A Hessian Visits The Victors: 1783


Although the general was so polite as to offer us a bed in his quarters, we thanked him for this kind offer, and asked his adjutant to direct us to a house or tavern where we could stay overnight. To procure good lodgings here was a difficult matter, for even the general’s residence was a makeshift house made of boards. Meanwhile, since there are always people everywhere who will undertake anything for money, there was a discharged sergeant here, who with his loving better half owned a frame house which he had named a “coffeehouse.” Captain Lillie guided us to the place, where we were welcome guests for our money. Here we found Captain Hinrichs from our Corps, Secretary Motz [of the Hessian headquarters staff], and Dr. Michaelis [a Hessian physician], who had traveled several days ago through the Province of Jersey to Valley Kill [probably Wallkill] in order to excavate some bones of a monstrous beast which must have been bigger and stronger than an elephant, and of which Buffon [Comte de Buffon, a French naturalist] makes mention. This journey had turned out so successfully that I had hardly entered the house when Dr. Michaelis shouted to me in a loud voice: “My dear captain, our journey has resulted according to our wish. We have made a great discovery, and Buffon’s entire system is overturned!” To my displeasure, none of the American officers spoke German, who otherwise would have taken me for a scholar because of the learned words of the doctor. Be that as it may, we were delighted to meet each other so unexpectedly here in this corner of the American world, and proposed to make our return journey together. We then begged Colonel Vose, through the Captains Lillie and [Captain Joshua?] Benson to give us the honor of passing the evening with us, and putting up with supper in this coffeehouse made of boards. They accepted and we spent the night quite pleasantly.

Since the North River in this area yields an abundance of oysters, and the port was of reasonable quality, we enjoyed quite an excellent supper. As we intended to open the hearts and mouths of the Americans, we passed around the bottle several times, and after a few quarter hours we became such good friends that no outsider would have believed how different our views were. Among other things, our conversation turned to the pay of the troops, whereupon the American officers assured us that they still had five years’ pay coming.—But on what did they live, since surely some of them had nothing at all to depend on?—Enough of them, who had nothing to add to their subsistence, had to live on the daily ration, which consisted of a pound of meat and a pound of bread. He who could not purchase a new coat wore his old one until it fell off his body in pieces. He who could not procure shoes made them himself from cowhide, or any other skin, or a piece of leather. Where the direst need arose and the officers complained too loudly, then a little money was paid out, with which each sought to clothe himself. “Would you believe it, gentlemen, that we had officers enough in the army who did not get on a horse during the entire war, who often marched without shoes, and who still did everything that was possible to live in this world as free men? But we had resolved to endure everything and to die in the end or throw off the yoke of tyranny.”—But wouldn’t you think that the Congress and their countrymen, who had them to thank for everything, would reward them for their toils?—“Many are against us, but we hope to receive at least half-pay. All the officers of the regular troops petitioned the Congress to grant us a piece of land of 130,000 acres between the Ohio and Mississippi, where we wanted to establish a colony, since it is against the Constitution of the country to maintain a standing army. We wanted to guard the frontier against the Indians, but be permitted to frame our own laws and be independent of Congress. This, however, was denied us. They will give us land, but not all in one area. But once the English army leaves our soil, we will try to get by force what they will not give us amicably.”

This last remark clearly showed that if the English were willing to squander large sums of money among these people they could easily cause fresh unrest in this new state, by which it would be quite possible to turn a part of these provinces to the British side again.

Toward four o’clock in the morning the American gentlemen left us, whereupon our host brought his entire supply of bedding into our room to prepare a bed for us. But since there was only enough room in it for three of our party, two of us laid at either end. As the windows and doors in this place were in poor condition and a strong, cold wind blew freely in and out of the room, our lodging was not the most pleasant, and each of us was glad to see the break of day.

The 23d. After we had a very good breakfast in our cold room, we paid a visit to the general. I introduced the other three gentlemen, and at the same time we both took our leave. We were asked to the table again, but since Lieutenant von Gerresheim and I had an appointment with General McDougall … only the other three gentlemen accepted. Hereupon we inspected Fort Putnam, which is shaped like an irregular pentagon, dominating the entire plain and Fort Clinton.…