William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
Finding aid created by
J. R. (Hessian) Journal, 1776-1784
Rob S. Cox, May 1998
J. R. (Hessian) journal
This journal, kept by an author identified only as J. R., covers the service of a Hessian soldier during the Revolutionary War, including his trip to and from America and his service with the British auxiliary forces.
The material is in German
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown.
J. R. (Hessian) Journal, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.
An elite regiment headed personally by the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, the Leib Regiment debarked from Germany in February, 1776, with the first division of Hessian forces bound for service in America. J.R., a soldier in the ranks of the regiment, arrived in Sandy Hook, N.J., on August 11, 1776, after an exhausting journey and found himself under the overall command of Gen. Leopold Philip von Heister. Although control of the region was still being contested by British and American forces, the Leib Regiment remained more or less idle for several weeks, until called in October to participate in the Battle of White Plains. Two months later they joined in an expedition, occupying an essentially defenseless Newport, R.I.
In May, 1777, the idyllic sojourn of the Leib regiment in Quaker Rhode Island was interrupted when the regiment was ordered to return to New York, where they were soon pressed into operations in New Jersey as part of William Howe's effort to counter Washington's harassing tactics. The Leib Regiment remained with Howe during his (in)famous foray into the Chesapeake, landing at Elkton on about August 24th, and moving slowly northward. At Brandywine, they won their first significant victory, narrowly missing the opportunity to destroy Washington's army completely. J. R. boasted that while his side had suffered over 500 casualties, "die Rebellen verliest aber 10 mahl Mehr" -- not to mention the ordnance captured and destroyed.
From 1779 until the end of the war, J.R. served in the vicinity of New York city, posted where needed. His regiment was among the last contingents of German troops to be evacuated in November, 1783, joining the regiments Lossberg (jung), Prinz Karl, the Landgrave, and von Donop as the "strongest and best regiments" entrusted with bringing up the rear. After a relatively rapid crossing of the Atlantic, J. R. and his comrades overwintered in Chatham, and did not arrive back in Hesse until May, 1784.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The Revolutionary War journal of Hessian soldier, J. R., spans the full period of his service in the British auxiliary forces, beginning with his departure from home in February, 1776, and continuing through his return with British forces to England during the winter of 1783-1784. This period of time is not, however, uniformly well documented. Almost half of the journal covers the author's first trip across the Atlantic and their service in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, and the Philadelphia Campaign, 1776-1777. Unfortunately, the latter portion of the Philadelphia Campaign and the next three years of the war are covered summarily in only a few pages. Late in 1780, the author briefly returned to more regular entries, at which point the regiment was stationed in the area around New York city, followed by a two years lapse in recording anything at all. He again provides good coverage for the return home across the Atlantic and their stay in Chatham.
Written in old script German in a clear, legible hand, the journal reflects a degree of education on the part of its author. Reading of the journal is made difficult only by the occasional use of phonetic spelling (typical of pre-standardized 18th century language). J.R. is not, however, a particularly reflective writer, commenting only occasionally on the new sights in America, rarely discussing military matters in great detail, and virtually never considering larger strategic issues or the effect of the war on civilians or military personnel.
Although the journal's author is identified only by his initials, J.R., but the broad outlines of the author's identity can be reconstructed. The clearly came from Europe with the first division of Hessian troops, and given the particulars of his regiment's movements throughout the war, one can conclude with some confidence that he belonged to the Leib Regiment. In particular, the combination of service in the occupation of Newport (December, 1776-May, 1777), at Brandywine, and at other engagements in the Philadelphia Campaign makes any other attribution unlikely. Furthermore, it appears that the author is most likely to have been either a private soldier or non-commissioned officer, in that no commissioned officer listed on the regimental roll provided by Eelking bears those initials.
- United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783 -- Participation, German.
- Sandy Hook (N.J.) -- History.
- Newport (R.I.) -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783.
- New York (N.Y.) -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783 -- British forces.
Additional Descriptive Data
For further information about Hessian soldiers in the American Revolution, see the Freiherr von Jungkenn papers at the Clements Library.
Atwood, Rodney. The Hessians: mercenaries from Hessen-Kassel in the American Revolution (Cambridge, 1980)
Eelking, Max von . The German Allied Troops in the North American War of Independence, 1776-1783 (Albany, N.Y., 1893).
Amboy (N.J.)--Description and travelBrandywine, Battle of, 1777Heister, Leopold Philip von, 1707-1777Long Island (N.Y.)Mud Island (Pa.)New York Campaign, 1776Newport (R.I.)--Description and travel--18th centuryPhiladelphia Campaign, 1777-1778Rhode Island Expedition, 1776-1777United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--PeaceWhite Plains, Battle of, 1776