Hessian soldiers

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Johannes Ulrich Zeth
(also known as Ulrich Sate, Ulback Sate & Ollery Sate)

Hessian Soldier - Pennsylvania Patriarch

Born 1758 in Bellings, Principality of Hessen-Hanau (now Germany)

Died April 16, 1820 in Claysburg, Blair County, Pennsylvania

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One of my great-grandmothers was Susan Alice (Ellie) Zeth - her great-grandfather was Johannes Ulrich Zeth, who arrived in the U.S. as a member of the Hessen-Hanau Erbprinz Regiment, which fought on the side of the British in the American Revolution. U.S. residents with the last name of Zeth are most likely descended from this soldier.
Bob Hudson
San Diego, California
Feb. 1999
Uniform of the Hessian-Hanau Crown Prince Regiment
Hessen-Hanau Erbprinz Regiment uniform


Johannes Ulrich Zeth was born in Bellings in what is now Steinau, Germany and died in Claysburg, Pennsylvania, near Altoona. At age 17 he joined thousands of other of young Germans who were called to arms to fight on the side of the British in the American Revolution. According to The Hessian Web Page compiled by Matt Kriebe, the state of Hessen-Kassel sent 17,000 officers and soldiers, Hesse-Hanau sent 2,422 men officers and men, while other so-called "Hessians" "actually came from all over what is now Germany. Brunswick sent 5,723 men, Waldeck sent 1,225 men, Brandenburg-Anspach sent 1,040 men, and Anhals-Zerbst sent 1,119 men, which figured approximently 5% of that state's total population! "

Military records show that Ulrich Zeth was inducted into the Hessen-Hanau Erbprinz (Crown Prince) Regiment in February 1776 as a Musketeer.

Nothing is known of his earlier life in Germany, but the actitivities of the HHE Regiment have been well-documented up to and following their surrender (along with other forces under the command of British General John Burgoyne) on October 17, 1777 after the decisive American victory at the Battle of Saratoga.

After the war, Ulrich Zeth married Honour Burgoon, and Ulrich Zeth's military career is the subject of a chapter in the book Jacob Burgoon and His Children, by Patricia Burgoon Wiggins (although it contains some incorrect details of his unit's movements). The Immigrant Genealogical Society (IGS) has also translated old German military records to give us an account of the HHE Regiment's movements.

Hesse-Hanau's ruler was Wilhelm IX, who agreed to supply troops to the British as basically a means to make money for the state treasury. Ulrich Zeth's unit was the first to leave Hanau on March 15, 1776.

From Hanau, the 684 man HHE Regiment traveled by boat down the Main and Rhine Rivers to Willemstad, Holland, then crossed the channel to arrive in Portsmouth, England on March 30, 1776.

Wiggins reports on the accomodations of what turned out to be a 3-month long sea voyage from Germany to the North America:

"Each man had a small mattress, a pillow and woolen coverlet, and every six a wooden spoon and a tin cup. The food consisted of peas and bacon on Sundays, four pounds for six men; soup, butter and cheese on Mondays; four pounds meat, three pounds meal, one half pound raisins, and one-half pound suet, for pudding [again, among six men]. This was repeated on Wednesdays and the rest of the week. Every six men received daily four cans of small beer and a cupful of rum, often increased by an exchange for bread and cheese."

The IGS reports the regiment arrived in the vicinity of Quebec, Canada on June 3, 1776, "free of serious illness and without losses."

The IGS account also reports the following movements prior to the Battle of Saratoga:

"The regiment spent the summer near La Prairie in the region of Montreal. They moved into winter quarters at the end of October 1776 at Bardieux and Masquinonge, which were 5 hours from Montreal and Trois Rivers. On 2 June 1777 the regiment was ordered to move south across Lake Champlain."

Most of the HHE was captured at the Battle of Saratoga and spent the winter of 1777 in Winterhill near Boston. In November 1778 they were transferred to Charlottesville, Virginia. According to Wiggins, the Americans hoped the German prisoners of war would desert (better than having to feed and house them). She writes that Ulrich Zeth left the army on January 3, 1779 at Taneytown, Maryland and the Hessian military archives officially record him as having "deserted to the enemy" on that date. I'm indebted to Hessian researcher Henry Retzer for contributing the following information from the Hessen-Hanau Erbprinz Regiment Order Book:

  • 31Dec78: The Regt reached Hanover from York. Orders were issued that tomorrow is a rest day.
  • 01Jan79: Orders issued to assemble tomorrow to march at 9 AM. Baggage guard will consist of Lt von Richtersleben 2 NCOs and 24 privates; rear guard Lt von Trott and 6 NCOs.
  • 02Jan79: Orders issued at Taneytown. March off tomorrow at 8 AM, The baggage guard will be commanded by Ensign Weitzell, 2 NCOs and 24 privates, the rear guard 6 NCOs and Lt von Bischhausen.
  • 03Jan79: Orders issued at Baltimore Manor (probably now Walkerville). March will resume at 9 AM (no mention of any missing men).
  • How Ulrich Zeth made his "escape" may never be known, but as Henry Retzer speculates, " I have a feeling they camped with tents and campfires. It would have been easy for a sympathetic citizen to hide a deserter until his unit departed. The Hanauers were in the last of the 6 groups, each group one day apart, on this march."


    In the book "Portrait and Biographical Album of Sumner County, Kansas," William Lingenfelter reported a story of Ulrich Zeth's military career that - while certainly a dramatic and heroic tale to attribute to one's ancestor - appears to be a myth, at odds with the movements of the HHE regiment and Ulrich Zeth's military records and documented history. The writer also calls Ulrich "Jacob," which was the name of his son and grandson, and mistakenly places him in the mercantile business in Hagerstown, Maryland:

    "Jacob Zeth, the maternal grandfather of our subject, was born in Hesse Castle, Germany, and when seventeen years old joined the Hennian (cq) soldiery and thus made his way to America. While the boats were waiting in New York Harbor he swam ashore, thus making his escape from the troops and joined Washington's Army, fighting on the side of the colonists until after the close of the war. He was present at the Battle of Yorktown and after the close of the war engaged in the mercantile business near Hagerstown, Maryland where he accumulated quite a fortune. He was there married to Miss Burgoo (cq), a native of France, and born near the city of Paris. They reared a family of children and died in Maryland."
    (click here for more such "ship jumper" stories)


    The "Miss Burgoo" was actually Honour Burgoon, the daughter of French immigrant Jacob Burgoon. Ulrich and Honour (also known as Anna) had several children, including daughter Margaret, whose son William penned the apparently ficticious account of Ulrich Zeth's war exploits.

    Honour was born not in Paris, but in Anne Arundel County, Maryland (April 25, 1767) and like her husband died in Claysburg, Pennsylvania (June 1, 1839) and is buried in the Old Claysburg Cemetery (Ulrich Zeth was the first person buried there).

    Honour's father Jacob was from Alsace Lorraine, France (1715). and emigrated to America in 1740. Like many of the Alsace Lorraine population he spoke German, not French. Honour's mother is known only as "Elizabeth."

    In 1804 Mrs. and Mrs. Zeth moved from Maryland to Bedford County, Pennsylvania (in an area now part of Blair County). In what may be some government censustaker's poor attempt to spell his name phonetically, Mr. Zeth was recorded as "Ulback Sate." Some genealogies to this day only know him as Mr. Sate or Mr. Seth.

    Honour and Ulrich had the following children:

    Jacob - who is my direct ancestor - was born September 30, 1806 and lived to the ripe old age of 73 (died September 12, 1879). He was the founder and mayor of Claysburg. Sophia died on August 19, 1860. The census listed Jacob as being a miller, and one report said he was also a school teacher.

    As for our Hessian - Johannes Ulrich Zeth - I am indebted to Nancy Kiddoo for filling in some important gaps in his life. As she wrote:

    "He is one of about 175 Hessian deserters included in my 1989 article about these people who settled, for a time at least, in western Maryland. It was published by the Pennsylvania German Society in their journal Der Reggeboge. Zeth is one of those who "disappeared" from Maryland after 1800."

    According to Nancy's research, Ulrich Zeth was a miller both in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

    "In Maryland in 1797, Ulrich Zeth, miller, took an apprentice.

    He was a communicant in 1801 at the Reformed congregation in Carroll County, Maryland, Nancy reports (click here to visit the website for this church, which now has two denominations meeting in it).

    Africa's History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania gives the date of his arrival at Greenfield township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania as 1804, and says that he built saw- and grist-mills in 1805, was the first resident of the town of Claysburg.

    In 1808, the tax assessment of Bedford County lists Ulrich Zeth as a miller with 150 acres of patent land, a grist mill and saw mill.

    The 1800 census of dist. 5, Frederick Co., shows: Ollery Sate with 1 male over 45, 1 female 16-26, 1 female 10-16, and 3 females under 10."

    The surname Zeth is still common in the area around Altoona, Pennsylvania (a business school there carries the Zeth name). A Mr. William A. Zeth is listed as having been part of the 14th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in the 1898 Spanish-American War.

    Additional information or comments can be e-mailed to



    Pennsylvania German Society
    PO Box 244
    Kutztown, PA 19530-0244

    On-line genealogies noting Johannes Ulrich Zeth:

    On-line genealogies noting Johannes Ulrich Zeth with the last name of "Sate":

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