Frederika Charlotte Riedesel

Frederika Charlotte Riedesel

Frederika Charlotte Louise von Massow, Baroness (Freifrau) Riedesel zu Eisenbach was the wife of General Friedrich Adolf Riedesel of Brunswick. She accompanied him during the Saratoga Campaign in the American Revolutionary War and kept a journal of the campaign.

Early Life

Frederika was born in 11 July 1746 at Brandenburg. Her father was a Prussian official, [Ellet, 209] but had been a Lieutenant General in the Prussian army. Frederika had travelled with the Prussian army as a child, and learned the hard life of a camp follower. [Berkin, 80]

In 1762, Frederika helped care for Lieutenant Colonel Riedesel, who had been wounded in battle during the Seven Years War. They were married that same year; Frederika was sixteen years old. [Berkin, 80]

Friedrich Adolph Riedesel was a member of the line of Riedesel zu Eisenbach, and like all his male cousins had the title of "Freiherr" or Baron. He was not "the Baron" or "von Riedesel." Upon their marriage Frederika gained the title of "Freifrau" or Baroness Riedesel zu Eisenbach. She was described as looking more like an unmarried school girl than a married woman. [Berkin, 80] She would grow into a red haired [Berkin, 79] baroness, "full in figure and possessing no small share of beauty." [Ellet, 210] In the following years, the Riedesels had two daughters, Gustava and Frederica, and Frederika was pregnant with a third, Carolina, in 1776 when Brunswick signed a treaty to support Great Britain in the suppression of the rebellion in their American colonies. Friedrich was promoted to General and named commander of the Brunswick army, and he referred to Frederika as "Mrs. General". [Berkin, 80]

General Riedesel sailed for the Americas in 1776, with the understanding that Frederika would join him as soon as the new baby could travel. Carolina was born in March, and the family sailed to England in May. Frederika took with her some antiques to sell in England, where the demand for such items would provide them with needed money for their travelling expenses. [Berkin, 81]

"Mrs. General" Riedesel was not well received in England, where she was mocked for her German fashions and language. Frederika awaited her ship to Canada in Bristol, where she learned the English language and customs within six weeks. [Berkin, 82] General Riedesel insisted she travel with a companion, however, and she could not set sail for Canada until April 1777. [Berkin, 83]

The American Revolution

aratoga Campaign

Frederika arrived in Canada and was reunited with Friedrich in June at Trois-Rivières. She received permission to accompany the army South, on General John Burgoyne's campaign to capture Albany. Her journals reveal her military background, and she was critical of the lack of security at camp. [Berkin, 84]

Frederika and her daughters followed the army in a calash. She was with the army on 19 September and was an eye-witness to the Battle of Freeman's Farm. [Berkin, 84] Her journals describe her evening in a nearby house, where wounded soldiers came to rest, and where a young English officer slowly died during the night. [Ellet, 210]

Baroness Riedesel was preparing a meal on 7 October when the Battle of Bemis Heights began. The table, with its meal, was cleared to make a bed for General Simon Fraser. Frederika spent the night tending to wounded soldiers, other women, and her own children. [Ellet, 211] General Fraser died the next morning, and that afternoon, the house caught fire, and the Riedesel family was forced to evacuate. General Fraser had requested that his body be buried at a redoubt, and Frederika observed the funeral under American cannon fire. [Ellet, 211]

"Mrs. General" Riedesel was very critical of General Burgoyne, and broke with 18th century customs to remind the General that his men were starving. [Berkin, 86] She spent days managing a house which became a shelter for women and wounded soldiers as the battle continued. A German soldier described her as an "angel of comfort" who "restored order in the chaos." [Berkin, 87]

Convention Army

Following the British surrender on 17 October, Frederika and her daughters became the guests of General Philip Schuyler. [Stone, 212-213] The Riedesel family traveled with the defeated army to Boston, where they were to sail back to Europe. The terms of surrender were rejected by Congress, however, and the prisoners spent the next four years as the Convention Army.

The Convention Army was moved from Boston to Virginia in 1779. Here, General Riedesel collapsed while working in the garden, and Baroness Riedesel spent her time as his nurse. Until he returned to Germany, General Riedesel could not sleep unless Frederika was with him. [Berkin, 90]

In late 1779, the Riedesels were allowed to move to New York City. While residing there in 1780, Frederika gave birth to their fourth daughter, whom they named America. [Berkin, 90 Thomas Jefferson wrote to General Riedesel, offering condolences on the birth of yet another daughter.] That same year, a smallpox epidemic broke out, and Frederika again became the nurse to her household, perhaps even saving the life of her husband, who had asked to die.] Berkin, 91]

Finally, in July 1781, the Riedesel family was permitted to leave New York, and travelled to Canada. Here, Frederika gave birth to a fifth daughter, named Canada, who did not survive. [Berkin, 91] Before departing Canada, General Riedesel took his wife to review the English soldiers who were under his command. The English greeted Frederika with military honors. The Riedesels left for Germany in 1783. [Berkin, 91] Frederika is credited with saving the Braunschweig regimental colors by hiding them in her mattress, and she returned them to Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand. [ [ Military History Time Line of the Duchy of Braunschweig] , see 17 Oct 1777. Accessed 4 October 2008]

The Riedesels had four more children. Frederika's journals from the war were published in 1800, and became an important first-hand account of the Saratoga Campaign. Baroness Riedesel died 29 March 1808 in Berlin. [ Frederika von Riedesel Biography]



* Berkin, Carol. "Revolutionary Mothers. Women in the Struggle for America's Independence." ©2005. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. ISBN 1-4000-4163-5

*Ellet, Elizabeth Fries. "Revolutionary Women in the War for American Independence: A One-volume Revised Edition." 1998, Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-2759-6263-6

* Stone, William L., translator. "Letters and Journals relating to the War of the American Revolution, and the Capture of the German Troops at Saratoga. By Mrs. General Riedesel." 1867, Joel Munsell, Albany.

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