Episode 382: Friederike Baer, Hessians in the American Revolutionary War

Cover of Hessians: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War by Friederike BaerWithin the Declaration of Independence, the founders of the United States present 27 grievances against King George III as they declare their reasons for why the thirteen British North American colonies sought their independence from Great Britain. Their 25th grievance declares that King George III “is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat [sic] the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun.”
What do we know about the “Armies of foreign Mercenaries” King George III sent to his rebellious American colonies?

Friederike Baer, an Associate Professor of History at Penn State Abbington College, joins us to explore the lives and wartime experiences of the 30,000 German soldiers the British Crown hired and dispatched to North America during the American War for Independence. Frederike is the author of the award-winning book Hessians: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios.

Episode Summary

Headshot of Friederike BaerOur guest is an Associate Professor of History and the Division Head for Arts and Humanities at Penn State Abbington College. Her research expertise is in the American Revolution and Early American Republic eras, and she has a particular interest in the experiences of German-speaking people during those periods. She’s also the author of two books, including Hessians: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War, which won the 2023 Society of the Cincinnati Prize.

During our exploration of the German soldiers in the American War for Independence, Friederike reveals why we should refer to the German soldiers who fought in the American Revolution as “German soldiers” instead of “Hessians”; Information about why German rulers agreed to hire out their young men as mercenaries to King George III and Great Britain; And details about the contributions the German soldiers made to the British military effort during the American War for Independence, as well as details about how some German soldiers experienced the Revolution and war in North America.

What You’ll Discover

• How many German soldiers went to North America
• How and why Britain hired German soldiers to fight against the revolutionaries in the War for Independence
• Why “Hessians” is not an accurate term to describe all of the German soldiers who came to America
• How German territories recruited soldiers to send to America
• How German soldiers reacted and adjusted to being in a new physical environment
• How German soldiers described America, Americans, and the War for Independence
• How German soldiers described African Americans and Indigenous peoples
• Americans’ reaction to Britain using German soldiers to supplement its ranks
• The Battle of Trenton
• What happened to the German soldiers after the war
• The overall impact of German soldiers on the war

Links to People, Places, and Publications

Friederike Baer
• Friederike Baer, Hessians: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War
David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society
Baroness de Riedesel, Letters and Memoirs Relating to the War of American Independence
Transcript

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Complementary Episodes

Episode 048: Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives During the War for Independence
Episode 081: After Yorktown
Episode 046: Whirlwind: The American Revolution & the War That Won It
Episode 144: The Common Cause
Episode 147: British Soldiers, American War
Episode 157: The Revolution’s African American Soldiers
Episode 252: The Highland Soldier in North America
Episode 375: Misinformation Nation

Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, how might the American War for Independence have turned out differently if German soldiers had not arrived alongside the first wave of British soldiers? Do you think there still would have been a long war?

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