On this day in 1776, the Continental Congress authorizes the first national Revolutionary War memorial in honor of Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, who had been killed during an assault on Quebec on December 31, 1775.
Montgomery, along with Benedict Arnold, led a two-pronged invasion of Canada in late 1775. Before joining Arnold at Quebec, Montgomery successfully took Montreal. But the Patriot assault on Quebec failed, and Montgomery became one of the first generals of the American Revolution to lose his life on the battlefield.
When word of his death reached Philadelphia, Congress voted to create a monument to Montgomery’s memory and entrusted Benjamin Franklin to secure one of France’s best artists to craft it. Franklin hired King Louis XV’s personal sculptor, Jean Jacques Caffieri, to design and build the monument.
Upon its completion in 1778, the Montgomery memorial was shipped to America and arrived at Edenton, North Carolina, where it remained for several years. Although originally intended for Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Congress eventually decided to place the memorial in New York City. In 1788, it was installed under the direction of Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant beneath the portico of St. Paul’s Chapel, which served as George Washington’s church during his time in New York as the United States’ first president in 1789, and where it remains to this day. Montgomery’s body, which was originally interred on the site of his death in Quebec, was moved to St. Paul’s in 1818.
Caffieri also completed a bust of Franklin. Franklin gave seven copies of the bust to friends in the new United States; the original remains in Paris at the Bibliotheque Mazarine.