Private Hugh Montgomery was the First Man to Fire
Private Hugh Montgomery was the first British soldier to fire in the Boston Massacre. According to many historic documents, he was also identified by many witnesses in the trial as the man who killed Crispus Attucks. As if this were not enough, it is also believed that it was Montgomery not Captain Preston who yelled “Damn you, fire!” to the troops.
Accused of these things, no wonder that Montgomery became the key figure in the Boston Massacre trial. Multiple witnesses were called to testify what they saw during the shooting. This explains why we know so much about Private Montgomery but so little about even some officers were involved in the Massacre.
According to the most accepted version of the event, at the peak of the confrontation between the crowd and the soldiers Montgomery was struck down onto the ground by a club wielded or thrown by someone from the mob. When he recovered to his feet, he fired his musket. Wikipedia article quotes a source that identified the attacker as Richard Holmes, a local tavern keeper.
Among other details that were revealed in the trial was the fact that upon his arrival to Boston as part of His Majesty’s 28th Regiment of Foot, Hugh Montgomery brought his family with him. He had a wife Isabella and three children, Mary, Esther and William. One of the testimonies during the trial was from what we now call a “character witness”. The neighbor Caleb Swan was called to describe the clearly negative attitude of Isabella Montgomery towards the citizens of Boston. Swan recalled that on the night of the shooting when the news broke about the disturbance on the street Mrs. Montgomery’s reaction was that the people of this town being too arrogant and needed to be humbled down.
A whiteness testified in the Boston Massacre trial: “I saw a man come up to Montgomery with a club, and knock him down before his fired, and that he not only fell himself, but his gun flew out of his hand, and as soon as he rose he took it up and fired.
Montgomery also later admitted to his lawyer that he was the one screaming "Damn you, fire!". After the first shot witnesses recall six or seven shots were fired by the rest of the soldiers and some of those shots were being aimed at the people running away.
Questioning of a witness during the Massacre trial examined the possibility that the blow from the club was no so strong at all and that Montgomery fell because he simply slipped on ice. Here are the questions that were asked and answered during the trial.
- Did you observe anybody strike Montgomery, or was a club thrown?
- The stroke came from a stick or club that was in somebody’s hand and the blow struck his gun and his arm.
- Was hi knocked down, or did the gun only fly out of his hand?
- He fell I am sure.
- What, with the blow on his arm?
- The gun flew out of his hand and as he stooped to take it up, he fell himself. The blow truck his arm and might hit his body> for anything I know.
- Did you see the person that struck him, was he a tall man?
- He was a stout man.
- Was any number of people standing near the man that struck his gun?
- Yes a whole crowd, fifty or sixty.
- When he took up his gun an fired which way did he aim?
- Towards Stone’s tavern, I imagine he presented towards the mulatto.
- Was the blow Montgomery received, upon the oath you have taken, violent?
- Yes very violent.
- Did Montgomery say anything upon the firing of the gun?
- Not a word; nor any of the soldiers.
Another witness however testified that it was a piece of ice thrown from the crowd that made him fall down, not a strike by a club. Yet a third person testified that a stick was thrown.
Despite all the evidence that was brought up during the trial some mysteries still remain about Montgomery’s past waiting to be discovered.
The author of the Boston 1775 blog uncovered a previously unknown fact about Montgomery. The private name was likely not Hugh Montgomery but Edward Montgomery! This discovery was made by examining the army muster rolls in London. Presumably then the Boston Massacre court proceedings incorrectly got the name of a man who was accused of murder. How could this have happened. The must have been an explanation. For example Montgomery could have changed his name after he arrived to Boston.