Montgomery, Henry (1788–1865), presbyterian minister, was born 16 January 1788 at Killead, Co. Antrim, youngest of nine children of Archibald Montgomery of Boltnaconnel House and his wife Sarah, daughter of John Campbell of Killealy, Co. Antrim. Two of Henry's older brothers fought at the battle of Antrim (1798). They were imprisoned and the yeomanry burned the family home. Henry always honoured the ideals of the United Irishmen while deploring the rebellion as a mistake.
He was educated locally at a school in the home of the Rev. Isaac Patton of Lylehill, Ulster's first secession minister, and at an academy in Crumlin conducted by the Rev. Nathaniel Alexander. Entering Glasgow University in 1804, he graduated MA in 1807 and, after a year of theological studies, was licensed as a ministerial probationer by the Templepatrick presbytery on 5 February 1809. Rejected in favour of Henry Cooke (qv) by the nearby Donegore congregation, he was ordained and installed in Dunmurry, Co. Antrim, on 24 September 1809 by the presbytery of Bangor, without subscribing the Westminster confession.
On 6 April 1812 he married Elizabeth Swan, daughter of a Co. Antrim linen merchant and, having renovated the Dunmurry congregational glebe house, conducted a school there until 1817, when he was appointed headmaster of the English school in the Belfast Institution, while continuing to minister in Dunmurry.
Montgomery was always identified with liberal causes in theology and politics, supporting William Steel Dickson (qv) in his complaints against his treatment by the synod of Ulster as someone allegedly ‘implicated in treasonable and seditious practices’ in 1798, and against the synod's weak resolution of 1813 in favour of catholic emancipation. He was elected moderator of synod in 1818 at the early age of 30. A man of impressive appearance and a superb orator, he was a natural leader.
When in 1822 Henry Cooke began to attack the Belfast Institution as a ‘seminary of Arianism’, Montgomery was one of its chief defenders. However, in the course of a government inquiry into the affairs of the Institution, he and other ministers acknowledged that they were anti-trinitarians or Arians, giving Cooke an opportunity to attack them in the synod as heretics. In spite of Montgomery's impassioned plea for liberty of conscience – 30,000 copies of his speech at the synod in Strabane in 1827 were circulated – the synod reaffirmed its trinitarian faith and in the following year, 1828, instituted a theological examination committee to test the orthodoxy of future ordinands. Montgomery and his supporters protested against this legislation in a remonstrance and when that was rejected by the synod, seventeen ministers and their congregations withdrew to form the remonstrant synod in 1830. In 1835 they united with the non-subscribing presbytery of Antrim and the synod of Munster as the Association of Irish Non-Subscribing Presbyterians.
Montgomery remained an eloquent advocate of catholic emancipation and of such political reforms as vote by ballot, the abolition of tithes, and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. He called himself a friend of reform and an enemy of revolution, and he crossed swords with Daniel O'Connell (qv) on the subject of repeal of the union, which he opposed.
As leader of the non-subscribing presbyterians in Ulster he influenced Sir Robert Peel (qv) to legislate to secure anti-trinitarians in the possession of their congregational properties in the dissenters’ chapels act of 1844. His theological apologia, ‘The creed of an Arian’, appeared originally in 1830 in the non-subscribing presbyterian journal The Bible Christian, to which he contributed regularly, and is printed with some of his important speeches in The life of the Rev. Henry Montgomery LL.D by his son-in-law, J. A. Crozier. Only the first volume of the biography was published.
He was given an honorary LLD by Glasgow University in 1835, and in 1838 was appointed professor of church history and pastoral theology for the non-subscribing presbyterians in the Belfast Institution. In his later years he was disturbed by the increasingly radical theology of some of the younger non-subscribing ministers, and his advocacy of a minimal theological test for ordinands was mocked by Henry Cooke. His last months were clouded by painful renal calculus and he died in Dunmurry on 18 December 1865, survived by his widow and five of their ten children. His ‘Outlines of the history of Irish presbyterianism’ was published in the Irish Unitarian Magazine in 1847, giving his account of the events in which he played such a leading role.