previous next

German mercenaries.

Soon after the opening of the British Parliament in the autumn of 1775, that body, stimulated by Lord North, the premier, and Lord George Germain, secretary for the colonies, and at the suggestion of Admiral Howe, promptly voted 25,000 men for service against the Americans. It was difficult to obtain enlistments in Great Britain, and mercenaries were sought in Germany. At the close of the year, and at the beginning of 1776, bargains were effected between representatives of the British government and the reigning princes of Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Hanau, Brunswick, Anhalt, Anspach, and Waldeck. In the bargains, the fundamental law of trade—supply and demand—prevailed. The King of England had money, but lacked troops; the German rulers had troops, but wanted money. The bargain was a natural one on business principles; the morality of the transaction was another affair. About 30,000 German troops, most of them well disciplined, were hired. The German rulers were to receive for each soldier a bounty of $35, besides an annual subsidy, the whole amounting to a large sum.

The British government agreed to make restitution for all soldiers who might perish from contagious disease while being transported in ships and in engagements during sieges. They were to take an oath of allegiance to the British sovereign during their service, without its interfering with similar oaths to their respective rulers. Their chief commanders, when they sailed for America, were Generals Baron de Riedesel, Baron Knyphausen, and De Heister. The general name of “Hessians” was given to them by the Americans, and, because they were mercenaries, they were heartily detested by the colonists. When any brutal act of oppression or wrong was to be carried out, such as a plundering or burning [65] expedition, the Hessians were generally employed in the service. The transaction was regarded by other nations as disgraceful to the British. The King of Great Britain shrank from the odium it inflicted, and refused to give commissions to German recruiting officers (for he knew their methods of forcing men into the service), saying, “It, in plain English, amounts to making me a kidnapper, which I cannot think a very honorable occupation.” All Europe cried “Shame!” and Frederick the Great, of Prussia, took every opportunity to express his contempt for the “scandalous man-traffic” of his neighbors. Without these troops, the war would have been short. A part of them, under Riedesel, went to Canada (May, 1776); the remainder, under Knyphausen and De Heister, joined the British under Howe, before New York, and had their first encounter on Long Island, Aug. 27. See Hessians.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May, 1776 AD (1)
1776 AD (1)
1775 AD (1)
August 27th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: