- East Falls Hessians and a Betsy Ross connection?
Thanks to the Chadwick Papers*, we’ve got information to add to our “Hessians Are Coming” post. We now know the names of two Hessian commanders who were encamped in the East Falls area, one of whom may have had a liaison with Betsy Ross:
Wilhelm von Knyphausen. He was second-in-command of the Hessian forces in America. His regiment was encamped in the vicinity of Abbotsford lane, now the site of the Queen Lane Reservoir. An extremely experienced military leader, he was described as “a taciturn and discreet officer, who understood the temper of his troops and rarely entered on hazardous exploits.” He led troops in many battles from 1776-1782, before returning to Europe having achieved, in his words, “neither glory nor advancement.”
Count Carl Emil Ulrich von Donop. Colonel von Donop’s men were camped in the vicinity of what is now Vaux and Ainslie Streets. von Donop himself was said to have stayed in Samuel Garrett’s house at that intersection prior to the Battle of Germantown. He was regarded as an able officer but was short-tempered and disliked by his men, probably because of the severe beatings he inflicted on them.
von Donop had a more colorful history in America than Knyphausen, mainly because he was a glory seeker and died in battle chasing it. But he also had an independent streak that contributed to the British defeat at the Battle of Trenton.
Rather than advance on Bordentown, New Jersey, to be within supporting distance of commander Rall at Trenton, von Donop decided to spend Christmas Eve 1776 with a “beautiful widow.” This widow, who may have been Betsy Ross, is credited with keeping von Donop out of position during a critical time when he could have come to Rall’s assistance. It’s believed that this humiliating defeat led von Donop to volunteer for a hazardous mission at the Battle of Red Bank, where he died of a musket ball to the hip.
*A collection of newspaper clippings from Alex C. Chadwick, Editor of The Suburban Press in the 1930s.