holder, and he sold “strong drink.” But that is not to say he was immoral by the standards of the time; in fact, he was one of thirteen original members of the Baptist Church in Leverett. He held services in his barn, which was also where the church’s first pastor was ordained, for the rest of his life because they did not have a church building. Richard was a leader in the church, a clerk, deacon, and virtually the minister for a few years before they could find a proper pastor. At one point, Richard refused on principle to pay the Congregational tax that was levied on certain denominations and religions in order for them to worship in public. He was arrested, but the next day he was released, and one of his prize hogs was confiscated to pay the tax.

Congregational Church in Leverett

Congregational Church in Leverett

Shortly after beginning their new life in Leverett, Lucy and Richard had another child–Luke was born in 1766, followed two years later by Elijah and then Lucy in 1771. Their eleventh child, Perley, was born and died in 1774. Not long after Perley, of course, the battles of Lexington and Concord took place (April 19, 1775). Upon hearing of these battles, Richard renounced his allegiance to the king and said, “If the Lord would forgive him for fighting 7 years for the king, he would fight against him for the rest of his life.” He then proceeded to raise a company of men and gathered at Cambridge under General George Washington, who had also served in the French and Indian War as a general at the ripe age of 21. Richard fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and he was commissioned Major by General Washington. Apparently, he was very attached to his staff, and when he recruited in Western Massachusetts, people noted his “fine martial bearing, how well he managed his men, and how elegantly he rode his horse.” He was also fairly proud and self-confident; when asked how he felt about the Hessians, who most Americans thought were heartless foreign mercenaries, he replied, “I don’t care whom he sends if he doesn’t send angels or devils, something that we can’t kill with powder or ball.” In addition to his own service, four of his sons served in the Revolutionary War.

Statuette with banners of "Honor" and what appears to be "Reform"

Statuette with banners of “Honor” and what appears to be “Reform”

In the middle of the war, in 1779, Richard bought the North Leverett Sawmill, including 47 acres of land, buildings on the land, orchards, and all improvements, utensils, and the millyard from Joseph Slarrow for £2,500. Just as he was active in Sunderland’s town-wide business, Richard served Leverett as an assessor from 1782-87 and from 1791-3; as well as a moderator in 1783; and a selectman in 1791. In an interesting turn of fate, he died the same year a church building was finally constructed by his congregation, 1794. He was buried at Jackson hill in Leverett, and on his tombstone are the somewhat morbid words, “Traveller, behold as you pass by:/ As you are now so once was I;/ As I am now so must you be;/ Prepare for death and follow me.”

References: Leverett Family Museum Archives; Ancestry.com via RootsWeb