The Confusing and Confused A. Montgomery Ward


I have not blogged in a while but I have been busy on my book projects.  I am shepherding Examined Lives through the publication process and researching and writing Coming to Amerika.  I have written a great deal about United States history in my life, but working with my family documents I have learned much that I did not know before.  It is totally engrossing and I hope the product will be so to others.

I, however, have not forgotten Montgomery Ward.  Today I started working with the large amount of material available at the Chicago History Museum.  In just a few short hours I was in the midst of controversies about his birthdate and in which house in Chatham, New Jersey he was actually born.  The birthdate I had long ago settled; the controversy arose from sloppy estimate of ages in the early censuses.  The house is really not material.  But among the documents was a copy of a brief memorandum Ward had handwritten himself in about 1890 about his life.  Historians had quoted from this memorandum, but this was the first time I had read the whole thing.

In my blog post What’s in A Name? I had discussed the origin of his name.  Among all the accounts I had read which quoted from his memorandum, no one had quoted on this topic.  So it was a total surprise to me to find Ward saying that he was named after Gen. A. Montgomery Ward of the French and Indian War and brother to his great-grandfather Captain Israel Ward.  I of course have immediately investigated.  First, there was no General named A. Montgomery Ward who fought in the French and Indian War and second, Israel Ward did not have a brother named A. Montgomery Ward.  As I discussed in my abovementioned blog, Israel Ward had a son named Aaron Montgomery Ward, who was our Ward’s grandfather.  So what was going on here?

This is speculation on my part, but speculation based on circumstances.  As a young child we do not know what story our Ward was told and he may have gotten it garbled.  He never met his grandfather, who died in 1841, several years before his birth in 1844.  In addition, Ward’s grandfather was not in Chatham when he died, but for whatever reason he had gone westward and died in Chicago, Illinois.  There is obvious irony in this given what happened later.

What I said in What’s in A Name? still stands.  Even a primary source can be confused.

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