Celebrating "HESSIAN DAY"
on Saturday, 21. August 2004.
Sent in by John Merz
A report by Johannes Helmut Merz commemorating the 220th anniversary of the arrival.
In the year 1783 at the conclusion of the American Revolution, King George III of England was forced to recognize the Independence of the United States of America.
After many years of hard fighting, the British had lost their most prized possession, but due to the loyalty of his troops in Canada, and the desire of the population of Canada to remain under the protection of the British crown, as a small consolation, Britains northerly colonies, Quebec and New Scotland (Nova Scotia) remained true to the the King. Thanks to the strong defense by Hessian, Brunswicker, and British troops, supported by Loyalists, an original attempt by the American invaders in 1775 became by early 1776 a terrible defeat for the rebels, and as a result they never attempted to attack again.
After the end of hostilities in 1783 the majority of British troops and all the German troops were shipped home, either from New York harbour, or from Halifax and Quebec. August 1783 saw all the Brunswicker, Kasseler and Hessen-Hanau troops leave for home.
However, not all German soldiers did leave with their Regiments, over 2400 Brunswicker and Hanauer soldiers asked for their discharge papers, and most of them were granted. But quite a number did not receive their honourable discharge, because their enlistment time was not over yet, their German princes needed them for other actions in some other part of the world, and these poor souls had no other choice as to resort to desertion, and flew the coop just before the ships left for good. Many of them had already very good contacts with the local population, some even were married already to French-Canadian women.
At that time the present Province of Ontario did not exist at all, it still was a part of the "Old Province of Quebec", which extented right down to Detroit and beyond. With the exception of a few small French forts along the Waterways, there were no settlements between Montreal and Detroit. Only at the Canadian side of the Detroit River was an older settlement of French-Canadians, and this side of the Niagara River were settlements started by members of the Butler's Rangers, who had defended these posts during the war.
The Governor of Canada at the time, Frederick Haldimand, was very unhappy about the situation of undefended borders, and ordered his land surveyors to immediately survey the whole area between Montreal and Detroit along the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. His plan was to settle the tens of thousands of discharged British, German and Loyalist soldiers, unit by unit, still under the leadership of their officers, along these waterways, to create a first line of defence in case of an attack by invaders. Governor Haldimand did not believe that the truce between the U.S.A. and Britain would hold, and he prepared for such a possibilitiy.
The first plan of settlement was the creation of townships along the St. Lawrence river from the Ottawa river to Kingston, which was at that time still named Cataraqui. There were eight townships starting at the mouth of the Ottawa river along the St.Lawence river, which would be settled by the different Loyalist Corps, and then five townships at the end of Lake Ontario at Kingston and the Bay of Quinte. The last one of these, the Fifth Township, Marysburgh, was the very last one of the long line from Montreal, and is the real subject of our attention.
During spring of 1784 a group of Brunswick and Hesse-Hanau soldiers assembled at Lachine near Montreal under the leadership of the former Lieutenant Baron Gottlieb Christian von Reitzenstein, of the Brunswick Regiment Prinz Friedrich, and waited for transportation to their designated Fifth Township at the Bay of Quinte. Finally in June the Flatboats arrived, specially designed boats, called Batteau, to tackle the long trip upwards the St. Lawrence river through the rapids and fast flowing waters.
With all their belongings, 29 men, 7 women, and 8 children, they boarded those Batteaus, and it took them ten days to reach Cataraqui, where they had to wait because the land was not surveyed completely, and finally on 4. Oct. 1784 according to an existing Muster Roll, they were recorded as having finally arrived in the Fifth Township. That late in Fall this group finally could start building some huts to shelter them from the harshness of the next winter, and it seemed that promised supplies were very slow in coming. Fact was, they were at the very last tail end of the supply routes, and the documentation in the National Archives attests to the enormous difficulties, these first Hessian and Brunswick soldiers had to overcome. Their leader Baron von Reitzenstein constantly pressured local and other officials up to the Governor for help and action.
It is truly surprising that these men and women did stick it out and with time became solid settlers and respected citizens of a new land.
One of their first undertakings was to build a little Lutheran church from beams and lumber floated over from the government saw mills at Cataraqui. In later years the beams from that first church were used by the Hessian soldier Henry Rose to build his house in the Fifth Township, and this house still exists today, known as the Rose House Museum, and in front of the house a historical plaque by the Archaelogical and Historical Sites Board of Ontario honours the presence of this small group of disbanded German mercenaries under Baron von Reitzenstein. "This was one of the earliest German- speaking groups to settle in Ontario."
Descendants of these early German settlers will celebrate the 220th anniverasry of this event with a HESSIAN DAY" on Saturday, 21. August 2004. at the Rose House Museum. Music, German food, displays, art exhibit, and a presentation of a bronze "Hessian Soldier" plaque will highlight the day.
How do you find the Rose House Museum ?
From Toronto go east on 401 in direction Belleville - Kingston, on exit 522 use the Loyalist Parkway (highway 33) to Bloomfield and Picton. In Picton through the town you turn right to the Marysburgh Township and Waupoos Island. The Rose Museum is located on County Road 8. All together it is a two-hour drive to get there from Toronto.
The activities start at 11 a.m, and will go all afternoon with excursion to the local winery and apple cider tasting. There is plenty of free parking. And meet the descendants of those first German soldier settlers in Ontario. I will be there too.
With my best regards
Johannes (John) Helmut Merz, researcher of Hessian soldiers of the American Revolution.