Skip to comments.Did any Hessian troops imprisoned in Reading [PA] stay in America after the Revolutionary War?
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 email@example.com.
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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.
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/
A great read. Thank you.
My people came thru PA from Germany.
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.
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.
|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.
Thanks from a Lebanon County boy!
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.
His grandson fought against those Hessians and came into land in NC thereafter thanks to a generous RW land grant as payment for service.
Thanks for posting. My folks spent 40 years in nearby Chester County which has its own incredible Revolutionary history.
I live 2 miles North of Brandywine Battlefield where Hessian soldiers fought.
I am a direct descendent of the Hessians, last name Shively, that were in the Revolutionary War and settled in Pennsylvania.
I believe either my g-g-g (or gx4) grandfather was one of those Hessian mercenaries, but he settled in New Jersey.
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.
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.
“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.
"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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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
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