Boston has two distinct holidays on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day of course, but also Evacuation Day, when the British Army left Boston in 1776. The result of very different historical and cultural events, there is nevertheless a common theme connecting them, General Richard Montgomery.
Richard Montgomery was the first, and highest-ranking, Continental General killed in the Revolutionary War. Over the course of 1775, 37-year-old Richard Montgomery went from being a private citizen to a Major General of the Continental Army. Born north of Dublin, Ireland, Montgomery served in the 17th Regiment of Foot in the British Army during the French and Indian War. He resigned his commission in 1772, and shortly afterward married Janet Livingston, daughter of a powerful and political New York family. Montgomery supported the American cause and because of his military experience was commissioned a Brigadier General by the Continental Congress in June of 1775. He served under Phillip Schuyler during the invasion of Canada until Schuyler gave full command to Montgomery in September. Montgomery’s forces conducted a stunning campaign that captured St. Johns, Chambly, and Montréal. By December American forces were besieging Québec, the capital of Canada. Montgomery, now a Major General, launched an assault on the city on New Year’s Eve. In the face of a blinding snowstorm, Montgomery was a killed by British fire at the very beginning of the attack. 
Montgomery’s drive through Canada in the fall of 1775, particularly St. Johns and Chambly, secured vital supplies for the American military. This included cannon which were desperately needed by Washington’s army outside of Boston. Washington’s instructions to Henry Knox made this abundantly clear, who instructed the young man that he had wide latitude to get cannon “from Ticonderoga, Crown point, or St Johns—If it should be necessary, from Quebec, if in our hands—the want of them is so great, that no trouble or expence must be spared to obtain them.” Several bronze cannon had just been shipped south from St. Johns to Ticonderoga where Knox picked them up for the trip to Boston. There, the artillery from the north was used to menace British positions in Boston and force their evacuation on March 17, 1776.
In death, Montgomery became a martyr for the cause of liberty and Congress authorized a memorial for him within weeks of his death.  As one of the first major casualties of the Revolution he was remembered across the nation: at least 14 states have a Montgomery County named after him. Montgomery was particularly popular among Irish immigrants to America, who saw him as evidence of the sacrifices Irishmen had made for the United States since its beginning. In 1837, a group of Irish-American citizens in Boston formed a militia company named the Montgomery Guards. By invoking Montgomery, they linked their service to the long history of the Irish contributions to the nation.
As a volunteer militia company, the members designed and purchased their own uniforms. Fort Ticonderoga holds the only known surviving example of their uniform, which was described by a contemporary, who noted that “the adoption of the national colour [and] the arrangement of some lace in the form of a sprig of shamrock, and the symbol of the harp do mark the uniform the Montgomery Guards.”  The green coat with red facings, was trimmed in black silk tape in the form of shamrocks, exactly as described. Their specially made brass cap plate went even further, combining their Irish and American identity, including an eagle atop a harp, in a field of shamrocks, along with the motto: “Fostered under thy wings we will die in thy defence.” The letters M and G for Montgomery Guards recalled the hero of the Revolution and expressed their dual identity. 
Despite their efforts to show the Irish contribution to Independence, the climate in Boston was very anti-Irish and anti-Catholic, and they quickly became the center of controversy. At the annual muster of the Boston Brigade of militia, the Montgomery Guards were abandoned by the other companies who refused to share the field with the Irishmen. After their review, the Guards began to march to their armory as an angry mob numbering nearly 3,000 swelled around them, jeering and throwing insults as well as bricks and stones. The timely intercession of the mayor and an armed posse, and the coolness of the Montgomery Guards, prevented bloodshed.
The disobedient companies that marched off the field rather than share it with the Montgomery Guards were ordered to disband for failing to fulfill their legal duty. Despite this, most reformed shortly after with new names. Some of the assailants were tried and convicted for riotous behavior, but despite the admirable conduct of the Montgomery Guards in the face of such violence, their story does not have a happy conclusion. The governor eventually forced the Montgomery Guards to disband as well, claiming their mere existence was a provocation to the rest of the population who were unable to accept these men exercising the rights and privileges of American citizens.
Given the intense anti-Catholic feeling in the city, Bostonians in March of 1838 likely saw little to connect St. Patrick’s Day and Evacuation Day. However, the service and experience of the Montgomery Guards reveal their shared history, one which connects America’s greatest sacrifices and triumphs with one of its more shameful moments. Their story is at the heart of the legacy of the American Revolution, the constant dialogue between service and citizenship, and what it means to be an American.
Fort Ticonderoga preserves the only known example of the Montgomery Guards’ uniform which can be seen on display in the A Well-Regulated Militia: Citizen, Soldier, and State exhibit Tuesday-Sunday, May 6-October 29, 2023.