Collecting Rarities. 1776 to 1783.

In November 1778, around 3,500 British and Hessian troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell departed New York for Savannah, Georgia (For a private’s artistic rendering of the fleet, see Sailing to Savannah. Georgia, 1778). The German contingent included around 900 men belonging to the two Hessian regiments Trümbach (originally von Rall, then successively called von Wöllwarth, von Trümbach, and d’Angelleli) and Wissenbach (after 1780 called Knoblauch), both under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich von Porbeck. The fleet arrived in Georgia in December. While most of the troops would eventually participate in military campaigns outside of Georgia, the Knoblauch Regiment remained in Savannah until the British evacuated the port city in the summer of 1782. Another post includes information about the regiment’s experiences: Shot Dead, Died of Disease, Deserted. Savannah, 1778-1782.

Like other Hessian regiments, the Knoblauch Regiment maintained a journal in which it recorded the unit’s movements and key experiences in the American war. It comprises close to 400 pages and covers the period from the regiment’s departure from Germany in May 1776 to its return in November 1783. Among many other items, the journal also includes extracts from various orders and announcements that had been received from the commander of the Hessian troops in America, General Wilhelm von Knyphausen. This includes a collection of items he sent from New York to Georgia over a period of several months in 1779. Among them was a request for a return of soldiers that had been killed, died of disease, and deserted. It also included the welcome news that the troops in Georgia would be issued forage, bat and baggage money for 165 days (July 19 to December 31, 1779).

The brief excerpt included with this post deals with something different. It reflects the Hessian landgrave’s interest in collecting objects and information about North America and the experiences of his troops there. Specifically, on behalf of the landgrave, Knyphausen is requesting the Hessian regiments to collect “rarities” such as Native American clothing and equipment. He is also ordering the quartermasters of all Hessian regiments and battalions in North America to maintain journals that detail “each and every” event pertaining to their units.

The journal does not reveal any details about the regiment’s collecting activities, if any, and we do not know exactly what the troops carried with them when they sailed back to Europe. Nevertheless, it is very likely that the regiment brought artifacts and other objects back to Germany upon its return in 1783. Members of the German corps describe in other writings the digging up of Indian graves, the search for natural history specimen, and the collection of live animals. An example of a record that offers evidence of various objects being brought back to Germany is a receipt for one sugar cane and a pouch with crystals from Canada that was delivered in Kassel by General von Knyphausen himself in 1782. It is signed by the famous naturalist Georg Forster (1754-1794), at the time professor of natural history at the Collegium Carolinium in Kassel.

4° Ms. Hist. Litt. 38, Landesbibliothek und Murhardsche Bibliothek der Stadt Kassel, Germany.

Note on translation: German-authored records from the period typically refer to Native Americans as “Wilde,” which translates as “savages.”

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

February 4, 1780

The Hessian landgrave desires to have a collection of clothing and equipment from the savages (“Wilden”) and also any other rarities from here, and he would be grateful if they could contribute something to it, and if they would find something, to take it and retain it until their return.

Also, all of the regiments and battalions are to be ordered that their quartermasters should start a detailed journal and include each and every event that happens to the regiment and battalion.

TRANSCRIPTION

4. Februar 1780

Der Ser[inissimo] Hochfürstliche Duchlaucht wünschen von den Kleidungs- und Armaturstücken der Wilden auch sonstigen hiesigen Seltenheiten eine Sammlung zu haben, so würden Erw. mich verbinden, wenn diesselben [regiments] dazu etwas beitragen könnten, und was sich von dergleichen etwa vorfindet, an sich zu bringen suchen und bis zu Dero derzeitigen Zurückkunft solches aufheben wollen.

Auch ist bei sämmtlichen Regmtr. und Battalions dortiger Corps anzubefehlen, dass der Regiments Quartiermeister ein umständliches Journal aufstellen und führe von allen und jeden Vorfällen die das Regiment [228] und Battaillon angehen.

Citation: Tagebuch des Garnisonsregiments von Knoblauch, Landesbibliothek und Murhardsche Bibliothek der Stadt Kassel, Germany, 4° Ms. Hass. 205, ff. 228-229.

Image: Detail from “A general map of the southern British colonies in America comprehending North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, with the neighbouring Indian countries: From the modern surveys of engineer de Brahm, Capt. Collet, Mouzon & others; and from the large hydrographical survey of the coasts of East and West Florida.” Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library. Accessed at https://collections.leventhalmap.org/search/commonwealth:9s161c45m.

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