The “Hessians”

I am currently finishing up a book project about the “Hessians,” under contract with Oxford University Press. Between 1776 and 1783, Britain hired an estimated 30,000 German troops in the war against the American rebels. These troops were supplied by six German territories within the Holy Roman Empire: Hessen-Kassel, Hessen-Hanau, Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, Ansbach-Bayreuth, Anhalt-Zerbst, and Waldeck. Because the majority were supplied by the territories of Hessen-Kassel and Hessen-Hanau, the label “Hessian” has been used to describe all German troops in British service in North America, regardless of place of origin.

Excerpt from “General Extract,” Amerika, H V: 9, Stadtarchiv Braunschweig, Germany

In her memoirs, Luise Wiedemann, the sister of the physician Christian Friedrich Michaelis who served in the Hessian corps, described the journey to America almost as adventurous as going to the moon. This comparison was not very far-fetched. As late as the 1770s, the average German probably did not know much about the Western hemisphere, especially North America, and they knew even less about the war they were about to enter. Many were eager to share their impressions of the American war, the land and the people with family and friends back home. Collectively they wrote thousands of letters, kept journals and wrote memoirs, some of which were published in German-speaking Europe during or after the war. In addition, military and civilian officials produced a voluminous body of official records, including correspondence, regimental diaries, muster rolls, and other kinds of material that documented the troops’ activities. Thankfully, a large amount of these records has been preserved in archival collections in Germany and the United States. My project is based largely on this material, the bulk of which remains unpublished (and only available in German in the original script), and has not previously been examined by historians of the American Revolutionary war.

Excerpt from Letter from August Wilhelm Balthasar Du Roi to his sister Concordia, Quartier zu Lotbiniere, 5 May 1781, Amerika, H V: 9, Stadtarchiv Braunschweig, Germany.

I published some of my research on German responses to Britain’s decision to hire German soldiers in the war against the Americans in Early American Studies 13 (1), (Winter 2015), pp. 111-150; and in the Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies 38 (3), (September 2015): 443-458. You can read the essays here: