- Historic Sites
Baroness On The Battlefield
Not all the Hessians taken prisoner at Saratoga were soldiers, nor were all of them men. There was also, with her three small daughers,
December 1964 | Volume 16, Issue 1
It took the 5,joo soldiers captured by the Americans at Saratoga almost three weeks to march to Boston. The Riedesels joined the march in their calash after their three-day stopover at General Schuyler’s house in Albany. Although the defeated army travelled under guard they were not, by the terms of the surrender, prisoners of war, but “troops of the Convention.” This technicality, based on a promise made to Burgoyne by Gates at Saratoga, improved the conditions of the defeated army on their trek to Boston, but the agreement was not subsequently honored by the Continental Congress. The status of the prisoners, and particularly of the von Riedesels and other officers, remained, therefore, ambiguous throughout their captivity.
I do not know whether it was my vehicle which aroused the people’s curiosity, for it really looked like a wagon in which rare animals were being transported, but I was often obliged to stop, because the people wanted to see the German general’s wife with her children. In order to prevent them from tearing the linen top off the carriage, I decided it was better to alight frequently, and thus I got away more quickly than otherwise. But even so, I cannot deny that the people were friendly and were particularly pleased to hear that I could speak their native language, English.
In all my suffering God blessed me with His help, so that I lost neither my gaiety nor my courage; but my poor husband, who was consumed by sadness over everything that had happened and by his captivity, was very much annoyed by such episodes as these, and could scarcely endure them. His health had suffered greatly, especially from the many nights spent outdoors in the cold and dampness, and, accordingly, he often had to take medicine. One day when he was very weak from the effects of an emetic, he could not sleep on account of the noise made by our American guards, who never left us, and who were drinking and feasting outside our door and who became even noisier when he asked them to be quiet. I decided to go out myself, and I told them that my husband was ill and begged them, therefore, to be a bit less noisy. They ceased at once and all was quiet. Here is proof that this nation also has respect for our sex.
Some of their generals who accompanied us were shoemakers by trade, and on days when we rested made boots for our officers and also repaired the shoes of our officers. They very much prized coined money, which for them was very scarce. One of our officers’ boots were completely torn. He saw that an American general was wearing a good pair and jestingly said to him, “I would gladly give you a guinea for them.” The general immediately jumped off his horse, took the guinea, gave the officer his boots, and wearing the officer’s torn pair, mounted his horse again.
We finally reached Boston, and our troops were quartered in barracks not far away, on Winter Hill. We were put up at a farmer’s house, where we were given only one room in the attic. My maids slept on the floor, and the men in the hall. Some straw on which I had spread our bedding was all we had for a long while on which to sleep, since I had nothing other than my field bed. Our host allowed us to eat downstairs in his room, where his whole family ate and slept together. The man was good, but his wife, in revenge for the bother we caused her, deliberately chose to vex us during our mealtime by combing her children’s hair, which was full of vermin, often making us lose every bit of appetite, and when we asked her to do her combing outside, or at some other time, she replied, “It is my room; I see fit to stay and to comb my children now.” We had to hold our silence, for otherwise she might have turned us out of the house. …
We stayed in this place three weeks before we were then taken to Cambridge, where we were put up in one of the most beautiful houses, previously the property of royalists [ i.e. , loyalists]. I have never seen a lovelier location. Seven families, partly relatives and partly friends, had leasehold estates here with gardens and magnificent houses and orchards nearby. All these estates were only about an eighth of a mile apart from one another. The owners gathered every afternoon at one of the homes or another, where they enjoyed themselves with music and dancing, living happily in comfort and harmony until, alas, the devastating war separated them all, leaving all the houses desolate with the exception of two, whose owners shortly thereafter were also obliged to flee.
None of our gentlemen were permitted to go to Boston. My curiosity and the desire to see General Schuyler’s daughter, Mrs. Carter, impelled me to go, and I had dinner with her there several times. It is quite a pretty city, but inhabited by enthusiastic patriots and full of wicked people; the women, particularly, were horrid, casting ugly looks at me, and some of them even spitting when I passed by them. Mrs. Carter was gentle and good, like her parents, but her husband was a bad and treacherous person. They often visited us and ate with us and the other generals. We did our utmost to reciprocate their kindness. They seemed to feel very friendly toward us too, but it was during this time that this horrible Mr. Carter made the gruesome suggestion to the Americans, when the English General Howe had set fire to many villages and towns, to behead our generals, put the heads in small barrels, salt them, and send one of these barrels to the English for each village or town which they had set on fire. This beastly suggestion fortunately, however, was not adopted.