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Hessian Soldiers, the Knatz Family in the Revolutionary War

18th Century Drawing of Two Hessian Soldiers

The first members of the Knatz family who came to the United States came as Hessian soldiers. Hessian soldiers were 18th century soldiers who were hired by Great Britian from their rulers in Germany. During the U.S. Revolutionary War, the Landgrave Frederick II of Hesse-Kassel and other German leaders hired out thousands of conscripted soldiers. These soldiers were not mercenaries as we commonly use that term to characterize military professionals who sell their services for money. Rather the Hessian soldiers were conscripted into military service. They are commonly called Hessian soldiers because 12,992 or the 30,067 came from Hesse-Kassel. The town of Niedenstein is in the area known as Hesse-Cassel or Hesse-Kassel.
Marburg Archives in Germany has lists of soldiers who fought in the American Revolution and this is the source of the information given below:

VOLUME 3 Marburg Hessian Soldiers- Index to Family Names
———————————————–Birth Year—— Location ——– Rank
2739 Knatz, Gerhard ——— 1758/59——–Ziegenhain——Cannonier (Artilleryman)
2740 Knatz (no first name)—–(none)———-Hebel————–Private
Records indicate both these Knatz died by accident of disease or other non-battle causes.

VOLUME 4 Marburg Hessian Soldiers- Index to Family Names
———————————— Birth Year Location Rank
1160 Knatz Gerhard 1749/50 Ziegenhain Cannonier (Artilleryman)
1161 Knatz Heinrich 1759/60 Niedenstein Private
1162 Knatz Heinrich 1760/61 Niedenstein Private
1163 Knatz Heinrich 1760/61 Niedenstein Private

The records in Volume 4 which include Knatz from Niedenstein does not indicate they died, nor is there any indication whether they returned to Germany or stayed in America. After the war ended in 1783, some 17,313 Hessian soldiers returned to their homelands. Of the 12,526 who did not return, about 7,700 had died. Some 1,200 were killed in action and 6,354 died from illness or accidents, mostly the former. The high rate of fatalities from disease during wartime was a recurring element up until improvements in sanitation and understanding of germ theory in the late 19th century. Approximately 5,000 Hessians settled in North America, both in the United States and Canada. From the Kassel forces which would have included the Knatz from Niedenstein, only 914 men were discharged at the end of their military service. The number of missing and deserted from the Kassel forces was 2949. In 1784, the deserters from the Kassel forces were given an additional 2 years to report back from service in America without penalty. After that, their property was subject to confiscation and family members were turned out on the street. As a practical matter and when you consider the ages of the Knatz Hessian soldiers, they probably had little property to lose (A Social History of Hesse by Daniel Heinemeier, 2002).

Heinrich Knatz, was born on November 3rd, 1759, son of Johann Jost Knatz. A copy of his baptismal record dated November 11, 1759 from the Niedenstein church books is shown below (microfiche copy at the Archives of the Evangelical Church of Kurhesseb-Waldeck, Kassel, Germany).

I suspect our Gerhardt Knatz or Heinrich Knatz stayed in America and was probably the Knatz who first settled in the Baltimore area, but the connection between America and Niedenstein had now been made which likely led to others emigrating. Ancestry.com under their immigration records lists an unidentified Knatz coming to the US in 1777 and Gerhard Knatz coming to the US in 1776 and 1787. It could be that Gerhardt Knatz returned to Hesse and then came back to the US in 1787. The reference for these records are the same documents from the Marburg Archives in Germany (HESSISCHE TRUPPEN IM AMERIKANISCHEN UNABHAENGIGKEITSKRIEG, (HETRINA): Index nach Familiennamen. (Marburg: Archivschule) (Veroeffentlichungen der Archivschule Marburg, Institut fuer Archivwissenschaft, Nr. 10). Band III. Marburg, 1976.

In 2006, I was contacted by Kimberly Knatz-Grzyb from Youngtown Ohio, who told me her father had done research on the Knatz family and the Hessian soldiers. She said her father has searched all the way back to Heinrich. She said that her Dad had even seen his little drummer boy Hessian uniform when he was a child but she thinks it may be in a local Maryland museum now. She believes Heinrich was 10 years old when he was in the Revolutionary war and that he may have sent for his bride from Germany when he was of marrying age. (Note the birth year of Heinrich above indicates he would have been a teenager when he came to the US to fight as a Hessian soldier.) Kimberly said these were childhood memories and she does not trust them without verification. He family lived in Maryland, originally Lonaconey (Cumberland Gap) and many live in Baltimore. She had checked with her Aunt who told her that 5 siblings had moved to Baltimore possible around late 1800’s or early 1900’s. I have since lost contact with Kimberly although I am very interested in learning more about the Hessian soldier connection.