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Hessian soldiers in the American Revolution

 

Transport Ships

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Nelda Percival.

copyrights 2005

 

 

I am not qualified to write an introduction for transport ships, but I feel a small article should be on the site for those interested in how their Hessians got to North America or home after the completion of the war.

 

A friend states that basically Hessians and members of the Royal Navy did not mix, that he does not recall a single event where Hessians manned Royal Navy warships, and he is an expert. He does state "however, at the end of the war, a lot of warships were used in lieu of using transport ships.  The transport ships were hired by the Navy Board and about the only involvement of the Royal Navy  was to provide escort vessels and to provide "Agents of Transports" who "mothered" the transports..  The resupply ships were hired by either the Victualling Board, the Ordnance Board, or the Treasury, depending upon their cargoes."

 

He provides a source for you to read:

David Syrett wrote the only book on the subject, viz - Shipping and the American War 1775-83: a study of the British transport organization (London: Athlone Press, 1970), x, 274 p.

 

 

He goes on to say in a different email:

"The 1782 replacement recruits included detactments from all six of the German states supplying troops (Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Hanau, Brunswick, Anspach-Bayreuth, Waldeck, and Anhalt-Zerbst).  The detachment comprised 2018 officers and men, 112 women, and 33 children.  They embarked at Bremerlehe on 01 June 1781 and sailed on 09 June   I do not have a copy of the embarkation list but the citation is: "Liste von der Einschiffung der nach Amerika bestimmten Troupen zu BremerLehe den 31ten May 1782," Bestand 13, A. 6. (accession 1930/5), Nr. 198, 9. 108, Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg.  Also "Return of the German Recruits, destin'd for America, after their Embarkation, Bremer Lehe, 1st June 1782" signed by Major General William Fawcett, UK/TNA/PRO, SP 81/195.  The fleet comprising two frigates and 14 transports arrived at Halifax on 13 or 14 Aug 1782.  The Frigates were HMS Emerald, 32-guns, Captain William Knell, and HMS Cyclops, 28-guns, Captain Brabazon Christian.  The transports were the Rebecca, Ocean, Littledale, Chudleigh, Hesperus, Berwick, Diana, Elizabeth & Molly, Montagu, Enterprise, Soverign, Neptune, Apollo, and Jupiter."

 


 

Source:  an email in the mailing list archives, from Robert Brooks dated 11 April 2001

Copy rights Bob Brooks, 2005

 

 

The British North American naval commander-in-chief can't be bothered with the task of convoying transports. VAdm Richard Lord Howe flew his flag from HMS *Eagle* (Capt. Henry Duncan, 64 guns, 520 men). HMS *Eagle* was commissioned 7 Feb 1776. She sailed alone about 11 May (she tried to leave 10 May but had to anchor).

The 'gaggle' of ships which showed up off Sandy Point on the morning of 12 Aug 1776 comprised two basic groups:

(1) Capt. William Hotham was given a broad pennant as Commodore with the specific task of escorting the British reinforcements for North America from his flagship HMS *Preston* (Capt. Samuel Uppleby, 50 guns, 365 men, commissioned 26 Jan 1774). His naval fleet included four Frigates (1 with 44 guns & 3 with 32 guns) plus a bomb vessel, a fireship and a hospital ship [HMS *Jersey* which was to become the infamous prison hulk]. This convoy departed 6 May 1776 and included the first part of the First Division or von Heister's Division of Hessians comprising the following units:

UNIT "Heads"
1. Liebregiment/Guard Regiment 688
2. Regiment Erbprinz/Hereditary Prince 698
3. Regiment Prinz Carl/Prince Charles 690
4. Regiment von Ditfurt 684
5. Regiment von Donop 696
6. Regiment von Loßberg 687
7. Regiment von Knyphausen [4 companies] 525
8. Regiment von Trümbach 677
1. Grenadier-Bataillon von Linsing 548
2. Grenadier-Battailon von Block 553
3. Grenadier-Battailon von Minnigerode 555
Jägerkompanie/Company of Chasseurs 138 Artillery 242


Depending on the size of the transports employed, the number of transports required would be at least 27 but probably less than 54. In addition there was at least one ordnance ship and nine victuallers. The 11/14 May 1776 issue of the "London Chronicle" reproduced an extract of
a letter from Plymouth dated 10 May: "Yesterday passed by this place all the fleet, amounting to upwards of 120 sail, with the Hessian troops and guards, and train of artillery on board, bound for America...."

(2) Captain Henry Davis, HMS *Repulse* (32 guns, 220 men) sailed 26 May with the balance of the First or von Heister's Division of Hessians. Davis reported arriving with 25 sail. I do not know the number of ships that departed with the convoy but would estimate the Hessian transports numbered between 6 and 11. The Hessians included:
UNIT "Heads"
Regiment von Knyphausen [1 company] 154
Regiment von Mirbach [estimated at] 690
Grenadier-Regiment Rall [estimated at] 690

AND THE REST OF THE STORY: In a twist of fate so implausible that a novelist would reject it as being unbelieveable, but at sun-up on August 12th, HMS *Preston* and HMS *Repulse* awoke to find themselves within sight of each other a few miles SEbS of Sandy Hook.

On 14 August VAdm Lord Howe reported to Admiralty:

"... Commodore Hotham, whose distinguished Abilities gave for every favorable Expectation, arrived on the 12th with Eighty five Sail of his Convoy; completing with those few before arrived, the whole of the Hessian Embarkation that sailed from England under his Direction. He
was joined off of this Port, by Captain David [sic, Davis] (whose Capacity and Diligence have been particularly exemplified on this Occasion) with the Transports under his care, that were able to accompany him out of the British Channel. The Reports delivered by
those Officers are herewith enclosed.
The Loss of the Hessian Troops by Sickness is most inconsiderable, Not exceeding ten or twelve, as I have yet heard; tho' for the last fourteen Days of their Passage, the Scurvy began to prevail; But amongst the Crews of the Ships of War in a greater Degree." [NDAR 6:183 citing PRO ADM 1/467]

On 13 August Capt. Henry Davis (HMS *Repulse*) reported directly to Philip Stephens, First Secretary of the Admiralty: "Please to acquaint my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that His Majestys Ship *Repulse* with Twenty five Sail of the Convoy under my Command, arrived
here yesterday; I have also great pleasure in acquainting their Lordships, that the Troops are in perfect health, having not lost a man during the Voyage; Inclosed you will receive a Return of the Convoy, that Saild from St Hellens with me, the 26th of May last...." 

[NDAR 6:170 citing PRO ADM 1/1706]

Serles wrote: "This Morning, as soon as it was light, we were gladdened with the Sight of the grand Flight [sic, fleet] in the offing. The Joy of the Navy & Army was almost like that of a Victory.... The Fleet came up this Evening to the number of 107 sail. What is very extraordinary, they have lost but 8 men whole Passage of 14 Weeks; and just before they
came to the mouth of the Harbor they fell in with Capt. Davis of the *Repulse*, who convoyed the Remainder of the Embarkation from Portsmouth, though he sailed some Weeks after the Commodore [Hotham]. So large a Fleet made a fine Appearance upon entering the Harbor, with
the Sails crouded, Colors flying, Guns saluting, and the Soldiers both in the Ships and on the Shore continually shouting...."

At this point Serle estimates 350 British ships in NY Harbor.

When Boston was evacuated beginning 17 Mar 1776 the fleet for Halifax comprised approximately 140 sail of naval (Admiralty), transport (Naval Board), victualllers (Victualling Board), ordnance (Ordnance Board) and merchant (privately owned) ships. On 10 June 1776 VAdm Molynrex
Shuldham in his flagship HMS *Chatam* (Captain John Raynor, 50 guns, 370 men, commisioned 7 Mar 1772) together with seven smaller warships and 120 sail of transports departed Halifax for New York. She arrived with 112 transports on 29 June to find 8 transports had arrived the night before.

HMS *Flora* (Captain John Brisbane, 32 guns, 220 men, commissioned 4 Dec 1775) escorted 33 vessels (30 transports, 2 supply ships & a hospital ship) carrying about 3,200 Higlanders (42nd & 71st Regts) departed about 27 April from the River Clyde (Greenock, Scotland) with orders for Boston [already evacuated]. Off Fastnet/Cape Clear in the first week of May, the convoy was caught in a gale with the result that it disintegrated into several small batches of ships or single ships. Five of the ships were captured by the Americans but the other 28 either attached to the fleet coming from Halifax or arrived a few days later.

In addition to the approximately 120 transports arriving with VADM Shuldham and the 28 with HMS *Flora* noted above, on 1 August 1776 Commodore Sir Peter Parker returned from his failed attempt to take Charleston SC. He had some 40 to 50 transports with him. Then there
were about another 40 to 50 warships in port. Yes, 350 sail is a reasonable estimate.

Recommended reading:

Duncan, Henry. _Journals of Henry Duncan, Captain, Royal Navy,
1776-1782
_, ed. by J. K. Laughton (London, 1902), pp. 105-219 (Navy
Records Society, _Publications_, vol. XX: _The Naval Misscellany_)

Clark, William Bell, ed., _Naval Documents of the American Revolution_,
Vol. 4 (American Theatre: 19 Feb to 8 May 1776; European Theatre: 1 Feb
to 25 May 1776), (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1969), passim.

Morgan, William James, ed., ibid., Vol. 5 (American Theatre: 9 May to 31
July 1776
), (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1970), passim.

________, ibid., Vol. 6 (American Theatre: 1 Aug to 31 Oct 1776;
European Theatre: 26 May to 6 Oct 1776
), (Washington: Government
Printing Office, 1972), passim.

Serle, Ambrose. _The American Journal of Ambrose Serle, Secretary to
Lord Howe, 1776-1778
_, ed. by Edward H. Tatum Jr (San Marino CA: The
Huntington Library, 1940), 369 pp.

Bob Brooks, retired downeast on the coast of Maine

Distribution of the Troops on Board the Transports

 

Other Transport Ships

 

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