|Baroness von Riedesel|
When you think of women involved in the American Revolution, I’ll bet you don’t visualize a German baroness. But when the British hired Hessian troops to help fight the American rebels, some women accompanied their husbands to our shores. One of them was vivacious young Frederika Charlotte Louise von Massow, the Baroness von Riedesel.
She was born on July 11, 1746, at Brandenburg. Her father was a general, and as a child, Frederika experienced the hardships of travelling with the Prussian Army. In 1762 during the battles of the Seven Years’ War, sixteen-year-old Frederika helped care for the wounded, among them, the then lieutenant colonel Friedrich Adolph Riedesel, baron of Eisenbach. It’s clear they were quite attracted to each other because they married later the same year.
Red-haired Fredericka was described as looking more like an unmarried school girl than a married woman, “full in figure and possessing no small share of beauty.” She and Friedrich became a devoted couple and soon added two daughters to their family. Frederika was pregnant again in 1776 when Brunswick signed a treaty to support Great Britain in the war against her rebellious American colonies. Now a general, Friedrich could not do without his wife at his side. When he sailed for America he made sure that Frederika would join him as soon as the new baby could travel. Carolina was born in March, and in May 1776, accompanied by her three little girls, Frederika sailed to England. Ever resourceful, she brought along a number of German antiques to sell to help pay travelling expenses.
England proved to be a less than enjoyable experience, with Fredericka’s German fashions and language attracting scorn. Nevertheless, she learned the English language and customs in six weeks, while she waited for a ship to take her and her daughters to Canada. General Riedesel had insisted she travel with a companion, and it was April 1777 before all the arrangements could be made and she and her little girls finally set sail. They were reunited with the general in June at Trois-Rivières, Quebec, just in time to accompany the army south on General John Burgoyne’s campaign to capture Albany and divide the New England states from the rest of the new nation.
|Baroness Riedesel and her children (Harper's Weekly, 1857)|
|The Riedesels celebrate Christmas in Canada. They are credited|
with popularizing the German tradition of Christmas trees
in the Americas
Encouraged by her husband, Frederika published her journal and letters shortly after his death in 1800. The Letters and Journals Relating to the War of the American Revolution and the Capture of the German Troops at Saratoga may well be the most complete and reliable account of this ill-fated British campaign. She died March 29, 1808, in Berlin and was buried with her husband in a family grave in Lauterbach.
Frederika was clearly a resourceful, courageous, and admirable woman. Please share your thoughts about her and about the challenges of caring for 3 tiny children in the midst of a war zone. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d handle what she endured nearly as well!
~~~J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, releases April 1, 2017. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.