Loyalist of the Day – Col. Richard Hewlett and the Hessians

Battle of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts

Battle of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts

The military conflict that erupted in the spring of 1775 at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts was not only a war for independence by rebellious British colonies.  It was a nasty civil war pitting neighbour against neighbour and breaking families apart.  It was also the central feature of a world war which embroiled the American colonies as pawns in long-standing European geo-political and military intrigue.  With upwards of 30% of the American population claiming Loyalist sympathies, it was natural for the conflict to extend to the civilian population.  On both sides, the ransacking, destruction and confiscation of personal property were common; the practice known as tarring and feathering was rarer.  As colonists drew lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’, remaining neutral was impossible.

David Splittgerbers sel Erben Potsdam, Prussia musket, 1740-1773 hardwood with steel and brass Gift of Percy Smith, 1967(1967.25)

David Splittgerbers sel Erben, Potsdam, Prussia, musket, 1740-1773, hardwood with steel and brass. Gift of Percy Smith, 1967(1967.25)

In an effort to suppress the rebellion, Britain supplemented its regular forces with Hessian troops from Germany and Loyalist regiments such as DeLancey’s Brigade.  The musket featured here is known as a Potsdam musket, named for the location outside of Berlin where it was made.  The muskets were widely used by the Prussians and soldiers of the various German principalities of the 18th century.  The lock plate is engraved POTSDAMMAGAZ and DSE, for David Splitgerbers sel Erben, the maker and a company involved in the Prussian royal arsenal.  The brass fittings are distintive and make for an attractive weapon.  An earlier version of the musket had been made between 1723 and 1740.  In 1740, Frederick William (Frederick the Great) came to the throne of Prussia.  He greatly expanded the Prussian army and shortened the barrel of the muskets to make them lighter and easier for smaller soldiers to use.  From 1740 onward, the musket bore the crowned royal cypher, FR, in a brass thumbplate on the butt.  For our model, the original flint lock mechanism was altered in the 19th century to the more modern percussion cap and one of the brass fittings around the ramrod is missing, but otherwise the musket comes down to us intact.

Frederick the Great's cypher, FR

Frederick the Great's cypher, FR

It was probably used by the Hessian troops hired by George III to fight against the American rebels.  As France, Spain, the Netherlands and others lined up with the Patriots against the British, the King went looking for allies.  With the Royal Family’s German connections, naturally central Europe was an obvious choice when looking for soldiers-for-hire.  The Hessians were one of Europe’s most feared fighting forces – rough, fearless and with a reputation for cruelty.  The Hessians regiments were primarily made up of the poor and criminals whose only pay was often their food and shelter.  At one point during the war, Hessian troops made up one quarter of the British fighting force.  Following the war, many deserted and stayed in the United States and Canada.

DeLancey's Brigade Reenactment, Court House, Gagetown, 2000

DeLancey's Brigade Reenactment, Court House, Gagetown, 2000

In addition to the Hessians, the British eventually recognized the value in organizing the Loyalists willing and able to fight.  One such regiment was DeLancey’s Brigade organized by Oliver DeLancey, a prominent New Yorker and early supporter of the King.  He was commissioned as a Brigadier-General of the Royal Provincial Forces on 21 September 1776.  Due to his large personal wealth, he was able to equip three battalions, 1500 loyalists, from the counties in and around New York City.  While most of the DeLancey’s remained in the New York area during the war, other regiments were part of the Southern Campaigns from 1779-1783.  After the war, the men of LeLancey’s Brigade and their families migrated north, receiving grants of land along the St. John River in recognition of their wartime services.

sword, 1776-1783 British steel with leather and wood Collection of the New Brunswick Museum, gift of Reginald DeVeber Gilbert, 2005 (2005.42.1)

sword, 1776-1783, British, steel with leather and wood. Collection of the New Brunswick Museum, gift of Reginald DeVeber Gilbert, 2005 (2005.42.1)

This sword belonged to Colonel Richard Hewlett of DeLancey’s Brigade.  Richard Hewlett was born 1 November 1729 at Hempstead, Long Island, New York, the son of Daniel Hewlett and Elizabeth Jackson.  He married Mary Townsend, born 25 June 1734 the daughter of John Townsend and Phebe Carman, 6 December 1753 and they settled in East Rockaway, on the south shore of Long Island, eventually having eleven children.  Hewlett, and one of his brothers, was a veteran of the Seven Years War and according to one source, almost succeeded in capturing George Washington, after which Washington issued an order for Hewlett’s capture, dead or alive!

In 1783, Colonel Richard, his wife and only one of his sons, Joseph Hewlett (1772-1821), came to New Brunswick settling at present day Queenstown.  (Two sisters, Jemima and Mary came with their Loyalist husbands) About 1785 Richard Hewlett built a fine house, known today as Hewlett House, but died in 1789 at the age of 60.  He is buried in the cemetery beside St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Queenstown.  His wife, Mary, returned to the United States and lived with one of her other sons on Long Island, until her death in 1819.  The sword, on loan courtesy of the New Brunswick Museum, is of British origin and dated between 1776 and 1783.  Also in the collection of the New Brunswick Museum but not part of the Loyalist Legacy exhibition is Richard Hewlett’s sword belt.  The Hewlett Family remained a prominent force on Long Island, New York and the town of Hewlett, just outside of Brooklyn, is named in the family’s honour.

The Hessian and Loyalist forces faced a raw and undisciplined army of rebels more used to guerilla tactics than precise military maneuvers in the European mould.  Patriots versus Tories and Redcoats, the battles are famous:  Bunker Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Saratoga, Brandywine, Camden and Kings Mountain; and the names of Gage, Washington, Arnold, Gates, Tarleton, Marion and many others.  War weariness, rising costs, ineffective use of the Loyalist forces and the humiliating defeat of British General Charles Cornwallis by the rebel army’s French ally at Yorktown, Virginia, brought the war to a close in 1783.

For more information about the musket and sword or to see them in person, visit the Loyalist Legacy exhibition at the Court House, Gagetown, on view until 18 September.

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