On October 17, 1777 the army of General Burgoyne surrendered to the Americans after the Battle of Saratoga. One of the most interesting descriptions of the British campaign and Battle comes from the Baroness Frederika Reidesel. She was in her early thirties when she, with her young daughters, accompanied her husband General Riedesel to America. The General was in charge of the troops from Germany who fought alongside the British.
The Baroness and her children followed the British army down from Canada, and kept a journal of the campaign which laer became a book, “Letters and Journals relating to the War of the American Revolution, and the Capture of the German Troops at Saratoga”. While the Battle raged around her the Baroness and her children found relative safety in the cellar of what is now known as the Marshall House, just north of Schuylerville near the Hudson, while she tended the wounded.
“We were finally obliged to take refuge in the cellar in which I laid myself down in a corner not far from the door. My children lied down on the earth with their heads upon my lap, and in this manner we passed the entire night. A horrible stench, the cries of the children, and yet more than all this, my own anguish, prevented me from closing my eyes. On the following morning the cannonade again began, but from a different side.”
“Eleven cannon balls went through the house, and we could plainly hear them rolling over our heads. One poor soldier, whose leg they were about to amputate, having been laid upon a table for this purpose, had the other leg taken off by another cannon ball, in the very middle of the operation. His comrades all ran off, and when they again came back they found him in one corner of the room, where he had rolled in his anguish, scarcely breathing.”
“On the 17th of October, the capitulation was carried into effect. The generals waited upon the American General Gates, and the troops surrendered themselves prisoners of war and laid down their arms.”
“.. while riding through the American camp, (I) was gratified to observe that nobody looked at us with disrespect, but, on the contrary, greeted us, and seemed touched at the sight of a captive mother with three children. I must candidly confess that I did not present myself, though so situated, with much courage to the enemy, for the thing was entirely new to me.
When I drew near the tents, a good looking man advanced towards me, and helped the children from the calash, and kissed and caressed them: he then offered me his arm, and tears trembled in his eyes. “You tremble,” said he ; ” do not be alarmed, I pray you.” “Sir,” cried I, “a countenance so expressive of benevolence, and the kindness which you have evinced towards my children, are sufficient to dispel all apprehension.” He then ushered me into the tent of General Gates..”
The gentleman who had received me with so much kindness, came and said to me, ” You may find it embarrassing to be the only lady in such a large company of gentlemen ; will you come with your children to my tent, and partake of a frugal dinner, offered with the best will. ” By the kindness you show to me,” returned I, “you induce me to believe that you have a wife and children.”
“He informed me that he was General Schuyler…I was easy, after many months of anxiety, and I read the same happy change in the countenances of those around me. That my husband was out of danger, was a still greater cause of joy. After our dinner, General Schuyler begged me to pay him a visit at his house near Albany, where he expected that General Burgoyne would also be his guest.
The Schuyler Mansion
The journey to Albany would take 2 days. “.. we reached Albany, where we had so often wished ourselves ; but we did not enter that city, as we hoped we should, with a victorious army. The reception, however, which we met with from General Schuyler, his wife and daughters, was not like the reception of enemies, but of the most intimate friends. They loaded us with kindness; and they behaved in the same manner towards General Burgoyne, though he had ordered their splendid establishment to be burnt…” (the Schuyler House in Saratoga).
“But all their actions proved, that at the sight of the misfortunes of others, they, quickly forgot their own. General Burgoyne was so much affected by this generous deportment, that he said to General Schuyler, “You are too kind to me, who have done you so much injury.” “Such is the fate of war,” replied he ; “let us not dwell on this subject.” We remained three days with that excellent family, and they seemed to regret our departure.
One writer reports: “Burgoyne’s soldiers camped on the hill behind Schuyler’s mansion, causing trouble in their restlessness. The Germans were stealing potatoes and others were building shelters using Schuyler’s fencing. Playing host to 4,000 soldiers tried the patience of Mrs. Schuyler..”)
And thus began the odyssey of the Baroness. She traveled across Massachusetts, along with the 5,000 British troops captured at Saratoga, to Boston where the family would remain in Cambridge for about a year.
“I do not know whether it was my vehicle which aroused the people’s curiosity, for it really looked like a wagon in which rare animals were being transported, but I was often obliged to stop, because the people wanted to see the German general’s wife with her children. In order to prevent them from tearing the linen top off the carriage, I decided it was better to alight frequently, and thus I got away more quickly than otherwise. But even so, I cannot deny that the people were friendly and were particularly pleased to hear that I could speak their native language, English.”
The Schuyler Connections Continue
“None of our gentlemen were permitted to go to Boston. My curiosity and the desire to see General Schuyler’s daughter, Mrs. Carter*, (Angelica Schuyler) impelled me to go, and I had dinner with her there several times. It is quite a pretty city, but inhabited by enthusiastic patriots and full of wicked people; the women, particularly, were horrid, casting ugly looks at me, and some of them even spitting when I passed by them. Mrs. Carter was gentle and good, like her parents, but her husband was a bad and treacherous person. They often visited us and ate with us and the other generals. We did our utmost to reciprocate their kindness. They seemed to feel very friendly toward us too, but it was during this time that this horrible Mr. Carter made the gruesome suggestion to the Americans, when the English General Howe had set fire to many villages and towns, to behead our generals, put the heads in small barrels, salt them, and send one of these barrels to the English for each village or town which they had set on fire. This beastly suggestion fortunately, however, was not adopted.”
In November 1778 the von Riedesels were sent to Virginia and stopped in Hartford to visit the Marquis de Lafayette. They remained in the south until August 1779, then were moved north to New York City (occupied by the British), where the was Baron paroled**. Ultimately the couple traveled north to Canada where they remained until the treaty ending the War was signed. They returned to Europe. The Baroness died in Germany in 1808.
*Mr. Carter was an alias used by Angelica’s husband, better known as John Church.
**While in NYC the couple would have another daughter; they would name her “America”.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor