A family’s historical memory… of a Hessian ancestor

Posted on August 31, 2008 by

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Other than posting about Civil War Memory and Digital History, I don’t often post about another period of American history that interests me a great deal… the colonial era through the American Revolution. However, in keeping in touch with the base theme of Civil War memory of this blog, it seems appropriate enough to make a little comparison with historical memory of the American Revolution. In fact, on my most recent trip to New England and upstate New York, that’s exactly what I did.

Actually, I couldn’t help but begin to think about the differences. I thought about them first along the Battle Road and Old North Bridge near Concord, Mass. However, I thought about them even more at Saratoga, New York. In fact, the personal connection with Saratoga was even greater… because I had family present at the battle.

While the majority of my Revolutionary War ancestors served in either the Virginia or
Pennsylvania Line, at least two ancestors served as “Hessians” in the Hesse-Hanau Erbprinz Regiment. The regiment was in North American just over a year by the time of the battle at Saratoga (actually, the second battle of Saratoga, otherwise known as the Battle of Bemis Heights), having been with Gen. Burgoyne’s advance out of Quebec and south along Lake Champlain. However, the “legacy” of my Hessian ancestors (and for that matter, any of my Rev War ancestors) was not something that was passed along in family stories.

What the uniform looked like... this is from a set of watercolors done by Captain Friedrich Konstantin von Germann, commanding officer of Company 4, Hesse-Hanau Erbprinz Regiment. Fortunately, among the other sketches, he took time to capture the image of the uniform of his own unit.

After doing a little digging, I realized that one of my fifth great grandfathers (Christian Strohl) may have been a Hessian. However, I had no idea where to confirm this. Then, while reading through a Confederate relative’s (James Huffman of Co. I, 10th Virginia Infantry) account of the Civil War (in Ups and Downs of a Confederate Soldier), I found an account that was quite “fresh on the trail.” I say it was “fresh,” because James Huffman was the son of one of Christian Strohl’s fourteen children (and so, there was little time for embellishment over the years and little chance of much distortion). James Huffman remarked on page 139 of his book that “From the best information I can get, grandfather Christian Strole came here from Germany in the British Army, during the Revolutionary War and was captured one day while straggling from camp by American Cavalry. Also two Huffman companions were captured. This information I obtained from parties in no way interested and it was voluntary and endorsed by a near relative.”

Then, just over two years ago, I tapped into some great resources and realized that Christian served in the Hesse-Hanau Erbrinz Regiment, having enlisted in Germany in February 1776. I soon realized that he probably did not see much action, even though he was in Burgoyne’s campaign, which ended in surrender only days after the Battle of Saratoga. My guess was he probably didn’t even get to fire his flintlock (and, when I visited Saratoga, my guess was pretty much confirmed… the regiment having spent most of the campaign guarding the artillery and supply train). Nonetheless, being on the same ground upon which he stood, while the fighting waged in nearby fields, was still a thrill.

Following the surrender, Strohl spent time in Cambridge, Mass. (held at either Prospect Hill or Winter Hill), followed by a time at the barracks in Charlottesville, Virginia (Albemarle Barracks); Frederick, Maryland, and finally, Reading, Pennsylvania. Experiencing some horrible conditions by this time, he offered himself up for indenture, and his indentured was purchase by Michael Kiser on September 11, 1782. Like Strohl, Kiser himself was a native of Rumpenheim, having been born there, likely a son of Valentine and Maria Eppart Kiser. Kiser had left Germany in 1750 (nearly 26 years before Strohl took the boat ride across). Kiser was also a veteran of the American Revolution, having served in Capt. Philip Krick’s 8th Company, Fourth Battalion, Pennsylvania Line (possibly militia). Kiser’s name appears on a list of fines assessed in the years 1777-1778 for being absent from muster or drill.

Interestingly, the purchase of Strohl’s indenture by Kiser may not have been purely coincidence as the Reformed Lutheran church records from Rumpenheim show that the Kayser and Strohl families lived near each other, attended the same church, intermarried, and witnessed each other’s baptisms. The Strohl/Strole birth and baptism certificate shows that Christian Strole was confirmed at this church in Rumpenheim in the spring of 1772. There may be a remote possibility that Kiser purchased Strohl’s indenture and subsequently freed him because their families were closely linked in Germany. Nevertheless, not long after purchasing Strohl’s indenture, sometime in 1783, the Kiser family, having purchased 1030 acres of land along the south fork of the Shenandoah River in what was then Rockingham County, Virginia, left Berks County, Pennsylvania for Virginia (the part of the state that is now Page County). Strohl, still being bound by his three year indenture, accompanied the Kiser family.

On September 7, 1785, days before the expiration of his indenture, Christian Strohl/Strole purchased from Martin Strickler, 300 acres of land between the Shenandoah River and Peaked Mountain (in what was then Rockingham County, Virginia, and is now Page County). The home which he soon after built still stands today. On April 8, 1788, just over five years since Christian had been indentured to the Kiser family, he married Kiser’s daughter, Elizabeth. In all, Christian and Elizabeth had fourteen children between 1789 and 1814.

Short end of it… it just seems interesting how the family’s memory of the American Revolution (whether it be the memory of relatives in the State Line or in the Hessian army) had nearly faded into oblivion by the time my generation came along. Quite honestly, other than a few bits and pieces that have managed to linger over the years, the family memory of the Civil War isn’t much better.

Incidentally, the other Hessian ancestor (at least it seems quite possible at this point) was Peter Weiggert/Weygand (later changed to “Wyant”). Like Strohl, Weiggert belonged to the Hesse-Hanau Regiment and was among those surrendered shortly after the battle of Saratoga. However, unlike Strohl, Peter “Wyant” “deserted” (I know, it’s confusing to explain, but… yes, he deserted… while a prisoner of war. See Wikipedia’s definition of the Convention Army for a better understanding) from the Hessian Barracks (aka Albemarle Barracks) at Charlottesville on February 23, 1781, and apparently assimilated well into the population in the area.

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