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Great-great-great-great-grandpa
jumped ship and became a patriot!

Do you have in your ancestry a Hessian soldier who deserted and went on to fight in General Washington's Army? Lots of people think so, but are probably wrong.

In doing some other research one afternoon I ran across more than one variation of that story - and in fact in a half-hour of searching through just the Alta Vista search engine I came up with more than half-a-dozen such stories. In all likelihood, most of the tales are not true, but rather were concocted at a time in history when it would have been embarassing to admit your grand-daddy was one of those hated Hessians (and a vile, though undeserved, reputation they had - but that's the subject for another web page).

It's interesting to me because my own Hessian ancestor Ulrich Zeth was the subject of just such a myth - it had him jumping ship in New York harbor and swimming to shore to join Washington's army, even though his Hessian unit was never in New York - click the link at the bottom of this page to read his story - truth and myth. He had been listed on a Blair County, Pennsylvania roster of Revolutionary War soldiers, but someone from there contacted me and I had to tell them there is no evidence whatsoever that great-great-great-great grandaddy Zeth fought for the Colonists.

Question: how many Hessians actually did join the Continental Army? Judging by the personal home pages I visited, seemingly most of them did, at least according to their descendants. The only pages that didn't seem to have the "jump to the other side" story were those which have specific data about an ancestor's unit, such as would come from the the HETRINA which is the main source of actual military records for Hessian soldiers..

Here are some of the stories I collected - if you have a similar one, please e-mail it to me (these stories are taken verbatim from their origial source):


"John Christian Frederick Brockner and Jane Yerks, who was born in Tarrytown, March 12, 1810. Her parents removed to Little Falls, Passaic Co., and subsequently to New York, where they died. Her father, born in Frankfort-on-the-Main, Germany, was pressed in the Hessian service, but after reaching America deserted, joined Gen. Washington's army, and served until the close of the war. "

(Editor's note: a reader says this myth had some dates wrong -

"In reference to the "Hessian-soldier" myths that you shared on the internet: The first myth shared was that of John Christian Frederick Brockner and Jane Yerks. It was stated that one of them was born in March, 1810. They fact is they were married in Tarrytown, NY on that date. Their first child, John Brockner, (my great-great grandfather) was born in 1811 or so."
Thanks,
Ronald T. Brockner)

"According to unconfirmed family records, she married a Hessian soldier who deserted the British and fought for some period with American patriots. His given name was Jacob and we believe he was born abt. 1760 in Germany. No marriage data has been found to date. For whatever reason, Jacob's Germanic surname was not recorded and he took Susanna's surname as his own and has always been known as Jacob HOWARD."
"His father Andrew Kracau was born in Poland, emigrated to Germany where Peter was born. Peter served six years as grenadier in army of Frederick the Great of Prussia. He came as a Hessian during the Revolutionary war, was wounded in Battle of Brandywine. Was put on picket duty and deserted to American side."
"John WEISSINGER. Born circa 1775, possibly in Charleston, South Carolina. His father (or maybe he himself) was reportedly one of two brothers who came to America from Germany, with a possible intermediate stop in Italy. Family tradition says the brothers came to America with the Hessian mercenaries, but deserted from the British forces to fight with the Americans. "
"John Christian Burgess, who was born in Hesse, Germany. He was with the hired Hessian Soldiers, they fought with the British Army in the Revolutionary War. After a period of service, he became sympathetic with the cause of the colonist and deserted the British Army and went into hiding in Eastern New York and around Port Ann to avoid capture." (See below for more information on John Burgess)
"Hootman, whose name became quite prominent in story, was also a citizen of Donegal township and of German birth. He served as a Hessian soldier in the day of the British and came here during the Revolutionary war. However, as soon as an opportunity presented itself, the brave young German deserted the British ranks, and enlisted as a drummer boy with the patriots in their struggle for liberty."
"I need help located Josef ULM (from Metz)who deserted the Hessian Army's Von Ditfurth Unit in Aug 1782 and served the American cause with the Virginia Battalion, Posey's Reg. on the muster rolls of Capt. Alexander Parker's Co. on foot, from 11 Dec. 1782 until May of 1783." (NOTE: this one has enough details to sound like it could be true)
"John Francis Hollar: There is a story of three Hessian soldiers who jumped ship. It also has something to do with the killing of another person. Nothing else is known of this story at this time or if there is any connection. Until other evidence is found, there is no way of telling which one is."

After posting an inquiry about the above stories on the Hessian listserv ( A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the Hessian soldiers who remained in America after the American Revolution) , I almost immediately started getting these additional stories from the list's subscribers:

"My initial research on Konrad Krain, my Hessian ancestor, began with the family story quoted by his grandson that said he was a Hessian soldier who was taken prisoner, only to desert and then fight for the Americans. This story was found to be true, all except the part about fighting for the Americans. I have yet to prove that. "
"I've also heard this same myth; not about my ancestor, Caspar Link, but about a Mr. Reese who settled in Central PA. I was telling a coworker that we thought Caspar was a Hessian, and she said that she descended from a Hessian also. But she added on the story of his escape and enlistment with "Washington's Army".

And this response about one of the alleged deserters to "the other side."
As far as John Christian Burgess, Sr. deserting from the Hessian forces, this is an accurate statement. It is almost certain that he was fighting with Burgoyne's forces in NY when he deserted. The reason he is known to have deserted is because he later enlisted in a Rhode Island regiment (3rd Company, I think) to fight for the revolutionary cause and is listed in the official Muster Rolls. He married Hannah Newland of Vermont and they settled in the Argyle/Fort Ann/ Dresden/Putnam region of NY, near the shores of Lake George, where he took up farming and lumbering.

John C. Burgess, Sr. and Hannah had numerous children, as well as one, Frederick, which was Hannah's from a previous relationship, and the family presence in the Lake George area is well documented. It is thought that John C. Burgess, Sr. died in a lumbering accident around 1806.

This reader's ancestor was a documented "ship jumper:"

I saw your website. I have a similar story about my gggggrandfather Conrad Brehmer (Bremer) who was a Hessian soldier, was captured, switched sides and fought with the patriots. He did receive a Revolutionary War land grant in Tuscarawas County, Ohio and is counted in Tuscarawas County as being a Revolutionary War Veteran.

(Editor's note: respected Hessian researcher John Merz reports the known facts about My Bremer -

"He indentured himself (sold himself) in 1782 to get out of a prison camp")


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