The Grabenhorst Surname in America

First To America: The Brunswick Hessians

The first documented Grabenhorsts to arrive in America were Hessian soldiers with the British forces during the American Revolution. The soldiers served in Major General von Riedesel's Infantry Regiment of the Brunswick Troops.

Henry George Grabenhorst had two uncles who served with Regiment von Riedesel. Johann Ludolph and Johann Heinrich. The following information taken from the the section for Henry George's son, Henry Christian Grabenhorst, in The Biographical Record of Webster County, Iowa published in 1902, suggested that his father, Hans Heinrich, was also a member of the regiment:

"The family was first represented in America by the paternal grandfather, who spent eight years in America during the latter part of the eighteenth century, and while absent from his native land followed for a time the martial fortunes of Washington during the Revolutionary War. In all he remained in America for about eight years and finally returned to the associations of his youth and the home of his kindred and friends."

This is not accurate. According to the records researched by the German researcher, Walter Lehmann, Hans Heinrich did not serve in the regiment or come to America. The biographical records published in the late 1800's and early 1900's are well known for containing inaccurate information and this is one example.

Several other records have been discovered so far for Grabenhorst soldiers who served during that period:

Wilhelm and Christoph Grabenhorst

In the document Muster Rolls and Prisoner-of-War Lists in American Archival Collections Pertaining to the German Troops Who Served With The British Forces During the Revolution, Wilhelm and Christoph Grabenhorst are listed in Muster Roll 60 as recruits sent from Brunswick to America in the year 1780 and arriving April 22, 1781 with Major General von Riedesel's Infantry Regiment of the Brunswick Troops. 

They are also listed in the Passenger and Immigration Lists Index: 1982 Supplement as arriving in Long Island in 1781. 

The muster roll lists them as "not yet nominated to their several companies" upon their arrival in America and it is not known what action they actually saw.  The Battle of Yorktown in October of 1781 marked the end of serious hostilities in the war although the Treaty of Paris was not actually signed till 1783.  Most British and German troops were transported back to Europe during the summer of 1783 but  when Wilhelm and Christoph actually left America is not known.

John and William Grabenhorst

In the National Archives of Canada War Office Record Microfilm Reel #B-2867, the document Return of the County, Age, Size and Time of Service of the non-commissioned officers, drummers and privates of the Brunswick Regiment of Captain de Pollnitz’s Company, [stationed] at Sorel [Quebec], 1 January 1783, two Grabenhorst, John and William, are listed:

Name: John Grabenhorst
Rank: Private
Place of Birth and Country: Brunswick, Germany
Age: 46 years, 2 months
Size: 5 ft., 7 in.
Time of Service: 5 years, 6 months
Signed: C. Morgenstern, Capt.
Year of record: 1783
Name: William Grabenhorst
Rank: Private
Place of Birth and Country: Brunswick, Germany
Age: 19 years

 Ludwig Grabbenhorst

In an e-mail, EBarck wrote: 

"Concerning Grabbenhorst, there was one Ludwig Grabbenhorst from the Dragoon regiment who was sent back to Germany to attend his farm in late 1782 or possibly in early spring 1783 as soon as the ice melted and ship could enter the St-Lawrence river . he was from Watzum .and might be related to the other two . Those in the v. Riedesel infantry regiment were from the 4th transport 1780 whose fleet got caught in a terrific storm and ended up in Long Island N-Y instead of Canada, and joined the Hessians forces with the British in the capture of Charlestown on the seacoast, possibly serving in the v. Lossberg regiment or another regiment, and after the successful capture of the city ,the recruits were sent back to Brorklynn N-Y,and in the new formed combined battalion v. Lucke which comprised the exchanged Brunswick POW and recruits of 1780,till July 1781 they all sailed to Canada and served in their respective reformed regiments till 1783 . hope this helps , Ludwig researcher of the von Riedesel Regiment (a direct descendant of Andreas Berck (Birck) who served in that unit"

It has now been established that this Ludwig Grabenhorst is the same person as Johann Ludolph Grabenhorst, the uncle of Henry George Grabenhorst. According to entries in the church records he seems to have changed his name sometime during the period he served as a Hessian soldier. He was named Johann Ludolph by his parents after his maternal grandfather and older church records also show this name. In his marriage contract with Maria Hedwig Schliephake after his return from America he is called only Ludwig as he is in several later legal documents. 

Background on the Brunswick Hessians

The term "Hessians" is commonly used to describe the German mercenaries who fought with the British in the American Revolution. During the revolution, nearly 30,000 German troops, over 1/3 of the British army in North America, fought in North America. Approximately 17 000 came from Hesse-Kassel, 5 700 from Braunschweig, 2400 from Hessen-Hanau, 2400 from Ansbach-Bayreuth and 1200 from Waldeck and Anhalt-Zerbst respectively. Because the largest group came from Hesse-Kassel all the troops have historically been lumped together and called Hessians.

The services of the Hessians were bought  by George III of England. Due to a shortage of manpower in England and to the unpopularity of the war in North America, George III did not have enough soldiers in his own army to supply the needs of his commanders and had to find additional sources of troops. At the time it was common for a government to rent out troops to other governments and German soldiers had served many European nations as mercenaries for years.  George III was from the house of Hanover and was also the Elector of Hanover in Germany.  Negotiations began  between the King's emissaries and some German princes to supply a substantial number of well trained troops to serve in America. 

The British needed soldiers from the German states and the Duchy of Brunswick was in financial trouble. The Seven Years War and the French occupation had left the country financially poor. The Duke of Brunswick was trying to find financial resources and the supplying of troops to the British came at the right time. For its 5700 troops, the Duchy received an annual sum of 64,500 pound Sterling. At the end of the war the amount of money doubled and was paid to the Duchy for 2 more years. For every soldier killed in action, Britain had to pay again the 30 Taler bonus money and also had to pay the monthly pay for the Brunswick soldiers. For the length of the war the Duchy of Brunswick received a sum of 774,000 pound Sterling in cash.  This amount of money was worth over 5 million Talers in German currency of the time, which went into the treasury of the Duchy. Similar contracts were signed with the other German states.

In peacetime, the Duke had to pay for the expenses of a standing army, in wartime the money came from the budget of the Duchy. The Brunswick army was a professional army, whose members served voluntarily. The soldiers had to swear an oath to the duke. This oath was not broken by most of the soldiers. Friedrich Adolf Riedesel was appointed as Commander for the Brunswick army. According to the signed contract, every soldier who volunteered was to receive 30 Talers as a bonus. He was also to receive the same amount of pay as the British soldiers received. British soldiers were paid much more than the soldiers of the different German states.

Once in America, the Hessians discovered a thriving German-American community of almost 200,000 people. For many Hessians, the possibilities in this rich, new land with its growing German population was a great enticement to desertion---a fact that Americans worked hard to promote with promises of free land for any soldier willing to switch sides. Of the 30,000 German troops in the British army, 17 000 returned to Europe after the war was over, 7700 fell in battle and an estimated 5,000 stayed in North America.

The desertion rate for the troops from Brunswick was very low. They were all professional soldiers who served voluntarily in the Army and they stayed loyal to the King of England and Duke Carl of Brunswick.

Additional Reading on the Brunswick Hessians

by Edward J. Lowell Harper and Brothers Publishers New York1884.
This book is considered a classic reference on the Hessian Troops.

*Painting: The painting is of a soldier of the Brunswick Regiment von Riedesel by Friedrich von Germann circa 1777



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Stephany Smith