From the beginning of their presence in North America in 1776, German military units actively recruited Black men as musicians, laborers, servants and, in rare instances, privates. German officers were particularly eager to recruit Blacks as drummers. Consistent with contemporary European views, they believed that Black musicians clad in exotic uniforms added considerable prestige to their military units.
When the British evacuated the newly founded United States in 1783, an estimated 200 Black men, women, and children returned with German regiments to Germany. The vast majority accompanied Braunschweig and Hessian military units. This is hardly surprising, considering that many members of these corps spent a significant time in the Southern colonies, the region with the highest concentration of enslaved people in North America. Evidence of the presence of Blacks in German units upon their return to Germany is scattered throughout various records, including garrison church registers that document baptisms and deaths. Braunschweig church records, for example, indicate that at least twenty-six Black men and several women and children settled in Braunschweig after the war. The majority of the men that are mentioned in surviving records were regimental drummers.
The church book from which the excerpt is taken lists baptisms at the Braunschweig garrison church between 1776 and 1792. The entry from May 1787 refers to the baptism and confirmation of five men identified as “Mohren Tambours.” The term “Mohr” had been in use in Germany since at least the Middle Ages. Its meaning changed over time, depending largely on context and location. By the late eighteenth century, it was used to describe dark-skinned peoples from Africa and other places outside of Europe (see, for example, Anne Kuhlmann-Smirnov, Schwarze Europäer im Alten Reich: Handel, Migration, Hof. Berlin, Ger., 2013; Peter Martin, Schwarze Teufel, edle Mohren: Afrikaner in Geschichte und Bewusstsein der Deutschen. Hamburg, Ger., 2001).
The five drummers had been recruited by the Regiment von Riedesel in America. They were sponsored by officers that were veterans of the war, including General Adolph von Riedesel. The register notes that the baptism and confirmation attracted an unusually large crowd. The record also notes that four of the men were born in America and one was born in Africa.
On May 6, 1787, that is on Sunday Cantate [fourth Sunday after Easter], 5 Black drummers (“Mohren Tamboure”) of General von Riedesel’s regiment, whose names are:
- Adolph, whose sponsor is Gen. Lieut. Adolph von Riedesel
- Ludewig, whose sponsor is Lieutenant Colonel Ernst Ludewig von Speth
- Carl, whose sponsor is Major Carl Gernreich
- Friederich, whose sponsor is Hauptmann Friederich Gebhard
- August, whose sponsor is Hauptmann August Wolgast
All of the gentlemen above belong to the aforementioned Regiment [von Riedesel].
Note: These 5 Blacks (“Mohren”) were brought to the holy baptism and confirmation due to the gracious act and most praiseworthy love of religion by his excellency [Riedesel]. Both holy acts were carried out in the most touching way by the garrison and cloister pastor H. L. Stalmann in the presence of an extraordinarily large gathering.
A note regarding the 5 Black drummers (“Mohren Tambours”) mentioned above. Their Christian names are:
The last one is from Africa, and the other 4 were born in America.
Citation: Braunschweig Stadtarchiv, Kirchenbücher Bd. Nr. 10, St. Aegidien, Taufen Teil II, 1776-1792, f. 475.
Image: Leib Grenadier Regiment Uniformtafel (detail) Universitätsbibliothek Kassel, Landesbibliothek und Murhardsche Bibliothek der Stadt Kassel , 2° Ms. Hass. 267, Blatt 11.