Desertion has been an interesting but confusing subject of discussion between many of us since a muster roll was discovered with a note saying that Philip Long had deserted. The muster roll was discovered by Ghislain Long.
Once again, we forgot to pick up an history book in order to understand the process of desertion during the ARW. Rodney Attwood wrote over 20 pages on the subject in his book, The Hessians. Because of its importance to the understanding of my ancestor’s life as a Hessian who « deserted » to a loyalist company, and « deserted » again to another company, I’m copying a series of excerpts of Attwood’s chapter labeled, Hessian desertion.
« A number of Hessians and Waldeckers have fallen into our hands. The German officers and soldiers, by a finesse of the British, to increase their ferocity, had been led to believe that Americans are savages and barbarians, and if taken (prisoners), their men would have their bodies stuck full of pieces of dry wood, and in that manner burnt to death. But they were very agreeably disappointed, and much pleased, on meeting civil and kind treatment. »
In his book, The Hessians in the Revolution, Edward J. Lovell, explains what desertion really meant during the ARW.
« If it be true, as the German writers assert, and as seems to be the case, that the German soldiers deserted less than the English in this War, the cause is not far to seek. The troops were employed for the most part in the neighborhoods where the inhabitants could speak no German....Neither among the English nor among the Germans was desertion so prevalent as among the Americans. But in saying this, one great difference must be noted. The British or German soldier could only desert to the enemy. The American militiaman generally returned to his home ».
Even among the privates, the desertion was less than might have been expected. It was proportionally large among the prisoners of war (POW). The army that surrendered at Saratoga in October, 1777, numbered 5 791 men, of whom 2 431 were Germans. From this army 655 Englishmen and 160 had deserted by the 1st of April 1778. There is no doubt that continual efforts were made to induce these and others prisoners to desert and enlist in the American army ».
« One proclamation, dated on the 29th of April, 1778, promises 50 acres of land to every soldier that will come over, and any captain who brings 40 men with him shall receive 800 acres of woodland, four oxens, one bull, two cows, and four sows. Deserters were not to be obliged to serve on the American side, but might devote themselves at once to the improvement of their estates....These promises were not entirely without result ».
Lovell, Edward J. The Hessians in the Revolution. Corner House Publishers 2nd printing 1975. SBN: 0-87928-012-3
Sulouf (1998) wrote about desertion also.
Sulouf, Nelson R. RootsWeb Archives, 1998
The editor of the Journal of the American revolution, Don H. Hagist, has a view of desertion that is very close to those actors of the Revolution who told us about the ARW through their diaries and letters.
Don N. Hagist (2014). Would they change their names? The Journal of the American Revolution. No 24, July 28 2014.
(1) why I wasn’t looking at the right place to find my ancestor’s origins,
(2) why I misinterpreted documents we had about his military life,
(3) why my perceptions lead me away from facts,
(4) why most of what I knew about his life was the product of individuals who wanted Philip to be in line with their own modern values,
(5) why I lost most of my energies running around in circle like a dog running after its tail
(6) and why the whole research has been on a standstill for decades.