“Mister Wassington” might have a headache. New York, 1776

In the summer of 1776, the first and second divisions of the Hessian corps landed in New York. Among the officers was Andreas Wiederhold of the Regiment von Knyphausen. Wiederhold authored a diary and a large body of letters that detail his experiences over the course of the war. This excerpt is from a letter he penned within days of his arrival off the coast of New York, but before setting foot on American soil. Wiederhold is relieved that the voyage is over, claiming that there were no serious cases of sickness among the Hessians. His dismissive tone and language — including his reference to the American troops as “messieurs (gentlemen)” and to their commander as “Mister” — reflect a strong sense of confidence in the military might of the British army. The view of the Americans as a weak enemy was widely shared among German officers especially in the summer and fall of 1776.

English translation:

Letter from Andreas Wiederhold to Georg Ernst von und zu Gilsa

Sandy Hook Bay, New York, 14 August 1776

Tomorrow, we will disembark on Long Island and expel the gentlemen from there, and after that we will attack New York. They will not be successful since all our men as well as the English and other troops are eager to go on land and show that they are soldiers. It is amazing that everything is healthy, and we cannot thank God enough for this. There is some scabies but it does not mean anything. Except for my earlier sea sickness I have been fine, and I am healthy and well.

The coast of America is low, and covered in forests. The houses in them appear as though they had been sowed; fruit – apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums and such – in abundance. This was assured to us by our captain, who went on land for amusement and brought some back for us. Standford, Vaupell, Brieder, Baum send their regards. I spoke with the first while sailing past him. Just now a fleet is sailing into the bay from the sea. It is assumed that it is General von Knyphausen. I therefore have to stop and wait until they get closer. But first I have to report that Lieutenant Kleinschmidt shot and killed Count von der Lippe. Both belong to the Leib Regiment. The latter forced the former to duel, as they say, and he did not want to wait until landing.

The number of ships in the bay is around 400. One cannot describe how terrifying this looks. I think that Mister Washington, who is the commander in New York, must have a bit of a headache. The recently arrived fleet is not that of General von Knyphausen’s division, but a fleet with troops from Carolina.

German original:

Morgen warden wir die Descente auf Long Island machen und die messieurs davon delogieren und alsdann wird es auf New York losgehen. Sie warden keine Seite spinnen, dann alle unsere Leuthe sowohl als Engelländer und andere Trouppen sind voller Begierde, an Land zu gehen und zu zeigen, dass sie Soldaten sind. Wunderbahr ist es, dass alles so gesund ist, wofür wir Gott nicht genugsam dancken können. Etwas Krätze ist zwar da, dieses hat aber nichts zu sagen. Auser meiner anfänglich gehabten Seekrankheit hat mir nichts gefehlet, und bin gesund und wohl.

Die Küste von America is niedrig, mit vielem Holz versehen. Die Häusser sind darinnen wie gesäet, Obst – als Apfel, Birnen, Pfürschen, Apricosen, Quetschen, und derg[leichen] – im Überfluss, welches uns unser Capitain versichert, welcher für Spass am Land gewesen, und uns welche mitbrachte. Standford, Vaupell, Briede, Baum lassen sich gehorsamst empfehlen. Erstern habe im Vorbeyseegeln gesprochen. Soeben kommt eine Flotte aus der See in diese Bay. Mann vermuthtet, dass es der Herr General von Knyphausen ist. Ich muss also abbrechen und etwas warten, biss sie näher komen. Zuvor aber muss melden, dass der Lieutenant Kleinschmid den Grafen von der Lippe, beyde bei dem Leib-Regiment stehen, erschossen. Letzterer hat Ersteren zum Duell – wie mann sagt – forciret, und nicht warten wollen, bis er [an] Land gewesen.

Die Anzahl der in hiesiger Bay liegenden Schiffe soll wohl 400 ausmachen. Wie fürchterlich dieses aussiehet, kan mann nicht beschreiben. Mich deucht, Mister Wassington, welcher in New York Comandeur ist, soll doch wohl der Kopf etwas wehe thun. Die angekomne Flotte ist nicht die des General von Knyphaussen Division, sondern eine aus Carolina [ge]komene Flotte mit Trouppen.

Citation: Gräf, Holger Th., Lena Haunert, and Christoph Kampmann, eds. Krieg in Amerika und Aufklärung in Hessen: Die Privatbriefe (1772-1784) an Georg Ernst von und zu Gilsa. Marburg, Germany: Hessisches Landesamt für geschichtliche Landeskunde, 2010, p. 145.

Image: Archibald Robertson, “View of the Narrows between Long Island & Staaten Island with our fleet at anchor & Lord Howe coming in–taken from the height above the Waterg. Place Staaten Island. 12th July 1776,” Spencer Collection, New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed April 3, 2021. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/a4a87ea2-d4d5-931d-e040-e00a180625e3

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