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BARONESS RIEDESEL AND HER TORY FRIENDS
THE most beautiful example of wifely devotion to be found in the annals connected with the war of the Revolution is that afforded by the story of the lovely Baroness Riedesel, whose husband was deputed to serve at the head of the German mercenaries allied to the king's troops, and who was herself, with the baron and her children, made prisoner of war after the battle of Saratoga.
Riedesel was a gallant soldier, and his wife a fair and fascinating young woman at this time. They had not been long married when the war, in America broke out, and the wife's lave for her husband was such as to impel her to dare all the hardships of the journey and join him in the foreign land. Her letters and journal, which give a lively and vivid account of the perils of this undertaking, and of the pleasures and difficulties that she experienced after she had succeeded in reaching her dear spouse, supply what is perhaps the most interesting human document of those long years of war.
The baroness landed on the American continent at Quebec, and travelled amid great hardships to Chambly, where her husband was stationed. For two days only they were together. After that she returned with her children to Three Rivers. Soon, however, came the orders to march down into the enemy's country.
The description of this journey as the baroness has given it to us makes, indeed, moving reading. Once a frightful cannonade was directed against the house in which the women and the wounded had taken refuge. In the cellar of this place Madam Riedesel and her children passed the entire night. It was in this cellar, indeed, that the little family lived during the long period of waiting that preceded the capitulation made necessary by Burgoyne's inexcusable delay near Saratoga. Later the Riedesels were most hospitably entertained at Saratoga by General Schuyler, his wife and daughters, of whom the baroness never fails to speak in her journal with the utmost affection.
The journey from Albany to Boston was full of incident and hardship, but of it the plucky wife writes only: "In the midst of all my trials God so supported me that I lost neither my frolicsomeness nor my spirits. . . ." The contrast between the station of the Americans and of the Germans who were their prisoners, is strikingly brought out in this passage of the diary: "Some of the American generals who were in charge of us on the march to Boston were shoemakers; and upon our halting days they made boots for our officers, and also mended nicely the shoes of our soldiers. They set a great value upon our money coinage, which with them was scarce. One of our officers had worn his boots entirely into shreds. He saw that an American general had on a good pair, and said to him, jestingly, 'I will gladly give you a guinea for them.' Immediately the general alighted from his horse, took the guinea, gave up his boots, put on the badly-worn ones of the officer, and again mounted his horse."
The journey was at length successfully accomplished, however, and in Massachusetts the baroness was on the whole very well treated, it would seem.
"We remained three weeks in wretched quarters at Winter Hill," she writes, "until they transferred us to Cambridge, where they lodged us in one of the most beautiful houses of the place, which had formerly been built by the wealth of the royalists. Never had I chanced upon any such agreeable situation. Seven families, who were connected with each other partly by the ties of relationship and partly by affection, had here farms, gardens, and magnificent houses, and not far off plantations of fruit. The owners of these were in the habit of meeting each other in the afternoon, now at the house of one, and now at another, and making themselves merry with music and the dance – living in prosperity united and happy, until, alas! this ruinous war severed them, and left all their houses desolate except two, the proprietors of which were also soon obliged to flee….
"None of our gentlemen were allowed to go into Boston. Curiosity and desire urged me, however, to pay a visit to Madam Carter, the daughter of General Schuyler, and I dined at her house several times. The city throughout is pretty, but inhabited by violent patriots, and full of wicked people. The women especially were so shameless, that they regarded me with repugnance, and even spit at me when I passed by them. Madam Carter was as gentle and good as her parents, but her husband was wicked and treacherous. She came often to visit us, and also dined at our house with the other generals. We sought to show them by every means our gratitude. They seemed also to have much friendship for us; and yet at the same time this miserable Carter, when the English General Howe had burned many hamlets and small towns, made the horrible proposition to the Americans to chop off the heads of our generals, salt them down in small barrels, and send over to the English one of these barrels for every hamlet or little town burned down. But this barbarous suggestion fortunately was not adopted.
". . . I saw here that nothing is more terrible than a civil war. Almost ever), family was disunited. . . . On the third of June, 1778, I gave a ball and supper in celebration of the birthday of my husband. I had invited to it all the generals and officers. The Carters also were there. General Burgoyne sent an excuse after he had made us wait until eight o'clock in the evening. He invariably excused himself on various pretences from coming to see us until his departure far England, when he came and made me a great many apologies, but to which I made no other answer than that I should be extremely sorry if he had gone out of his way on our account. We danced considerably, and our cook prepared us a magnificent supper of more than eighty covers. Moreover, our courtyard and garden were illuminated. As the birthday of the King of England came upon the following day, which was the fourth, it was resolved that we would not separate until his health had been drank; which was done with the most hearty attachment to his person and his interests.
"Never, I believe, has 'God Save the King,' been drunk with more enthusiasm or more genuine good will. Even both my oldest little daughters were there, having stayed up to see the illumination. All eyes were full of tears; and it seemed as if every one present was proud to have the spirit to venture to this in the midst of our enemies. Even the Carters could not shut their hearts against us. As soon as the company separated, we perceived that the whole house was surrounded by Americans, who, having seen so many people go into the house, and having noticed also the illumination, suspected that we were planning a mutiny, and if the slightest disturbance had arisen it would have cost us dear. . . .
"The Americans," says the baroness, further on, "when they desire to collect their troops together, place burning torches of pitch upon the hilltops, at which signal every one hastens to the rendezvous. We were once witnesses of this when General Howe attempted a landing at Boston in order to rescue the captive troops. They learned of this plan, as usual, long before hand, and opened barrels of pitch, whereupon for three or four successive days a large number of people without shoes and stockings, and with guns on their backs, were seen hastily coming from all directions, by which means so many people came together so soon that it would have been a very difficult thing to effect a landing.
"We lived very happily and contented in Cambridge, and were therefore well pleased at remaining there during the captivity of our troops. As winter approached, however, we were ordered to Virginia [because of the difficulty of providing provisions], and in the month of November, 1778, set out.
"My husband, fortunately, found a pretty English wagon, and bought it for me, so that as before I was enabled to travel comfortably. My little Gustava had entreated one of my husband's -adjutants, Captain Edmonston, not to leave us on the way. The confiding manner of the child touched him and he gave his promise and faithfully kept it. I travelled always with the army and often over almost impassable roads. . . .
"I had always provisions with me, but carried them in a second small wagon. As this could not go as fast as we, I was often in want of everything. Once when we were passing a town called Hertford [Hartford, Connecticut], we made a halt, which, by the by, happened every fourth day. We there met General Lafayette, whom my husband invited to dinner, as otherwise he would have been unable to find anything to eat. This placed me in rather an awkward dilemma as I knew that he loved a good dinner. Finally, however, I managed to glean from what provisions I had on hand enough to make him a very respectable meal. He was so polite and agreeable that he pleased us all very much. He had many Americans in his train, though, who were ready to leap out of their skins for vexation at hearing us speak constantly in French. Perhaps they feared, on seeing us on such a friendly footing with him, that we would be able to alienate him from their cause, or that he would confide things to us that we ought not to know.
"Lafayette spoke much of England, and of the kindness of the king in having had all objects of interest shown to him. I could not keep myself from asking him how he could find it in his heart to accept so many marks of kindness from the king when he was on the paint of departing in order to fight against him. Upon this observation of mine he appeared somewhat ashamed, and answered me: 'It is true that such a thought passed through my mind one day, when the king offered to show me his fleet. I answered that I hoped to see it some day, and then quietly retired, in order to escape from the embarrassment of being obliged to decline, point blank, the offer, should it be repeated.' "
The baroness's own meeting with the king soon after her return to England, in the autumn of 1780, when the prisoners were exchanged, is thus entertainingly described: "One day when we were yet seated at table, the queen's first lady of honour, my Lady Howard, sent us a message to the effect that her Majesty would receive us at six o'clock that afternoon. As my court dress was not yet ready, and I had nothing with me proper to wear, I sent my apologies for not going at that time, which I again repeated when we had the honour of being presented to their Majesties, who were both present at the reception. The queen, however, as did also the king, received us with extraordinary graciousness, and replied to my excuses by saying, 'We do not look at the dress of those persons we are glad to see.'
"They were surrounded by the princesses, their daughters. We seated ourselves before the chimney-fire, – the queen, the princesses, the first lady of honour, and myself, – forming a halfcircle, my husband, with the king, standing in the centre close to the fire. Tea and cakes were then passed round. I sat between the queen and one of the princesses, and was obliged to go over a great part of my adventures. Her majesty said to me very graciously, 'I have followed you everywhere, and have often inquired after you; and I have always heard with delight that you were well, contented, and beloved by every one.' I happened to have at this time a shocking cough. Observing this, the Princess Sophia went herself and brought me a jelly made of black currants, which she represented as a particularly good remedy, and forced me to accept a jar full.
"About nine o'clock in the evening the Prince of Wales came in. His youngest sisters flocked around him, and he embraced them and danced them around. In short, the royal family had such a peculiar gift for removing all restraint that one could readily imagine himself to be in a cheerful family circle of his own station in life. We remained with them until ten o'clock, and the king conversed much with my husband about America in German, which he spoke exceedingly well." From England the baroness proceeded (in 1783), to her home in Brunswick, where she was joyfully received, and where, after her husband's triumph, they enjoyed together respite from war for a period of four years. In 1794, General Riedesel was appointed commandant of the city of Brunswick, where he died in 1800. The baroness survived him eight years, passing away in Berlin, March 29, 1808, at the age of sixty-two. She rests beside her beloved consort in the family vault at Lauterbach.
RIEDESEL HOUSE, CAMBRIDGE, MASS.
Her Cambridge residence, which formerly stood at the corner of Sparks Street, on Brattle, among the beautiful lindens so often mentioned in the "journal," has recently been remodelled and removed to the next lot but one from its original site. It now looks as in the picture, and is numbered 19-9 Brattle Street. A little street at the right has been appropriately named Riedesel Avenue. Yet even in history-loving Cambridge there is little familiarity with the career of the baron and his charming lady, and there are few persons who have read the entertaining journal, written in German a century and a quarter ago by this clever and devoted wife.
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