Baroness Riedesel's Journey, 1776 And 1777

As found in the book, "The Hessians The Revolution", By Edward J. Lowell.



The Baroness Riedesel had started to join her husband, bringing with her her three little daughters, of whom the oldest was but four years and nine months old, and the youngest an infant of ten weeks. The journey from Germany to Canada in those days was no light matter, nor was it free from imaginary as well as actual perils. “Not only did people tell me of the dangers of the sea,” writes Frau von Riedesel, “but they also said that we must take care not to be eaten by the savages, and that people in America lived on horseflesh and cats. But all this frightened me less than the thought of coming to a land where I did not understand the language. However, I had made up my mind to everything, and the idea of following my husband and doing my duty held me up through the whole course of my journey.”

The baroness left Wolfenbüttel, near Brunswick, on the 14th of May, 1776, and travelled by Calais to England. “At Maestricht I was warned to be on my guard, because the roads were very unsafe on account of highwaymen. A hundred and thirty of these had been hanged, or otherwise executed, in the course of the last fortnight, but there were more than four times as many still about. When taken they were immediately strung up without further ceremony on the roads and at the places where they plied their trade. This news frightened me very much, and I made up my mind not to travel at night; but, as I got very bad horses, I had to go through a wood about dusk, where something that was hanging struck against me through the open window of the carriage. I took hold of it, and, feeling something rough, asked what it was. It was a hanged man, with woollen stockings. While I was still startled at this, my anxiety was much increased as we drew up before a lonely house in this same wood, and the postilions refused to drive any farther. The place was called Hune. I shall never forget it! A man of rather suspicious appearance received us, and led us into a room in a very retired part of the house, where I found only one bed.

“It was cold, so I had a fire made in a great fireplace. Our whole supper was composed of tea and very coarse bread. My faithful Rockel [her old servant] came to me with a very anxious face and said: ‘Things aren’t right here! There’s a big room full of fire-arms. I think the other people are out. They are certainly rogues. But I’ll sit up all night in front of your chamber with my gun, and will sell my life dearly. The other servant shall sit in the carriage, also with his gun.’ All this, naturally, did not make my sleep peaceful. I sat on a chair and laid my head on the bed. Yet, at last I fell asleep, and how great was my joy on waking, at about four in the morning, to have them come and tell me that all was ready for us to travel on. I then put my head out of the window, and listened to a number of nightingales in the wood in which we were, whose pleasant song made me forget my past anxiety.”

Such were the discomforts of travelling on the Continent a hundred years ago. We shall see presently what disagreeable adventures awaited foreigners in England. The baroness crossed safely from Calais to Dover, and posted to London. The innkeeper in Calais had told her that it would not be safe for her to travel alone, and, after a great pretence of seeking, had introduced a man to her, whom he represented to be a gentleman, who had consented to act as her escort. This man accompanied her to London, where she was lodged in the fourth story of an inn, though she had asked for good rooms. In her narrative she says: “The next day the innkeeper came to me with a shamefaced expression, and asked me very respectfully if I knew the person with whom I had come, and of whom I had told him to take such good care (for I had considered it improper to let him eat with me in London). I told him it was a gentleman who, at the request of Mr. Guilhaudin, mine host in Calais, had been so considerate as to accompany me on my journey. ‘Ha!’ answered he, ‘it is one of his tricks. It’s a hired servant, an arrant swindler, whom he employs to carry on his business, and when I saw you sitting in the carriage with this fellow, as you arrived, I must acknowledge that I did not believe you were the person that you gave yourself out for, and therefore thought these rooms would be good enough for you. As I now see, from the people that come to visit you, that I made a mistake, I humbly beg your pardon, and entreat you to take other rooms, for which you shall pay me no more than for these, so much do I wish to make good my error.’ I thanked him, and begged him to get rid of the person for me as soon as possible; yet the man demanded four or six guineas (I don’t remember now exactly how much) for his company.”

Baroness Riedesel had found acquaintances in London, and among others gchlieffen, the Minister of the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, the man who had made the largest bargain for the sale of German troops to England. She went somewhat into society, but was much kept at home by the care of her infant daughter. “One day,” she writes, “I had an unpleasant adventure in London. I had been advised to buy a little cloak and a hat, without which I could not go out. I was dining at the house of Herr von Hinüber, the Hanoverian Minister. His wife proposed to me to take a walk to St. James’s, but omitted to tell me what in our dress was contrary to the English fashion. Little Augusta was dressed in French style, and wore a little hoop and a pretty little round hat. I noticed that people were almost pointing their fingers at us, and asked the cause. She [Frau von Hinüber] told me that I had a fan, which ought not to be carried with a hat, and that my little girl was overdressed, so that we were taken for French people, who were not in favor here.

“The next day I went there again, and we were all dressed in the English fashion, so I thought that no one would notice us; but I was mistaken, for I heard them again calling out,’ Frenchwomen! Pretty girl!’ I asked the servant why we were taken for French people, and was told it was because I had put ribbons on the children. I tore them off and put them in my pocket, but people still stared at me, and I heard that it was on account of the hats, which children in England wore of another shape. I saw from this how necessary it was to conform to the fashion of the coun-. try in order to be comfortable’ there, for the mob collects at once, and if you let yourself be drawn into bandying words with it, you are insulted.”

A few days later the baroness went to Bristol. She writes: “The day after I arrived my hostess called me to see a pretty sight (as she expressed it). When I stepped to the window I saw two naked men who were boxing with great fury. I saw their blood flow, and the rage in their eyes. Unaccustomed to so ugly a spectacle, I drew back as quickly as possible to the most retired corner of the house, so as not to hear the cries of joy which the spectators gave when one of the men received a blow. I had an unpleasant adventure during my stay in Bristol. I wore a chintz dress trimmed with green taffetas. This must have appeared too foreign to the Bristol people, for when I went out one day to walk with Mrs. Foy, more than a hundred sailors, gathered together, pointed their fingers at me and called out ‘French !‘ I flew as quickly as I could into the house of a shopkeeper and made a pretext of buying something there; meanwhile the crowd dispersed. But this disgusted me with my dress, and when I got home again I gave it to my cook, although it was quite new.”

Frau von Riedesel spent ten months in England. Her husband had told her not to travel without the company of a lady, and had recommended Mrs. Foy, above mentioned, who was also to join her husband in Canada. This lady kept the baroness waiting all through the summer of 1776, and at last absolutely refused to go. It was late in the autumn, and Baroness Riedesel was advised not to attempt the passage, as she might find the St. Lawrence blocked with ice. She therefore returned to London, where she found good lodgings among kind people, and spent the following winter. The care of her children forced her to lead a quiet life. She was presented at court, however, of which ceremony she gives the following account: “I was advised to go to court, as the queen had expressed a wish to see me. So I had a court dress made, and Lady George Germaine presented me. It was on New Year’s Day, i777. I thought the palace very ugly and very old-fashioned in its furniture. The ladies and gentlemen all took their places in the audience chamber; then the king, who had three gentlemen walking in front of him, came into the room. The queen followed, with one lady holding her train, and a gentleman in waiting. The king went round to the right and the queen to the left. Neither of them passes any one without speaking to him. At the end of the chamber they meet, make each other a low bow and courtesy, and each goes where the other has come from. I asked Lady Germaine what I should do, and whether the king kissed all the ladies, as I had heard he did. ‘No,’ answered she, ‘only the Englishwomen and the marchionesses,’ and there was nothing to do but to stand still in your place. Now, when the king came up to me I was much astonished to have him kiss me, and I blushed scarlet, because I was not expecting it. He immediately asked me whether I had received letters from my husband. I answered, ‘Yes, of the 22d of November.’ ‘He is well,’ answered he; ‘I have inquired expressly about him; every one is pleased with him, and I hope the cold will do him no harm.’ I answered that I hoped and believed that he would not feel the cold so much, as he was born in a cold climate. ‘I hope so too,’ said he, ‘but I can assure you of this, that the air there is very healthy and clear.’ Thereupon he made me a pleasant bow and went on. When he was gone I said to Lady Germaine that I was now naturalized, since the king had kissed me.

“Afterwards came the queen, who was also very kind to me, and asked if I had been long in London. I said, two months. ‘I thought it was longer,’ answered she. I answered, in London only so long, but in England already seven months. She asked whether I liked it here. I said yes, but that I much wished to be in Canada.—’ Are you, then, not afraid of the sea?’ she then asked; ‘I don’t like it at all.’—’ Nor I either,’ I replied, ‘only there is no other way to see my husband again, and I shall travel with friends.’—’ I admire your courage,’ said she, ‘for it is a great undertaking and very difficult, particularly with three children.’ “I saw, from this conversation, that she had already heard of me, and I was therefore glad that I had gone to court. After the ceremony I saw all the royal children, but one who was sick. There were ten of them, and I thought them all beautiful. “I went again several times, as I had been so well received. When I took leave of the queen in the spring, before going to Portsmouth to embark, she asked me again if I were not afraid of so terrible. journey, and when I answered that, as my husband wanted me to followhim, I did so with courage and pleasure, because I thought I was doing my duty, and I was sure that she, in my place, would do the same, she said to me: ‘Yes, but as I am told, you are making the journey without your husband’s knowledge.’— I answered, that as she was a German princess she must know that without my husband’s consent I could not have undertaken this, because I should not have had the money. ‘You are right,’ said she; ‘I approve of your determination, and wish you all imaginable good-fortune. What is the name of your ship? I shall often inquire after you, and hope that you will visit me on your return.’—-She kept her word, and often inquired after me, and often sent me polite messages.”

Baroness Riedesel embarked on a packet-ship on the i5th of April, 1777, in company with a fleet of thirty transports, under convoy of two ships of war. She arrived in Quebec on the i ith of June, after an uneventful voyage. Spending only half a day in Quebec, the indomitable woman, with her three little daughters, pressed on over rough roads and stormy rivers to Chambly, where, at last, on the ,4th of June, she met her husband. They could spend but two happy days together, for the army was in motion, and the baroness was obliged to return to Trois Rivières. On the i4th of August, however, she again joined the army, whose subsequent fate she shared. I will give but one more of her adventures before returning to the consideration of the military, operations of the Brunswick contingent.

The baroness had set out from Trois Rivières to join her husband at Fort Edward, on the Hudson. The party travelled in two boats, one of which carried the baggage. She writes: “Night overtook us and we saw ourselves obliged to land on an island. The other boat, which was heavier laden and not so well manned, had not ben able to keep up with us; so we had neither beds nor light, and, worst of all, nothing to eat; for we had brought no more in our boat than we had expected to use during the day, and found nothing on this island but the four bare walls of a deserted and, indeed, never finished house, full of boughs, on which we made our camp. I covered them with our cloaks and took the cushions from the boat to help us out, so that we slept very well.

“I could not persuade Captain Willoe to come into the hut with us, and saw that he was very uneasy, which I could not understand. Meanwhile, I noticed a soldier who was setting a pot on the fire. I asked him what he had in it. ‘Potatoes, which I brought with me.’ I looked wistfully at him; he had so few that I thought it cruel to rob him of them, particularly as he looked so happy over them. At last the desire to give my children some conquered my modesty, so I asked and got half, which may have been, at most, a dozen. Thereupon he pulled two or three candle-ends out of his pocket, which made me very happy, because the children were afraid to stay in the dark. I gave him a big thaler for it all, which made him as happy as I was. Meanwhile, I heard Captain Willoe give orders to make fires around the building and to keep guard all night about it. I also heard them making noises all through the night, which interfered a little with my sleep. Next morning, at breakfast (which I took on a broad rock which served us for a table), I asked the captain the cause of the noise. He informed me that we had been in great danger, inasmuch as this island was the lie aux Sonnet/es, so called from the number of rattlesnakes on it; that he had not known of this, and had been very much alarmed when he heard it, but had not dared to venture going farther in the night on account of the current. He had, therefore, nothing to do but to build large fires and make a great deal of noise in order to frighten the snakes away. But he had not been able to close his eyes the whole night from anxiety on our account. I was much alarmed at this story, and remarked to him that our danger had been greatly increased by lying on the boughs in which the snakes like to hide. He agreed with me, and said that if he had known sooner where we were, he would have had all the boughs taken away, or have begged us rather to stay in the bark. He had first learned it, however, from one of the people in our other boat, which had followed us later. In the morning we found skins and slime of these nasty beasts all about, and hurried through our breakfast as quickly as possible.”[Footnote: Baroness Riedesel’s “Berufs Reise nach America.”]

[ The Hessians In The Revolution ]