1774: The Debtor and the Debt Collector

Collin Kilmer, guest writer

The gloomy Philadelphia streets, illuminated only by sparse and dim lanterns were host to more than a few shady figures on this damp, depressing night. Allen Montgomery stoically trudged down the street, not giving any mind to the vagrants he passed along his route. It had been months since he last had work and soon he was sure to end up like them. Despite the reality, he did not allow himself to acknowledge this very real possibility.

            An immigrant from Ireland at the age of nine, his parents had worked hard throughout his childhood so that he could receive an education and eventually an apprenticeship as a clerk. After finishing his apprenticeship he had began taking any work he could find, however it was sparse. In addition to this Montgomery was not particularly well known for his money management skills, in fact, they were quite abysmal. On this particularly damp night he was retuning home from his pub of choice-which he frequented quite regularly. One would not say he was necessarily an alcoholic or that he had a drinking problem, but moderation was not exactly his strong suite.

            Montgomery was not a friendly man either, he had but one friend, Eli Dyer. Dyer was his neighbor and a fellow clerk, times were hard for him as well, but he somehow managed to get though it without much issue. Perhaps it was his basic sense of monetary value or the small amount of work he got, either way he was oblivious to how poorly Montgomery was doing. Montgomery was a private man. Dyer basically only knew that Montgomery was from Ireland, wasn’t great with money, and an orphan. At seventeen Montgomery’s parents had died of tuberculosis while he was in New York delivering a package for his boss. Luckily by seventeen, Montgomery was independent enough to live on his own. Montgomery had quickly learned to be self sufficient and work to survive.

            Before long, Montgomery arrived home. He still lived in the same, small, two-room apartment his parents had bought when they had arrived in Philadelphia. When he walked up to the door he noticed a large white piece of paper on his door labeled overdue. Montgomery quickly tore the paper down and stuffed it into his pocket. Montgomery’s parents had taken a loan from a fairly shady lender to buy Montgomery’s apartment, and now after years he had decided to remind Montgomery that he had to finish paying for the small apartment. As he walked inside Montgomery mulled over the paper and possible courses of action. His first thought was to just pay the lender, but then he remembered he barely had money to even buy food for the next month. As he slumped into his armchair he glanced around his apartment which was fairly clean as usual. Montgomery glanced over at his clock, 11:37. He slowly stood up and walked into the other room, undressed, and got into bed. While he laid in bed waiting to fall asleep he decided he was going to have to ask Dyer if he knew of anywhere he could get work. Refusing to ask for help because he was proud was one thing, but this lender was somebody who Montgomery did not want to owe money to.

            The next morning Montgomery woke up and made a piece of toast for breakfast. As he was sitting at his table slowly and quietly eating his toast he saw Dyer walk out of his apartment onto the street. Montgomery bolted up, threw himself out the door, and shouted,

            “Dyer!” Dyer stopped about 10 feet away and turned around.

            “Oh, hello, Montgomery, how are you this morning?”

            “Oh, okay. Going to work are you?”

            “Yeah, I got a new job and I need to get there a bit early to prepare,” this of course piqued Montgomery’s interest.

            “Say do you think you’d need any help, possibly another clerk?”

            “Actually I was going to ask if you could. It’s too much for just me and my boss said I could find somebody else to help,” Dyer replied.

            “Oh, thank you Dyer!” Montgomery replied much more gleefully than normal.

            “Alright great, it’s at Carpenter’s Hall, no more than a mile away, mighty convenient for us,” Dyer said.

            The date was September 1, 1774. Parliament had just finished passing the Coercive Acts, which were, “a series of measures imposed by the British government on the colonies in response to their resistance to new taxes” (The History). Charles Thomson was Dyer’s boss and secretary of the First Continental Congress which convened in order to formulate a response to the Coercive Acts. Dyer and Montgomery were responsible for keeping record of the sessions and organizing and filing anything properly proposed to Congress. For the first few days there were no meetings, Dyer and Montgomery simply set about preparing the hall, organizing their materials, and talking to Thomson about what was expected of them as well as what they would be paid. Luckily for Montgomery, this job paid very well and if it went as long as Thompson expected he would be paid even more than he needed to pay off his loan so he could attempt to save some.

            On the morning of September 5, Montgomery awoke right as the sun came up. He quickly got up and made some breakfast. Today it was eggs on toast. Toast was a fairly common occurrence for Montgomery because of it’s relatively low price and that it was fairly filling. He and Dyer left at nearly the same time, arriving at Carpenter’s Hall about half an hour before the meeting convened. They were setup and ready to go in no time.

            When the delegates started arriving they recognized a few people, figures such as John Jay, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and George Washington. There were Fifty-six deputies representing all of the colonies except for Georgia” (The Editors). As the days of debate dragged by, it became clear to Montgomery and Dyer that there were basically two positions on how Congress could respond. The first was rather conservative, this was that the job of the Congress was to make some form of policy in order to petition the King and parliament to review these laws again with a bit more scrutiny. John Jay was one of the main proponents of this position, but he was in the minority. The alternate opinion was the the Congress existed in order to draw a clear statement of what they believed the Colonies had in terms of liberties and rights. This position, while more popular was harder to push on the King and Parliament who regarded the Colonies as their subjects with whom they could do what they pleased.

            John Galloway proposed a, “Plan of Union” which set forth a path for the colonies to return to being self-governed. Parliament had previously dissolved the colonial government because of unrest and parliament’s distrust of the colonies. Through a month of debate however, congress came to the compromise of a boycott of all British goods as a response to these laws passed by parliament.

            During the weeks of debate the sessions were always opened with a prayer from the local Methodist pastor. This displeased both Montgomery and Dyer, but for different reasons. Montgomery was a staunch Catholic and believed that it should be a priest instead. Dyer, however was a deist and believed that religion should have nothing to do with these meetings. Despite their little squabbles neither of them changed their opinion. In the end Montgomery went to Mass every Sunday without much bother, and Dyer still believed firmly in separation of church and state.

            By far the hardest part of Montgomery’s job was delivering letters to all the coastal towns that received British imports. In order for anything congress had accomplished to actually have an impact they must be able to act, so Montgomery first had to write letters dictated to him, then deliver each one to the relevant authorities in the costal towns. After weeks of hard riding and delivering letters Montgomery finally finished. The boycott started on December 1, 1774.

            When Montgomery arrived back to his apartment from his last delivery he saw another white piece of paper on his door, this one however had large red letters on it, “LAST CHANCE.” Montgomery stood, shocked for a moment, then slowly walked over, took the paper down, and shuffled into his apartment. He slouched down into his armchair and again, considered his options. This time he had a brightening thought, he was able to repay his debt.

            The next day, Montgomery gathered the necessary funds together and left his apartment around 9 pm. Montgomery walked a few streets west of his apartment, into the more shady part of Philadelphia. He walked for what seemed like hours, then right as he rounded a corner he heard a hoarse whisper,

            “Allen Montgomery, just who I’d like to see.” Montgomery felt a shiver down his spine, when he wheeled around he saw the hideous haggard figure of Mark Crane, the local loan shark. Crane was standing in front of his place of business, a small beaten down apartment holding a rather large knife.  Montgomery wondered why someone who loaned such large amounts of money lived in such a poor area in a beaten down apartment. Montgomery assumed it was for intimidation.

            “Oh, hello there,” Montgomery stammered. “I’ve got what I need in order to pay you.”

            “Great, great . . . ” Crane trailed off. “Well then, let’s get out of this frigid cold into my office.” Crane turned and walked into his office with Montgomery trailing behind him timidly. Crane’s office was just as beaten down on the inside as the exterior indicated. The office was nothing but a single room with a large wooden desk and a worn stool. Crane quickly sat behind the desk and pulled a piece of paper out of it.

            “Now this would be your tab Mr. Montgomery,” Crane handed Montgomery the paper with a rather large number on it.

            “This is larger than I expected, Crane,” Montgomery said.

            “Ah, you probably didn’t factor in my interest rate,” Crane said smugly, and he stood and slammed his knife into the desk tip first. Crane walked ominously behind Montgomery and muttered, “This won’t be an issue will it?”

            “Oh, uh, of course not,” Montgomery awkwardly said as he pulled his wallet out of his cloak and counted out the last of his bills and laid them on the table.

            “I see you’re doing a bit better for yourself these days,”

            “Oh, y-y-yes I’ve been getting some work,” Montgomery finished counting the money and handed it to Crane. 

            “Then I guess that will be all Mr. Montgomery, pleasure to do business with you.” Crane said menacingly and he smiled grimly and rifled through the bills.

            “Of course,” said Montgomery as he quickly shuffled out of the office.

            Yet again Montgomery found himself walking down the same cold, dark Philadelphia streets to his apartment, wondering if he would end up like the vagrants he saw as he passed. Montgomery walked into the inn, and after a few rounds trudged back to his apartment. This time however he was not down trodden and depressed, he was fairly happy with himself. Allen Montgomery was officially a debt-free man.

Works Cited

History.com Staff. “The Continental Congress.” History.com, 2010. Web. 25 Jan. 25 2018.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. Continental Congress.Encyclopædia Britannica,

             9 Dec. 2016. Web. 25 January 2018.


“Continental Congress | First Continental Congress 1774.” Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.

            n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2018.

“First Continental Congress.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 25 Jan.


Irvin, Benjamin H. Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: the Continental Congress and the People

            out of Doors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.