Who Was Frederica de Riedesel?
Frederica Charlotte Louisa de Riedesel was the daughter of Massow, the Prussian Minister of State. She was born in Brandenburg, Germany in 1746. At the age of seventeen, she married Lieutenant Colonel Baron de Riedesel, who was appointed to command the Brunswick forces in British service under General Bourgoyne during the Revolutionary War.
Frederica de Reidesel (Source: Wikipedia)
Frederica followed her husband with three young children to Canada in 1777. From there she and her children accompanied her husband’s troops through important battles that influenced the outcome of the Revolution, especially Burgoyne’s defeat in the battle at Saratoga, New York. The journal and letters she wrote to her mother describe her travels with the camp. Her son-in-law published the journal shortly after the death of Frederica’s husband in 1801. Today her accounts are considered a key resource for shedding light on what life on the front was like during the Revolution.
A Woman of Admirable Courage and Bravery
As a woman of high social rank, it was unusual that Frederica de Riedesel did not flinch at crossing the ocean with three small children to join her husband in Canada. She is described as having suffered great perils on the journey, which she met with ‘courage…and cheerful resignation’ (AmericanRevolution.org).
Despite the fact that she and her children were often starving, Frederica always unselfishly cared for and nursed the soldiers in the British camp. She wrote:
‘I endeavored to dispel my melancholy by continually attending to the wounded. I made them coffee and tea, and often shared my dinner with them. One day (when) a Canadian officer came creeping into our cellar, and was hardly able to say that he was dying with hunger, I felt happy to offer him my dinner, by eating which he recovered his health and I gained his friendship.’
Scene from the Battle of Saratoga (Source: Friends of Albany History — WordPress.com)
She followed her husband south to Saratoga, where the British were defeated. The British troops under General Gates surrendered themselves as prisoners of war. As a result, the de Riedesels and their children became prisoners from this point on.
A Female POW with Children Travels to Virginia
After their capitulation in Saratoga, the de Riedesel family was moved south by carriage first to Albany and later Boston. As highly ranked nobles, they were generally greeted with dignity and friendship by families patriotic to both the American and British causes. If fact it is written that they even attended dinner parties and balls in Boston (ibid, above).
By the winter of 1778, though, they were back on the road headed for Virginia. Provisions were poor; the family suffered from the cold and damp on the long journey by carriage. Their reception in Virginia was much less ingratiating than in the North. Frederica wrote:
‘We were very hungry. Seeing much fresh meat in the house where we stopped, I begged the landlady to sell me some. ‘I have,’ quoth she, ‘several sorts of meat…’. I said, ‘let me have some; I will pay you liberally.’ But snapping her fingers, she replied; ‘You shall not have a morsel of it; why have you left your country to slay and rob us of our property? Now that you are our prisoners, it is our turn to vex you.’
The party encountered similar receptions all along the way, until they finally settled in Colle, Virginia after a journey of six hundred and twenty-eight miles.
The family’s life improved somewhat after that, and in fact they became acquainted with George Washington and others associated with the American cause (Ibid, above). But in August of 1779 they were required to go back to New York, where Frederica’s husband was to be part of an exchange for American prisoners.
Freedom Returns; A Happy End and A Summary
At first they travelled to Pennsylvania and then on to New York, where they were pardoned and released from being prisoners of war. The family lived in the very comfortable quarters of the Governor, General Tryon. Also enjoying Tyron’s country estate, the family remained in New York until 1780. In September of 1781 the family returned to Quebec, and in 1783 the family returned, via Great Britain, to Germany.
Baron de Riedesel (Source: Inthewordsofwomen.com)
General Riedesel died in 1800. Frederica made her permanent residence in Berlin until her death in 1808. There she established an asylum for military orphans and an almshouse for the poor in Brunswick.
There are not many accounts of women who witnessed the battles of the American Revolution firsthand. Frederica’s courage and selfless commitment is today seen as an inspiration for women and an historic confirmation of the important role that women also played in the American War for Independence.
Riedesel, Baroness von. Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty 1776-1783. Translated by Marvin L. Brown, Jr. and Marta Huth. Chapter Hill, University of North Carolina, 1965
Riedesel, Mrs. General. Letters and Journals Relating to the War of the American Revolution and the Capture of the German Troops at Saratoga. Translated by William Stone, Albany, 1867
Zeinert, Karen. Those Remarkable Women of the American Revolution. Brookfield, CT. Millbrook Press, 1966