Drawing by Darley of a conscription of a Hessian soldier; from The American Revolution: A Picture Sourcebook, 1975, New York: Dover Publication, Inc.

Christian Ries, soldier of the Revolutionary War

He [the King of Great Britain] is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death's desolation and tyranny...
— the Declaration of Independence, adopted July 4, 1776 and signed August 2, 1776.

Christian Ries was from the region of Hesse-Cassel, Germany, from which approximately 12,805 troops came in 1776, and 403 in December, 1777. Of the nearly 17,000 Hessians from Hesse-Cassel, about 6,500 did not return (Lowell, 1884), having either decided to stay or having been buried on American soil. It's family tradition that John Christian Ries came to America as a Hessian soldier and was among those captured by General George Washington at Trenton, New Jersey. It's also been passed down through the generations that he was in the brigade commanded by Hessian commander Colonel Rall, who was killed at Trenton. And it's likely that he was young, and not necessarily in America by choice (see figure above).

According to McCullough (2005), 7,000 Hessians had reached America in the autumn of 1776 under the command of General Wilhelm von Knyphausen. These professional soldiers arrived ready for battle and soon faced action. John Christian may have been among the troops who stormed up the rocky ground on November 16, 1776 at Fort Washington. The Hessians had the toughest part of the ascent to the fort, though they were undeterred. Knyphausen had to call off Colonel Rall, who had fearlessly led the assault, from rushing right into the fort. It was a notable effort by the Hessians (McCullough, 2005). But it was just 40 days later when Washington turned the tables on the Hessians, and altered the course of history.

Under the cover of the darkness and a fierce nor'easter, Washington and his troops crossed the icy and treacherous Delaware River, and in an early morning attack on December 26, surprised the encampment at Trenton. The ragtag American forces captured approximately 950 Hessian soldiers, one of whom was listed as "Christian Ries."

Family tradition is backed up by documents that detail the names of prisoners captured at Trenton. And here's the surprise: There are two prisoners named "Ries" – Johannes and Christian. Both have "Schrecksbach, Germany" listed as their place of origin. Both are listed as belonging to the von Knyphausen Regiment. This seems at odds with family tradition until you find out that Rall was the Brigade commander, and von Knyphausen was one of three regiments in Rall's command (Rall had his own regiment, too) at Trenton (Lowell, 1884). Rall had been given command of Trenton after his tenacious actions during the attack and capture of Fort Washington in New York.

Generals John Sullivan and Nathanael Greene also participated in this key victory at Trenton, along with future president James Monroe. Following Washington's orders, Colonel John Glover exit web siteferried the prisoners back across the Delaware River to Bucks County, Pennsylvania to avoid their recapture by organizing British troops. On New Year's Day, 1777, the captives were paraded through the streets of Philadelphia.

Read more on the Battle of Trentonexit web site

Johannes and Christian Ries were held prisoners at Lancaster, Pa. in a Hessian soldier POW camp. There, Hessian soldiers were allowed to serve local craftsman, many of whom were of German descent. "John Reis" (sic) is listed as having been farmed out to a man named Sebastion Graff, probably the same man who was a member of the Pennsylvania Senate from 1790-1791 (He died in 1791). But was this his brother Johannes?

First official flag of the U.S. - June 14, 1777

During the summer of 1778, Great Britain and the Americans agreed to a prisoner exchange. And here is where Christian's movements are sketchy. The prisoners were sent to Philadelphia, but the exchange did not immediately take place because the British didn't wait. The exchange did finally happen in Elizabethtown, N. J. in the autumn of 1778. It is known that the von Knyphausen regiment reformed in September 1779 and it joined with a fleet of ships that were headed for Canada. However, an Atlantic hurricane damaged two ships named the Molly and the Triton that were carrying the von Knyphausen regiment. American privateers captured these damaged ships and hauled them into Egg Harbor, New Jersey (Kipping, 1971). Was Christian on one of these ships? Could this be how he gained experience as a sailor?

At some point, he joined the American cause and is reported to have served in the Continental Navy. This especially makes sense if he had served on the Molly or the Triton.

The summary on Christian Reese is simple enough on the Johannes Schwalm Historical Association, Inc. web site:exit web site
"Ries, Johannes Christian (Reese) Hesse-Kassel; Schrecksbach; Private; von Knyphausen, Co. 1; HETRINA Vol III; Captured at Trenton, Exchanged in 1778; Recaptured on ship Molly; Joined the American forces; Settled in Center County, PA. Straight-line genealogy established."

In 1797, he surfaces as one of the original settlers of Philipsburg. In the "Early History" segment of the Philipsburg (Pa.) web site, it states: "It is believed that most of these men came to Philipsburg from Standing Stone (Huntingdon) in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania."

As one of the settlers of Philipsburg, Pa., Christian Ries (Rees) joined 11 others in establishing the town. They arrived in March 1797 and built some cabins, a grist mill, and a lumber mill. They were financed by Henry Philips, who had bought land from the legendary Robert Morris (great financier of the War for Independence) in Philadelphia at 2 cents an acre. Misguided land speculation deals had forced Morris into bankruptcy and debtors' prison. He had purchased the land near Philipsburg for 10 cents an acre.

In Philipsburg, in 1798, "During the first eight davs of October, "Ries, the miller," operated the saw mill, located on Coldstream near where the Port Matilda road now crosses it." (Row, 1909)

Philipsburg in 1813
 

Sketch of Philipsburg in 1813. From Row, 1909, p. 4.

It’s clear Christian Rees (Ries) was in Philipsburg from the late 1700s to the mid-1810s, and that he later moved into Bald Eagle Valley to operate Abraham Elder’s mill, a grist mill on Laurel Run (just north of Wilson Lane, 1.2 miles northwest of Port Matilda). In Linn’s history, the grist mill was said to be “on the site of the Woodring saw-mill. Christian may have learned to be a miller from his POW stint in Lancaster County after his capture at Trenton. He was farmed out to the prominent Sebastian Graff, who also owned the land of Ranck’s Mill east of Lancaster. Graff’s father, also Sebastian, was born in Germany. Sebastian Graff’s brother Andrew also owned a mill (Lancaster County Historical Society, 1914).

He possibly married Mary "Mae" Woodring, or someone else, but there were 9 children all together. Their youngest child was Abel, born in 1812. All of his children were likely born in Philipsburg

Christian died in February 1841, according to his apparent obituary in the March 6, 1841 issue of the Centre Democrat. He was buried in Woodring Cemetery, Centre County, Pa. In 1910, the Daughters of the American Revolution honored Christian Ries as "John Christiana Reese" a Revolutionary War soldier. Early documents such as the Hessian prisoner list and the history of Philipsburg show a "Christian Ries." There is a discrepancy on the headstone in the year of death, and more obvious, in the reference to him as "John Christian," instead of Christian.

By Stuart Reese (Updated, August 2018)

Gravestone of John Christian Reese.
Click on the photo for larger image

References

  • Barth, R., Dornemann, W., and Schwalm, M., 1985, The Trenton Prisoner List, in Journal of Johannes Schwalm Historical Association, vol. 3, no. 1, published by the Johannes Schwalm Historical Association, Inc., 4983 South Sedgewick Road, Lyndhurst, OH 44124.
  • Find a Grave, 2017, John Rees, www.findagrave.com (record added Jan 27, 2013).
  • Grafton, J. (1975). The American Revolution: A Picture Sourcebook. New York: Dover Publication, Inc.
  • Lancaster County Historical Society, 1914, Historical Papers and Addresses of the Lancaster County Historical Society, vols. 18-20, https://books.google.com.
  • Laurel Hill Cemetery, 2017, https://thelaurelhillcemetery.org/.
  • Linn, John Blair, 1883, History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania, p. 460, https://archive.org.
  • Lowell, Edward J., 1965, The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, reprint of 1884 ed., 328 p. E268L92.
  • McCullough, David, 2005, 1776, Simon and Schuster, New York, 386 p.
  • Row, S. B., 1909, Illustrated souvenir history of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania (Part 1), Grit Publishing Company, Old home week association Historical committee. https://archive.org/stream/illustratedsouve00phil#page/n5