In the negotiations between the court of Great Britain and the German princes for the hire of mercenaries to serve against the rebels in America, it is clear that both sides were eager to come to terms. England wanted the men, the princes wanted the money, and while the latter were anxious to receive as large subsidies as possible, the chief care of Lord North's cabinet was to obtain the greatest number of soldiers with the least possible delay. Friedrich Kapp, the German historian of these bargains, thinks that Colonel William Faucitt, the British commissioner and plenipotentiary in the whole matter, was extravagant in the terms he granted. This does not appear, however, to have been the opinion of the Earl of Suffolk, Lord North's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who constantly expressed himself as well satisfied with his agent.

The British cabinet had been disappointed in the hope, which it had entertained in the summer and early autumn of 1775, of obtaining twenty thousand men from Russia. Its negotiations for the use of a so-called Scotch regiment, actually in the service of Holland, were destined to fail. Five battalions of the Hanoverian subjects of George III were despatched to Gibraltar and Minorca, setting the Englishmen who had been in garrison in those fortresses free for other service. No further source of supply was left but the small independent principalities of Germany.

On the other hand, the hereditary Prince of Hesse-Cassel, actual reigning Count of Hesse-Hanau, had written to express to His Majesty of England his zeal and attachment to the best of kings, and to offer the services of his regiment of five hundred men, "all sons of the land which the protection of your Majesty alone insures to me, and all ready to sacrifice with me their life and their blood for your service." It must not be imagined, however, that the prince was thinking of putting his own precious blood in any danger, and the expression of the eagerness of his subjects may also be considered rhetorical. The Prince of Waldeck wrote in the same strain in November, 1775, offering six hundred men. His officers and soldiers, like their prince, asked nothing better than to find an occasion to sacrifice themselves for His Majesty.

The Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg and the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel did not at first offer their services, but Colonel Faucitt found no difficulty in entering into negotiations with them. The Margrave of Anspach-Bayreuth made an offer of two battalions in the autumn Of 1775, but the treaty with him was not entered into for more than a year afterwards, and finally, in October, 1777, an agreement was made with the Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, who had long been doing all in his power to bring one about. Offers of troops on the part of the Elector of Bavaria and the Duke of Wurtemberg led to no result, partly on account of the bad quality and equipment of the soldiers offered, and partly, in the case of the latter, on account of the trouble made by Frederick the Great about the passage of troops through his dominions. Proposals of several other small German princes came to nothing.

The treaty first concluded was that with the Duke of Brunswick. It is dated January 9, 1776. The Duke yields to his Britannic Majesty a corps of three thousand nine hundred and sixty-four infantry men, and three hundred and thirty-six unmounted dragoons. This corps is to be completely equipped at the expense of the Duke, except as to horses for the light cavalry. They are to march from Brunswick in two divisions in February and March, and the King is to take measures to prevent desertion while they pass through his electoral dominions of Hanover on their way to the sea. The King is to pay and feed them on the same scale as his own soldiers, and the Duke engages "to let his corps enjoy all the emoluments of pay that his Britannic Majesty allows them," that is to say, not to pay them on a lower scale and pocket the difference. The British government, however, did not trust him. From the time of the arrival of the troops in America their pay was sent direct to them there, and did not pass through his Most Serene Ducal Highness's hands. This precaution was adopted with all the German auxiliaries but those of Hesse-Cassel, whose landgrave succeeded in getting the handling of the money. The Brunswick soldiers were to be cared for in the British hospitals, and the wounded not in condition to serve were to be transported to Europe at the expense of the King, and landed in a port on the Elbe or the Weser. The Duke agreed to furnish the recruits that should be annually necessary for the corps, to discipline and to equip them, but if it should happen that any of the regiments, battalions, or companies of the corps should suffer a loss altogether extraordinary, either in a battle, a siege, or by an uncommon contagious malady, or by the loss of any transport vessel in the voyage to America, his Britannic Majesty was to make good the loss of the officer or soldier, and to bear the expense of the necessary recruits to reestablish the corps that should have suffered this extraordinary loss.

The Duke was to nominate the officers, and fill vacancies among them. He engaged that they should be expert persons. He reserved to himself the administration of justice. He stipulated that his troops should not be required to render any extraordinary services, or such as were beyond their proportion to the rest of the army.

The King of England agreed to pay to his Most Serene Highness, under the title of levy-money, for every soldier the amount Of 30 crowns banco, equal to £7 4s. 4 1/2d. He was to grant, moreover, an annual subsidy amounting to £11,517 17s. 1 1/2d. from the day of the signature of the treaty so long as the troops should enjoy his pay, and double that amount (viz., £23,035 14s. 3d.) for two years after the return of the troops into his Most Serene Highness's dominions. In consideration of the haste with which the troops were equipped his Majesty granted two months' pay previous to their march, and undertook all expenses from the time of their leaving their quarters.

One more provision of this treaty deserves special notice, as it has excited the well-warranted indignation of all who have execrated these bargains for the sale of human blood. It runs: "According to custom, three wounded men shall be reckoned as one killed; a man killed shall be paid for at the rate of levy-money." This clause, which does not appear in the subsequent treaty with Hesse-Cassel, stands in the Brunswick treaty in the same article with, and immediately before, the provision for making good any extraordinary loss from battle, pestilence, or shipwreck. It may be taken to mean that the King of England undertook to bear the expense of a recruit to fill the place of a Brunswick soldier actually killed in battle, but that the Duke must replace at his own cost one who deserted from the ranks or died of sickness, unless in case of an "uncommon contagious malady." Yet if this be the interpretation, what is the meaning of the " three wounded men." Kapp, moreover, rejects this explanation, and asserts that new recruits were paid for by levy-money in addition to the 30 crowns received for the killed and wounded, and that this blood money was pocketed by the prince and not by the family of the soldier, nor by himself, if wounded (Sybel's "Historische Zeitschrift," II, 6 - 42, 1879, p. 327.) At any rate, the fact remains that the Duke of Brunswick contracted to receive a sum amounting to about $35 for every one of his soldiers who should be killed in battle, and $11. 66 for every one who should be maimed. It is probably now impossible to discover how much England actually paid out on this account. The payments were not entered under their proper heading in the bills sent to Parliament from the War Office. Kapp suggests that the cabinet did not care to meet the criticism which this item in the accounts would have raised.

The treaty with Hesse-Cassel, dated January 15, 1776, differs from that with Brunswick principally as being more favorable to the German court. In the first place, the King of Great Britain was made to engage in a defensive alliance with the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. The Hessian troops were to be kept together under their own general, unless reasons of war should require them to be separated. Their sick were to remain in the care of their surgeons and other persons appointed for the purpose under the Hessian generals, and everything was to be allowed them which the King allowed to his own troops. Under this treaty the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel was to furnish twelve thousand men, completely equipped, and with artillery if desired. He was to be paid levy-money at the same rate as the Duke of Brunswick, viz., 30 crowns banco, or £7 4s. 4 1/2 d. for every man. His subsidy, however, was larger in proportion, amounting to 450,000 crowns banco, or £108,281 5s. per annum, to be continued (but not doubled) for one year after the actual return of the troops to Hesse. The Landgrave subsequently furnished various smaller contingents, making special bargains for them, but his advantage over the duke may be roughly estimated from the fact that, barring the blood-money above spoken of, and concerning which we have no data, barring, also, whatever pickings and stealings the most serene rivals managed to gather in, and counting only levy-money and subsidies, the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel received more than twice as much per man sent to America as the Duke of Brunswick. In addition to this, and outside of the treaty, the Landgrave insisted on the payment of an old claim, dating from the Seven Years' War, previously disallowed by England, and amounting to £41,820 14s. 5d.

The treaties with the smaller states, Hesse-Hanau, Waldeck, Anspach-Bayreuth, and Anhalt-Zerbst did not differ in their main features from those already described. None of them were quite so favorable to the princes as the treaty with Cassel, none quite so favorable to England as that with Brunswick. The bloodmoney clause is found in those of Hanau and Waldeck, but not in that of Anspach (For the text of the treaties with Brunswick, Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Hanau, and Waldeck, see "Parliamentary Register," 1st series, vol. iii.; for the treaty with Anspach, vol. vii.)

From time to time bargains were made with several of the princes above mentioned for small additional bodies of troops. Chasseurs or sharpshooters were especially in request. From year to year recruits were sent out to America to the various divisions. The sum total of men, according to Kapp, was made up as follows:

Brunswick sent ..................5,723
Hesse-Cassel sent ............16,992
Hesse-Hanau sent ..............2,422
Anspach-Bayreuth sent......2,353
Waldeck sent ......................1,225
Anhalt-Zerbst sent .............1,160


Of these, rather more than eighteen thousand sailed to America in 1776. Of this total of nearly thirty thousand men, twelve thousand five hundred and sixty-two did not return to Germany (6 Schlozer's " Staats-Anzeiger," 521, with the corrections made by Kapp in respect to the Anspach contingent. " Soldatenhandel," 2d edition, p. 209. Besides the contingents sent to America from Germany by agreement with the princes, a certain number of Germans served in the English regiments, some of which had recruiting stations on the Rhine.

It is difficult to say how the bargains between England and the German princes were regarded by public opinion in Germany at the time. Schlozer's Briefwechsel, the foremost German periodical of the period, was published at Gottingen, in the Hanoverian dominions of George III. It contains many articles on the American war, all written on the English side, with the single exception of a letter from Baron Steuben, who was fighting for the colonies. This letter is, moreover, annotated by the editor in a sense adverse to the Americans. This tone may perhaps have been forced upon Schlozer by circumstances, as the press in Germany was then tolerated rather than free. An interesting little book was published at Wolfenbuttel, near Brunswick, in 1778. It gives an account of America, its products, its geography, and its history, together with an excellent map. The author of the book is decidedly hostile to the colonists. The sending of more than seventeen thousand Germans to America is briefly, one might almost say incidentally, mentioned, though the earlier operations of the war and of these auxiliaries are described at some length. Yet the presence of so many Germans in the New World was undoubtedly the principal reason for the book's existence. It is fair, also, to consider that rebellion was in those days looked on with far sterner eyes than at present, and that, by people of a conservative turn of mind, at least, it was treated not as a political mistake, but as a heinous crime.

Quite different was the style in which the liberals of Europe spoke of the war and of the mercenaries. The principles which were to bring about the French Revolution were at work, and some of the actors of that great drama were already stepping upon the stage. Mirabeau, then a fugitive in Holland, published a pamphlet addressed "To the Hessians and other nations of Germany, sold by their Princes to England." It is an eloquent protest against the rapacity of the princes, a splendid tribute to the patriotism of the Americans. The genius of Mirabeau could look far enough into the future to recognize in the North American continent an asylum for the oppressed of all nations. His blow at the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel struck home. Not only did the latter attempt to buy up the edition of the pamphlet, but he caused an answer to be published, which only had the effect of calling forth a rejoinder, in which the future tribune maintains that an offense against the freedom of nations is the greatest of crimes. In the same spirit wrote Abbe Raynal and others, some of them better known in Europe, at that time, than Mirabeau, and against them a paper warfare was kept up in the Dutch journals, then the most influential, because the freest, on the Continent. In the public library at Cassel is an interesting little pamphlet published in 1782 in French, and also in German. This pamphlet is attributed by Kapp to Schlieffen, the Minister of Landgrave Frederick II; but I do not know on what authority. The writer pointed out such novel facts as that men had in all ages slaughtered each other, that the Swiss had long been in the habit of fighting as mercenaries, that the ten thousand Greeks under Xenophon did the same, and he considered it unjust to blame his contemporaries for what seemed to be a natural instinct of mankind. He noticed that the present letting-out of troops by Hesse was perhaps the tenth occasion of the sort since the beginning of the century. He showed the benefits which the Landgrave had bestowed on his country, and the affection in which he was held by his people. He drew attention - and this was, perhaps, his best argument - to the fact that the Landgrave of Hesse and the Duke of Brunswick were so nearly connected with the English royal family that their descendants might be one day called to the throne of Great Britain (This argument was not mentioned in the British Parliament, where it might, perhaps, have been received with derision.) As for the boasted Liberty of the Americans, she was but a deceitful siren, for all history proved that republican governments were as tyrannical and cruel as monarchies.

Meanwhile the Freiherr von Gemmingen, minister to the Margrave of Anspach, was a little ashamed of the business in which he found himself. "It always seems very hard to me to deal in troops," writes he to his agent in London, "but the Margrave is determined to set his affairs in order at any price, and to pay all his own debts and those of his predecessors. So the good that may come out of such a treaty of subsidy will far outweigh the hatefulness of the business." Later he writes: "The treaty which we have just made is much more favorable than we could have expected, especially when you think that the offer came from us, and that the royal arms have hitherto had such great success in America. The matter will naturally be looked on in the most unfavorable light possible by people who do not understand how to see an affair of state as a whole, and with its proper motives. But as soon as such people see foreign money flowing into our poor country, as soon as they see us paying its debts with the means which come pouring in, they and the whole world will be enchanted, and will acknowledge that the troops, whose business is to fight the enemies of the state, have conquered our worst enemy - viz., our debts. Even the lowest soldier shipped to America, well paid and provided with what is most necessary, will come back with his savings and be proud to have worked for his country and for his own advantage.... I am, in general, a declared enemy of such dealings in men; but there are cases in which the evil changes into a comparative benefit, and such, if I am not mistaken, is ours." (Kapp's " Soldatenhandel," 2d ed. pp. 108, 123, 124.)

Frederick the Great, in a letter to Voltaire (June 18, 1776), expressed his contempt for the men-selling princes, and found occasion at a somewhat later time to throw impediments in their way. "Had the Landgrave come out of my school," he writes, "he would not have sold his subjects to the English as one sells cattle to be dragged to the shambles. This is an unbecoming trait in the character of a prince who sets himself up as a teacher of rulers. Such conduct is caused by nothing but dirty selfishness. I pity the poor Hessians who end their lives unhappily and uselessly in America." (Quoted by Kapp in Sybel's "Historische Zeitschrift," II, 6-42. 1879, p. 314) Napoleon, when thirty years afterwards he drove away the then Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel (the Count of Hanau of our treaties), expressed the feeling of a later age: "The House of Hesse-Cassel has for many years sold its subjects to England. Thus have the electors gathered such great treasures. This vile avarice now overthrows their house."

But the infamy of the man-selling princes is perpetuated in Germany more by the words of the best-beloved of her poets than by those of the two greatest generals of the last century. In his tragedy of "Cabale und Liebe," written during the progress of the American war, Schiller has left an eloquent protest against the vile traffic. "But none were forced to go?" says Lady Milford to the old chamberlain, who is telling her how his two sons, with seven thousand of their countrymen, have been sent off to America. " Oh, God! no," he answers - "all volunteers. It is true, a few saucy fellows stepped out of the ranks and asked the colonels how much a yoke the prince sold men; but our most gracious master ordered all the regiments to march on to the parade ground, and had the jackanapes shot down. We heard the crack of the rifles, saw their brains spatter the pavement, and shouted, 'Hurrah! to America!'

"Lady. Oh, God! oh, God! And I heard nothing? and I noticed nothing?

"Chamberlain. Yes, madam! Why did you ride out to the bear-hunt with our master, just as the signal was given to march away? You should not have missed that imposing spectacle, when the loud drums told us the time was come, and shrieking orphans here followed a living father, and there a raving mother ran to impale her sucking babe on the bayonets. You should have seen how lovers were torn asunder with sabre strokes, and old graybeards stood still in their despair, and at last threw their very crutches after the young fellows who were starting for the New World. Oh! and through it all, the noisy rolling of the drums, so that the Almighty might not hear us pray!

"Lady. Be quiet, poor old man! They will come back. They will see their home again.

"Chamberlain. Heaven knows it! So they will! Even at the city gates they turned and cried, 'God help you, wife and children! Long live our father the duke! We shall be back for the Day of Judgment!'"

Continue to Chapter III

Return to Contents

Return to Scholars Showcase