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Did any Hessian troops imprisoned in Reading [PA] stay in America after the Revolutionary War?
Reading Eagle ^ | 7-26-12 | Ron Devlin

Posted on 07/26/2012 5:42:40 PM PDT by Pharmboy

Ask Ron Devlin: Country they fought against became home


Reading Eagle: Tim Leedy
The state historical marker for Hessian Camp on Mineral Spring Road.

Dorothy Johnston, who grew up near Hessian Camp in Reading, wondered what happened to the German mercenaries imprisoned in Reading during the Revolutionary War.

First, some background.

Faced with open revolt in its American Colonies, Britain arranged with the Prince of Hesse-Cassel, the Duke of Brunswick and other German nobles to send troops to the Colonies.

By some estimates, 30,000 German mercenaries, including those called Hessians, were sent to help the British squelch the rebellion.

After British Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered in 1777, Hessians were taken prisoner, and some ended up at Hessian Camp in Reading, where they were housed in huts from 1781 to 1783.

A good number, it turns out, chose to stay in Reading rather than return to Germany. Mrs. LeRoy Sanders discussed the issue in a 1951 article in the Historical Review of Berks County.

Sanders scoured church records for weddings and baptisms involving men who listed their home addresses as Brunswick or Hanauer in Germany.

At Trinity Lutheran Church in Reading, she found 17 conversions, 24 weddings and nine christenings involving Hessian prisoners from that region.

"Many Pennsylvanians are descended from these men who fought against us," Sanders concluded.

The "convention prisoners," as they were known, were permitted to work on area farms and forges during their imprisonment. Apparently, some formed relationships that ended in marriage.

Actually, there were two categories of Hessian soldiers: the Brunswickers and Braunschweigers. The Duke of Brunswick offered free transportation home only to native Brunswickers but advised others to make a life for themselves in the new nation.

In a 2001 article in the Historical Review, Henry J. Retzer suggested that Hessian prisoners of war could buy their freedom.

A journal kept by Johann Bense, a Brunswick grenadier, cited a 1782 congressional directive saying POWs could gain freedom by paying a ransom of about 13 British pounds. If they did not have the money, an American citizen could pay it provided the Hessian agreed to be indentured for three years.

Also, a POW who offered to join the Continental Army, Bense wrote, would be paid about 11/2 pounds at the end of the war and would receive 100 acres.

"On April 21, 1783, the second day of Easter at noon, 13 cannon shots were fired for the 13 free colonies," Bense wrote. "The whole city (Reading) was illuminated."

Bense was released and spent time in New York City, Retzer found, but eventually returned to the Duchy of Brunswick.

In a letter to his superiors in New York, Hessian Sgt. Maj. Samuel Vaupel reported that several musketeers married without permission.

One Pvt. Wiskermann was ransomed by "a rich widow" in Reading, Vaupel reported. He listed her surname as Mifflin.

Ask Ron is a weekly feature providing answers to quirky curiosities of the Berks County area. Is there something that you're curious about? Pose the question to Ron Devlin at 610-371-5030 or rdevlin@readingeagle.com.


TOPICS: History; Military/Veterans
KEYWORDS: germany; godsgravesglyphs; hessians; pennsylvania; revwar
Especially interesting for those of you who trace your roots to PA and/or have old American/German roots.
1 posted on 07/26/2012 5:42:47 PM PDT by Pharmboy
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To: indcons; Chani; thefactor; blam; aculeus; ELS; Doctor Raoul; mainepatsfan; timpad; ...

Hessian Grenadiers

The RevWar/Colonial History/General Washington ping list...

2 posted on 07/26/2012 5:47:48 PM PDT by Pharmboy (Democrats lie because they must.)
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To: Pharmboy

So, does this mean that Hessians brought braunschweiger style liverwurst to America? My mom used to buy that for sandwiches when I was a kid.


3 posted on 07/26/2012 6:18:27 PM PDT by married21 (As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.)
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To: Pharmboy
". . . the Brunswickers and Braunschweigers . . . ."

Candle makers and sausage makers?
4 posted on 07/26/2012 6:41:32 PM PDT by righttackle44 (I may not be much, but I raised a United States Marine.)
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To: Pharmboy
A friend of mine traces his lineage on his father's side to a Hessian POW. He said groups of disarmed Hessians in a long, straggling line were walking down a road, unguarded, to a POW camp north of the family farm where his great-great-great grandmother, who was German, grew up. He said when one of the Hessians heard my friend's ancestors speaking in the field in German he walked over to them and struck up a conversation and never left.
5 posted on 07/26/2012 6:49:15 PM PDT by Brad from Tennessee (A politician can't give you anything he hasn't first stolen from you.)
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To: Pharmboy

They supposedly brought the Hessian fly http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hessian_fly a pest of cereal crops.

The way to reduce or eliminate damage from this pest is to plant your wheat after the fly free date http://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Winter_wheat_and_the_Hessian_fly_free_date/


6 posted on 07/26/2012 7:05:22 PM PDT by Western Phil
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To: Pharmboy

A great read. Thank you.

My people came thru PA from Germany.


7 posted on 07/26/2012 7:28:50 PM PDT by Iowa Granny (Clintion ruined a dress, but Obama ruined a Nation.)
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To: Pharmboy
I don't know if he was from Reading, but on "Who Do You Think You Are" Rob Lowe's ancestry was being investigated and he was excited about tracing a great (times however many) grandfather and his patriot history. Turned out gramps was a Hessian soldier who stayed after the war.
8 posted on 07/26/2012 7:32:34 PM PDT by KarlInOhio (Recycled Olympic tagline Shut up, Bob Costas. Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!)
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To: KarlInOhio

My father use to tell us that our ancestors came over with the Hessians to fight for the British but whenever/wherever they arived Washington gave them some money and land . It was in Somerset/Cambria county. I wish they would have kept records but they didn’t so all is lost.

This is all very interesting.


9 posted on 07/26/2012 7:57:27 PM PDT by depenzz
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To: Pharmboy

The ancestor of Rob Lowe stayed. It was found out on “Who Do You Think You Are?” Don’t watch T.V. but luckily heard about this episode.


10 posted on 07/26/2012 8:04:25 PM PDT by huldah1776
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To: Pharmboy

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Pharmboy. There were already lots of German speakers in Penn and NY, so it's not surprising that a good many stuck around. They could get land (unheard of in Europe) and not worry (after the Revolution) about feudal lords and whatnot.

Just adding to the catalog, not sending a general distribution..

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


11 posted on 07/26/2012 8:12:40 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: Pharmboy

Thanks from a Lebanon County boy!


12 posted on 07/26/2012 8:20:40 PM PDT by airborne (My heroes don't wear capes. My heroes wear dog tags!!!)
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To: Pharmboy

Local legend, and some historical records (I don’t have access to right now), all say Hessians stayed on not just in eastern PA but Northern NJ and Southern NY too.


13 posted on 07/26/2012 8:41:40 PM PDT by JerseyHighlander
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To: Brad from Tennessee
Interesting tale. Family oral histories can be maintained for a very long time. In my family, the oldest story is the path my paternal 8GF took alone departing from his family home in Angus, Scotland to Wales to sail for James City, Virginia in 1695 at the age of 20, or middle age back then and as it turned out.

His grandson fought against those Hessians and came into land in NC thereafter thanks to a generous RW land grant as payment for service.

14 posted on 07/26/2012 8:48:40 PM PDT by Dysart (You didn't post that. Someone else made that happen.)
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To: Pharmboy

Thanks for posting. My folks spent 40 years in nearby Chester County which has its own incredible Revolutionary history.


15 posted on 07/26/2012 8:56:39 PM PDT by ProtectOurFreedom
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To: ProtectOurFreedom

I live 2 miles North of Brandywine Battlefield where Hessian soldiers fought.


16 posted on 07/26/2012 9:25:29 PM PDT by Amberdawn
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To: Pharmboy

I am a direct descendent of the Hessians, last name Shively, that were in the Revolutionary War and settled in Pennsylvania.


17 posted on 07/26/2012 9:39:47 PM PDT by Mountain Bike Vomit Carnage (I wonder why lions are so afraid of chairs.)
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To: Pharmboy

I believe either my g-g-g (or gx4) grandfather was one of those Hessian mercenaries, but he settled in New Jersey.


18 posted on 07/27/2012 1:56:57 AM PDT by fieldmarshaldj (If you like lying Socialist dirtbags, you'll love Slick Willard)
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To: fieldmarshaldj; All
I knew I would get some great responses to this with personal histories. Thank you all...

I would like to clear up one point: though these Germans were called 'mercenaries,' they really were not--not in the sense of individual soldiers of fortune. What they were, however, were mostly German farm boys who were drafted into service by their local prince to fight in whatever war the prince directed them to. In order to make money since these German princes had fallen on (relatively) hard times, they rented out their soldiers to the Brits for the war against us. Although the Grenadiers and others were professional soldiers, most of the infantry were not.

For those interested, there are places where you can read some of these "Hessians'" letters home. Many have been translated, but many are still in German only.

19 posted on 07/27/2012 5:07:01 AM PDT by Pharmboy (Democrats lie because they must.)
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To: SunkenCiv
Indeed there were...and many were pacifist farmers during colonial times. That could be why many German POWs were sent to PA.

In western PA during the early part of the French and Indian war, they could not get enough of the settlers to fight the Indians, so they brought in Scots and Irish to do the fighting...that's how Hugh Mercer (Gen. Mercer died a hero's death at Princeton in 1777) got to western PA before he settled in VA.

20 posted on 07/27/2012 5:12:14 AM PDT by Pharmboy (Democrats lie because they must.)
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To: Pharmboy

“If they did not have the money, an American citizen could pay it provided the Hessian agreed to be indentured for three years.”

This is not PA-related (I assume), but it makes me think what I found in CT may have been due to this.

As a graveyard- as well as RevWar-lover, I spent many weekends hunting out old graveyards in CT when I lived there. Many touching RevWar-related graves (in those days, they told stories more than now).

Wondering a graveyard I saw a stone with a copper cap “protecting” it - it was a plain squared stone so easy to do. The squaring was unusual for the period, too.

The grave was for a “Hessian” soldier who stayed on, living with the family who hosted him until his death in the early 1800s. Never married, apparently. Makes me wonder (and perhaps it was on the stone; I don’t recall all details 15 years later) if he was 1 of those indentured.

So touching to see these graves.


21 posted on 07/27/2012 9:21:41 AM PDT by the OlLine Rebel (Common sense is an uncommon virtue./Technological progress cannot be legislated.)
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To: Pharmboy

Thanks Pharmboy.

Great article.


22 posted on 07/27/2012 9:45:50 AM PDT by ZULU (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=D9vQt6IXXaM&hd)
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To: the OlLine Rebel
Thanks for that story...and yes, it indeed sounds like what you suggest. The numbers I have seen in some of the books that I've read is that about 30,000 Germans came here (half were actually from Hesse-Kassel, thus were called "Hessians"), one-third went home, one-third were killed, and one-third stayed on here. Wikipedia differes a bit on the stats:

"27,839 served in the Americas and after the war ended in 1783, some 17,313 Hessian soldiers returned to their German homelands. Of the 12,526 who did not return, about 7,700 had died. Some 1,200 were killed in action and 6,354 died from illness or accidents, mostly the latter.[citation needed] Approximately 5,000 Hessians settled in North America, both in the United States and Canada."

I have also read that many of these German boys were quite taken with the land and the beautiful American women, and saw much more opportunity here rather than back in Europe.

23 posted on 07/27/2012 10:05:24 AM PDT by Pharmboy (Democrats lie because they must.)
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To: ZULU

My pleasure. It’s always interesting to me how these local stories bring the times and the RevWar to life more than history books are able to do.


24 posted on 07/27/2012 10:07:47 AM PDT by Pharmboy (Democrats lie because they must.)
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To: Pharmboy; Western Phil; KarlInOhio
My ancestry leads to a gentleman named Mathias Zimmerman who was born on December 2, 1752 in PA. Zimmerman is German for carpenter. So I read that he Anglicized his last name to reflect his trade in English and thus took on the last name of Carpenter.

I often wondered why he would anglicized his name. Who would not be proud of their ancestry? Now I am wondering if he did so because a relative may have been a German who came to America to fight for the British.

He would have been an adult during the revolution, but maybe the name Zimmerman came with bad memories for some. Who knows but my ancestry, on my Grandfathers side, stops with him and thus goes no farther back that I have been able to trace.

Curious is all, just curious.
25 posted on 07/27/2012 10:20:13 AM PDT by OneVike (I'm just a Christian waiting to go home)
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To: OneVike

Thing is, there were plenty Germans here (the unsung ethnicity in our culture - even though it’s the biggest group of all time) already. Mountain men from VA through PA. And Dutch and nordic settlers of similar background around “NYC” in NJ and NY, etc. There was consideration of making German an official language for this country.

I wish people appreciated more our German heritage. Lots of it shows in our emphasis on Christmas time, e.g. That is German, not English - or Irish.


26 posted on 07/27/2012 10:29:37 AM PDT by the OlLine Rebel (Common sense is an uncommon virtue./Technological progress cannot be legislated.)
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To: OneVike

I would imagine it would have depended on where he settled; about 10% of the colonies at the time spoke German, and if he lived in a largely German area, he probably would have retained Zimmerman; but if he moved to, say, NYC, where many of the non-English (including the French, the Dutch and the Germans) Anglicized their names after they took over the city in 1664 he might have become Carpenter.


27 posted on 07/27/2012 10:42:42 AM PDT by Pharmboy (Democrats lie because they must.)
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To: Pharmboy

Was at Gettysburg a few days ago. Its ALWAYS a moving experience - even though its not the Revolution.

The Cyclorama show is awesome. People left there crying.

The Film, on the other hand, was more about slavery in general and the Civil War in general than about Gettysburg itself.


28 posted on 07/27/2012 11:21:45 AM PDT by ZULU (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=D9vQt6IXXaM&hd)
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To: the OlLine Rebel; Pharmboy

Thanks.

I guess it makes sense now that you say that.

As I recall from my history class, German was almost our official language.

I may never be able trace my lineage farther back than him. At least not down my grandfathers line.


29 posted on 07/27/2012 4:39:40 PM PDT by OneVike (I'm just a Christian waiting to go home)
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To: ZULU

I am—as you know—very RevWar oriented, but I do have to educate myself more on the War Between the States. Living in southern MD/northern VA, there sure a lot of battlefields around here. I have visited Robt. E. Lee’s childhood home in Alexandria, however...


30 posted on 07/27/2012 7:28:48 PM PDT by Pharmboy (Democrats lie because they must.)
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To: Pharmboy

Thanks!


31 posted on 07/27/2012 9:25:01 PM PDT by aculeus
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To: Pharmboy
I have a g-g-g-g-grandfather who died on board one of the British prison ships anchored off Brooklyn during the Revolution. Conditions were horrendous there, typhus, dysentery, etc.....with OVER 11,000 patriot prisoners dying in those hell-hole scows--more than all of the patriots who died in battle.

I only found out about this a couple years ago--but bizarre to know something like that about a direct ancestor.

Prison Ships Martyrs' Monument in Brooklyn, NY

32 posted on 07/27/2012 11:34:53 PM PDT by AnalogReigns (reality is analog, not digital...)
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To: Dysart
A friend who lives in Selmer, TN told me her ancestor came over as a teenager from Scotland sometime in the early 1700’s. His ship wrecked off Cape Hatteras and he rode the surf to the beach on a piece of furniture. He came to Tennessee from N.C. with a party of settlers and is listed as a founder.
33 posted on 07/28/2012 8:11:52 AM PDT by Brad from Tennessee (A politician can't give you anything he hasn't first stolen from you.)
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To: Pharmboy
Wow this is a neat site. I was doing some research and came across this post. I've seen a couple of photos and have read that not much remains of the Hessian Prison Camp. Do you know if it is on public land, or if there is any talk of preserving it? The Hessian Camp is of great interest to me, as my 5th Gr. Grandpa Johann Michael Seitzinger was a prison guard there. My family immigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in 1763,and when the war broke out my 6th Gr. Grandpa, 5th Grandpa and 2 Uncles signed the Oath of Allegiance to the Colonial cause. I live in Indiana, but have been wanting to visit that area, mainly Berks Co. I have a lot of family roots there.
My Grandma Anna Margareta ‘Vanderslice’ Seitzinger was the daughter of Henry Vanderslice. He was sheriff of Berks Co. at the start of the war, and when the Declaration was adopted it was his duty to read the Declaration of Independence to the public. The Berks Co. courthouse bell called the residents of Reading to Penn Square, for the reading of the Declaration, and he informed the public of what had been declared on their behalf,July 8 1776. After he served his 2 year term, he enlisted as a wagoner supporting the troops with supplies through PA and NJ. I enjoy hearing stories that have been passed down through the generations of families through the years. That is good raw history, and you'll never find that in any book. Some of it disturbing, but at the same time gives insight to what our forefathers had to endure on the frontier.
34 posted on 03/06/2014 8:09:25 PM PST by Seitzinger (Enlisted at Reading Berks Co Militia as a guard for Hessian prisoners on a hill near that city.)
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