Thursday, April 21, 2011

Restoring "America's First Official Monument"

Earlier this week, I completed a series of posts on the American invasion of Canada, in 1775, which culminated with an attack on Quebec. Among the fatalities in that ill-fated assault was the American commander, Richard Montgomery.

Since writing that post, I've learned that a monument to Montgomery, regarded as America's first official monument (it was approved by the Continental Congress in January, 1776) is going to be restored. I have been asked to pass along information on the planned restoration. The following is an extract; for more information on the monument and its restoration, see here.




Monument Celebrates Heroism of General Richard Montgomery, the Fight for Independence, and the Perseverance of Benjamin Franklin

New York, NY (April 18, 2011) - America’s first official monument is being disassembled, cleaned, restored and returned to its pedestal on the Broadway façade of St. Paul’s Chapel where it has presided for 223 years, it was announced by The Rev. Dr. James Cooper, the 17th Rector of the Parish of Trinity Wall Street. The first full restoration of the Montgomery monument will take place onsite and is scheduled for completion later this summer.


The marble and limestone Montgomery monument was commissioned by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in January 1776, as reported in an appreciative treatise by Henry Kent, a former Secretary to the Board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, writing in a 1929 Trinity publication. The memorial pays tribute to the valor of Major General Richard Montgomery, who died in December 1775 at the age of 37 leading a charge against a larger British force in the Battle of Quebec. The amenable Benjamin Franklin was entrusted to have a monument fashioned in France that would transmit “to future ages, as examples truly worthy of imitation, (General Montgomery’s) patriotism, conduct (and) boldness of enterprise.” For the purpose, Congress allocated “a sum not exceeding three hundred pounds” (comparable to the value of six of the 342 chests of tea dumped into Boston harbor).

Franklin, in Paris, engaged Jean-Jacques Caffieri, a renowned sculptor who worked on Versailles and according to Franklin, “is one of the best artists here.” The completed work was shipped to Le Havre in 1777 in nine “strong” cases in preparation for the risky voyage to America. Caffieri complained about his fee and Franklin, while extolling “the beauty of the marble and the elegant simplicity of the design,” noted that he (Franklin) had “to pay the additional charges of package.”

According to Henry Kent, the pragmatic Franklin took precautions should the French ship become an enemy prize, writing to a connected British business friend, “If (the monument) should fall into the hands of any of your cruisers, I expect you will exert yourself to get it restored to us, because I know the generosity of your temper, which likes to do handsome things, as well as to make returns.”


The monument was installed by Pierre L’Enfant, who subsequently gained fame planning Washington, DC. L’Enfant also created a unique double-sided work of art at the rear, great window of the chapel. It functions as an altarpiece that blocks the view of the unfinished back of the Montgomery monument that could otherwise be seen by worshipers through the chapel window, and which also functions as a frame for the monument when viewed from the exterior. Interestingly, the frame contains post-Independence symbols, including a rising sun with thirteen rays and a bald eagle, draping the pre-Independence memorial.

(click to enlarge)

Finally, in 1818, at Mrs. Montgomery’s further request, the General’s body was shipped from Quebec. The widow, standing on the balcony of her Rhinebeck home overlooking the Hudson, watched the steamer pass by, carrying the General to be re-interred at St Paul’s, the monument becoming a tomb. An imposing funeral was held for General Montgomery with full military honors and choral music on July 8, 1818—43 years after his fatal assault on Quebec.


Time, the elements, cement, paint drippings and problems from corrosive agents used in early prior repairs have caused discoloration, cracks and surface deterioration. The full restoration, the first since its installation, will remove the drippings and corrosive agents, make repairs using sympathetic and compatible materials (including a version of 18th century grout), where needed replace missing marble and limestone from the same quarries (with the help of the present head architect of Versailles) and refresh painted areas.

Non-destructive cleaning and compatible repair methods will be employed to reveal and stabilize the original stone while an invisible coating will be applied in select locations to provide protection from the weather and harmful salts from bird droppings.

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