The Revolutionary Years

During the French and Indian War, Great Britain utilized the large German population in North America by forming the Royal American Regiment, whose enlisted men were principally German colonists. The first commander of this regiment was Swiss native General Henry Bouquet and Friedrich Haldimand. The regiment would later be commanded by General Howe. Therefore, by the time that the Revolution came to America, there were some Loyalists among German-speaking colonists, some of whom moved to Canada or returned to Germany following the war. Most Germans, however, supported the Patriots.

New York had a large German population during the war as did Pennsylvania. Congress authorized that a German Regiment be formed as part of the Continental Army on June 27, 1776 with the first companies from Maryland and Pennsylvania. Other colonies formed their own German regiments or filled the ranks of local militias with German-Americans. Some Germans in Georgia enlisted under General Anthony Wayne who commissioned Nicholas Haussegger as Colonel. The regiment saw service at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton and took part in campaigns against American Indians. German colonists in Charleston, South Carolina formed a fusilier company in 1775.

Gustavus Heinrich von Wetter-Rosenthal (1753-1829) was a Baltic German aristocrat/soldier who came to North America and joined a unit from Pennsylvania where he served in the Continental Army. He was part of the American invasion of Quebec and was present at the Battle of Trois-Rivières. Following an military exemplary record during the American Revolution, “John Rose,” as he had renamed himself, returned to his homeland.

Some Germans such as the Bavarian Johann von Robaii, or Baron de Kalb (1721-1780) came to the US under the French flag. France had eight German-speaking regiments with over 2,500 soldiers and there were German soldiers and officers in the French Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment. Baron de Kalb served in the French army where he won the Order of Military Merit in 1763 and was elevated to the nobility with the title of Baron before receiving a commission as a general in the Continental Army. At the Battle of Camden in August 16, 1780, de Kalb crashed to the ground when his horse was killed, and he was shot three times and then bayoneted repeatedly by the British. However, it is said that Cornwallis had his own surgeons dress De Kalb’s wounds.

De Kalb reportedly told a British officer, “I thank you sir for your generous sympathy, but I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.” He died three days later, greatly mourned by his contemporaries. Several towns, counties and streets in the U.S. are named after him, and Charles Wilson Peale painted his portrait posthumously.

After serving Friedrich the Great of Prussia, twenty-six-year-old Friedrich Wilhelm, Baron de Woedtke came to the US after the onset of the Revolution where he was granted a commission on March 16, 1776 as a brigadier general under General Philip Schuyler in New York. The two generals joined Brigadier General John Thomas to reinforce General Benedict Arnold in the siege of Quebec. After the Canadian campaign failed, Woedtke remained in New York. He was with the general council that decided to abandon Fort Crown Point. Baron de Woedtke died of exposure at Lake George in July 1776.

General von Steuben

A Family of Patriots

The Hessians

A Sword Story

Friedrich the Great of Prussia was well-appreciated for his early support for the patriots. He not only expressed interest in opening trade, he allowed American agents to buy arms in Prussia. Friedrich personally interfered in the recruiting efforts of Russia and neighboring German states when they raised mercenary armies to send to the Americas, and he forbid enlistment for the American war within Prussia, where roads were denied for use by troops from Anhalt-Zerbst, which delayed reinforcements that Howe needed to crush Washington’s army during the Winter of 1777-1778.

President John Quincy Adams, who was the ambassador to Prussia from 1797 to 1801 before he became President of the United States in 1824, once stated to congress: “In the youth of our political existence, a great and philosophical European Sovereign was the only one where our envoys found understanding with their liberal ideas.” He was speaking of Friedrich the Great. Even though independence had been won in 1776 and the United States was recognized by Great Britain, the new nation was still shunned by British trade. On September 10, 1785, a year before his death, 74-year-old Friedrich the Great of Prussia and the USA signed a friendship and trade contract, which would last 132 years until 1917, the year America entered World War One.

A dress sword given to George Washington by Friedrich the Great was frequently worn by Washington on dress occasions and is shown in a portrait for the US House of Representatives.

A year before Friedrich’s death, he had the elegant dress sword hand-delivered to Washington with the oral message: “From the world’s oldest General to the world’s best General. Friedrich.”

To: Mid-19th Century Immigration


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