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Home > History > The Hessians

The Hessians

This page describes the lives and roles of Hessian soldiers in the Revolutionary War.

The Hessians

Hessians

What were Hessians?

During the Revolutionary War, British military forces hired about 30,000 German soldiers, known as Hessians. The word "Hessian" came from the German states of Hesse-Cassel and Hesse-Hanau, where some of the Hessians came from.

German Landgraves

Germany was much different in 1776 than it is today. Then, it was made up of various states, each of which was ruled by a landgrave (prince). Men who lived within each state were often forced into the landgrave's army at an early age. The landgrave could increase his fortune by renting out these armies to foreign powers in their times of need. The individual soldier had no say in the matter. Payment for the soldiers was sent directly to each state's landgrave. In this way, the fate of Hessian soldier is sometimes compared to the practice of slavery, although the soldiers were paid well.

Captured Hessian Soldiers Being Marched to Philadelphia
Captured Hessian Soldiers Being Marched to Philadelphia

Undeserved Reputation?

The "Hessians" that fought in the Revolutionary War gained a reputation for savagery and were greatly feared amongst the ranks of Continental soldiers. Curiously, several diaries gathered from Hessian soldiers in the field, revealed that they, in fact, were horrified by the way the British soldiers destroyed civilian property and executed prisoners. Despite their military prowess, British soldiers also feared and mistrusted the Hessians, and thus treated them badly.

The Battle of Trenton

While the Hessians fought in every battle of the Revolutionary War, they are best remembered in America for their defeat at the hands of George Washington and his soldiers on December 26, 1776. In the battle, Washington's men crossed the icy Delaware River on Christmas night and marched nine miles to Trenton, staging an ambush on the sleeping Hessians. Many of Washington's men lacked shoes and the soldiers were said to have left a trail of blood all the way to Trenton. In all, Washington captured about 1,000 Hessian soldiers, who were paraded through the streets in an effort to raise the morale of the beleaguered Patriot cause.

Becoming Americans

Captured German soldiers were sent to area farms to work as farm hands. Other Hessian soldiers were sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where they were treated well. Many of the Hessians sent to Lancaster stayed permanently rather returning to their dreadful existence in Germany. Of the 30,000 Hessian soldiers that fought in America, approximately 3,000-5,000 stayed to live in the United States.

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