PUBLIC MEMORY AT DICKINSON
Montgomery House (formerly Montgomery Hall) serves as the main office building for the Theatre & Dance Department at Dickinson. Montgomery is also mentioned in a state historical marker near campus and briefly on the college and archival websites. However, there is currently no public acknowledgment about Montgomery’s unrepentant role as a slaveholder who routinely bought and sold enslaved people.
A native of Ireland, John Montgomery served in the French and Indian War and later as sheriff of Cumberland County. By 1783, he was a prominent slaveholder and among Dickinson’s most active and influential board members. In 1780, under the terms of the state’s new gradual abolition law, Montgomery registered eight slaves, making him one of Carlisle’s largest slave owners. When Dickinson’s Board of Trustees met at Montgomery’s Carlisle house in April 1784, trustees would have been in close contact with Montgomery’s slaves. Before the decade was out, five additional slave births increased Montgomery’s holdings in human property. In 1783, a girl named Violet; girls Patience and Phillis in 1786, and males Darby and Harry in 1788. Unlike Benjamin Rush and John Dickinson, however, Montgomery did not free his slaves. In 1787, he even advertised an enslaved women and three young children for sale. In 1808, even as he neared death, Montgomery willed that all his property should be sold, “Except my negro man Thomas and my waggon [sic] and horses which I allow to be kept for the use of the family until the next spring.”
- Dickinson College Archives, “Montgomery, John, 1727-1808,” [WEB]
- Minutes, April 7, 1784, Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1783-1809, RG 1/1 Board of Trustees Papers, Series 3, Box 1, Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections; Slaveholder Register, Clerk of Courts Records, Cumberland County Archives, [WEB].
- Carlisle Gazette, July 25, 1787, Readex Early American Newspapers Database, [WEB].
- John Montgomery, will dated September 18, 1800, Book G-340-341, Cumberland County Register of Wills, Carlisle, PA.