- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

In 1776, a 56-year-old Philadelphia baker enlisted in the Revolutionary War, and before it was over, he had given thousands of pounds of bread to the American Army and persuaded untold Hessian soldiers to leave the British army.

Christopher Ludwick immigrated to America in 1754 and quickly became a very successful businessman. His fellow Pennsylvanians, about a third German, elected Ludwick to several official positions.

Slightly fewer than 30,000 Hessian soldiers served in America as mercenaries for the British during the Revolutionary War. That England would hire mercenaries to quell an American rebellion stung the Continental Congress so badly that delegates included it as a complaint in the Declaration of Independence: King George III “is at this time transporting large armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolution and tyranny.”

There was no Germany at the time but instead a very loose confederation of German-speaking provinces or territories, six of which negotiated treaties with the English. They are collectively referred to as “Hessians” even though the term is something of a misnomer because the Hessian government provided, by far, the most soldiers.

Each territory negotiated the best terms it could extract, and some agreements even contained a “blood clause” requiring an additional payment in the event of a soldier´s death or maiming. The first treaty was signed on Jan. 9, 1776, with the Duke of Brunswick.

England’s leasing of Hessian soldiers was nothing new; it already had been done five times in the 18th century. However, it was not without controversy. Frederick the Great pitied “the poor Hessians who end[ed] their lives unhappily and uselessly in America.”

“The conduct,” he charged, “was caused by nothing but dirty selfishness.”

Nevertheless, money talks, and it spoke German in 1776. One Hessian government official, readily acknowledging the distastefulness of the practice, argued that the treaty´s benefits would “far outweigh the hatefulness of the business.” He believed that once people “see foreign money flowing into our poor country … they will be enchanted, and will acknowledge that the troops … have conquered our worst enemy - our debts.”

Ludwick must have been very disturbed to see German-speaking soldiers from his ancestral homeland fighting against German-speaking Americans. There were two ways to skin a panther or, in this case, lessen the leased Hessian forces: defeat them or entice them to desert from the army and move to the peaceful Pennsylvania countryside to start a new life. While Washingtonstruggled with the former, the baker-general deftly handled the latter.

Ludwick, a skilled propagandist, persuaded numerous Hessian prisoners of war to desert from the British army and take up residence among a welcoming German community just a few miles away. “Farm, don´t fight” would have been the bumper sticker if such a thing existed. How many he persuaded will never be known, but it worked. It worked for the reason Ludwick explained to the Continental Congress: “The many Hessians … are so well pleased with this country …that at all events they would rather prefer to settle here than to return to the dreary abodes of bondage from whence they came.”

In addition to winning over the POWs, the audacious Ludwick, posing as a deserter, snuck into the Hessian Camp at Staten Island and made the same quality-of-life argument. Pennsylvania offered, according to one historian, “a complete farm except for the frau.”

Sometimes, as shown in one Hessian´s diary, the product sold itself: “America is a wonderful land, where the industrious hand of the worker never goes unrewarded, and those who work never want.” This particular soldier seemed surprised with early American recreation: “The Americans, from their youth on, participate in vigorous body exercise, and when nothing else is to be done, they hit a ball.”

In July 1776, Pennsylvania started hiring Hessian POWs to make ammunition. A month later, the federal government formed a committee to “encourage Hessians … to quit [their] iniquitous service.” Rewards would be offered to those who “choose to accept lands, liberty, safety, and a communion of good laws and mild government in a country where many of their friends and relations are already happily settled, rather than continue exposed to the toils and dangers of a long and bloody war.”

By 1778, the Americanization of Hessians was at full boil: The government offered 50 acres for any Hessian to desert. The pot was sweetened for captains who brought along 40 Hessians: 800 acres, four oxen, one bull and two cows.

Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of our nation´s Founding Fathers, praised Ludwick for showing the Hessians “the difference between the privileges and manner of life of an American freeman and those of a Hessian slave” and for providing “the most captivating descriptions of the affluence and independence of their former countrymen in the German counties of Pennsylvania.”

George Washington believed that well-treated Hessian POWs who were returned to the enemy but “so fraught with a love of liberty” would “create a disgust to the service among the remainder of the foreign troops and widen that breach which is already opened between them and the British.”

In May 1777, Ludwick was appointed superintendent of bakers. American soldiers generally were allotted three-quarters to 1 1/4 pounds of flour daily. Sometimes they baked their own bread, commonly known as fire cakes. A private in the Army explained that the flour was “mixed with cold water, then daubed upon a flat stone and scorched on one side.”

Often, however, they traded their flour for rum or hard bread, “hard enough to break the teeth of a rat,” according to one soldier. Hard bread was preferable to soft bread because it lasted longer and was easier to carry. Almost single-handedly, Ludwick rescued the critical operation of getting the staff of life to soldiers too familiar with getting a loaf of nothing.

“His deportment,” Washington wrote, “has afforded unquestionable proofs of his integrity and worth.” With utmost dedication and honesty, the baker-general could just as well have been called the baker-saint.

Paul N. Herbert (pnh9202@verizon.net) writes frequently for the history page.

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