Mercenaries in the American Revolution…”Go with the Know-How…”

“I fight only for pay, never for my life.”  What if… Your Revolutionary War ancestors could be mercenary soldiers hired to fight–on both sides of the battles.

[This blog is part of my “Go with the Know-How” series, which I have included on all of my blogs–as the subject matter seems to apply to a specific area–in this case New York.]

Mercenaries, also called Soldiers of Fortune, include those captured or forced to surrender.  They were dispersed throughout out the Colonies, so they could be controlled and watched during the course of the War, by a wise Commander in Chief who lacked the resources to guard them in POW camps.  These prisoners of war were put on their parole–their oath not to escape, not to take up arms against the American regiments, and not to give aid to the enemy (England with their Indian and Canadian allies).

Officers, and some enlisted men, could bring their wives and children with them.  These “visitors” were usually billeted in quarters requisitioned nearby the encampments.  Some wives shared tents with their men next to the battlefield.  Wives often served a cooks and took care of uniforms, equipment, and boots.

British Allies:  Hessian Troops

The total numbers vary depending upon which sources you read.  20,802 soldiers were contracted for initially by the King of England:

Hesse Cassel                     13,467 men

Hesse Hanau                      1,080 men

Brunswick                           4,300 men

Ansback Bayreuth           1,285 men

Waldeck                                   670 men

There is evidence to support, however, that over 29,000 men actually came to America from these and other provinces:

17,000 from Hessen Cassel and Hessen Hanau–12,554 are documented as having stayed in America (including 2,500 casualties and 5,000 deserters)

6,000 from Brunswick–1,700 stayed in America

7,000 from Ansbach Bayreuth, Anhalt Zerbst, Zweibrucken, and Waldeck–1,170 stayed from Ansbach and 775 stayed from Waldeck

Soldiers were also  pledged from Mecklenburg (3,000 men) and Sachse-Gotha (2,000 men).  Sources are less clear whether these soldiers actually arrived in America.

See Rosengarten, German Allied Troops, 1776-83 (Heritage Books, 1987 and Clifford Neal Smith, etal. Encyclopedia of German-American Genealogical Research (R.R. Bowker, 1976),  pp. 187-196 for these numbers.

The literature on the Hessian Troops is vast.  What I want to introduce here, in this blog, are those sources which identify the soldiers by name, provide enough information to determine which ones are ancestors, and tell where they come from, so research can continue.  For example:

Clifford Neal Smith, “German Mercenaries of the American Revolution,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 65 (1977):

What is Revealed by the Publications–Here are some examples of facts which now have become available.  The personal histories have been selected entirely at random to illustrate insights which can be gained on individual soldiers and the problems which flow from these data.

Conrad Ewalt.  According to a Hanau muster roll, he deserted 10 Dec 1778 while on march from Sussex [New Jersey] to Herkerstown [Hagerstown MD].  It may be inferred that he was a prisoner of war, probably captured at Saratoga, and a member of the Convention Army, then being marched from Winter Barracks, Cambridge Massuchusetts, to their new place of detention near Charlottesville, Virginia.  At the time, he was 30 years of age and a corporal in the Leibcompanie (Guard Company).  His birthplace was Ferna, Hessen.  Ewalt’s name appears on a British Muster roll at Nymegen, Holland 22 Mar 1776, disclosing that he had been among the first of the Hessen-Hanua contingent to be sent to America.  His name could not be found in any of the 1790 federal censuses.  Some persons of the surname changed the spelling to Awalt in America. p. 77.

Conrad Ewalt deserted in Sussex County, New Jersey where he married Mary Todd who was a resident there.  And began his family.  He later migrated with the Todd family to the Finger Lakes area of New York, where he died.  Numerous rumors and traditions ran through the descendants’ memories–that he went to New Orleans over the Natchez Trace and died there of a fever, never to see his family again. That he went West to St. Louis for a time and then returned to New York to find his wife and children missing.  That his death and burial place are unknown.  That he west West with the Mountain Men, never to be heard from again.  The answer is much more simple:  He took advantage of the deal General Washington gave deserting Hessians–he took up land, where it was unclaimed and became a farmer to support his family.  Several families from Sussex County migrated into Western New York together–including the Ewalts and the Todds.  They did not alter their name.   Conrad does not appear under his own name in the 1790 census–the census missed many settlers in Western New York.  Neither do the Todds appear in the 1790 census.

Your favorite New York genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  Stay tuned as I share other resources on the Hessian Troops and other mercenaries of the American Revolution, like the Scots and the French and the Polish and the Irish.  Very important stuff as you try to identify the origins of your ancestors who fought in that epic war.




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One Response to Mercenaries in the American Revolution…”Go with the Know-How…”

  1. Donald Long says:

    My ancestor, Philipp Lange, was most certainly a Waldecker in the Revolutionary War. I am looking, not for his birth certificate, but for a document where he would have signed his name. When he enlisted at the age of 18 in 1775, he must have signed a military document. Do you think that such a document exists? If it does, where would it be? Could you get it? Do you know anyone in Germany taht I could hire to do some research about my ancestor?

    If you look at my blog, you will see that I am familiar with Hetrina and the Marburg Archives. Thank you Arlene.

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