A few years ago, I started reading a historical fiction series about the Revolutionary War period. It was my first time digging into the story of the Revolutionary War, going beyond the "we fought the British, we won, moving on" summary I got in school (yes, one of my college history classes went into more detail, but I don't remember much of that, except that it was something of a shock to realize we didn't go straight to revolution, but actually fought for rights within the British Empire for years first). But anyways, one of the things that really stood out in the story was the role played by the Hessian solders hired by the British. They were portrayed as merciless mercenaries, professional thugs basically, hired to slaughter the Patriot army. It told about one battle in particular (can't recall the one offhand), where the Hessians overran the Patriots, and the Patriots caught by the Hessians tried to surrender, only to be massacred by the Hessians while in the act of surrendering. They were also quoted as telling their British commanders that they could frighten the Patriots into losing by showing them the bayonet, because "they cannot stand the bayonet." So yeah, the Hessians were obviously cruel and vicious and so on. Bad guys who did what they were hired to do in as bloody a way as possible.
Cut to today, when I was poking around my Beilstein line, finally going after some documentation on the info I was given years ago. I started with the immigrant ancestor on that line, my 3rd-great-grandfather, Jacob Beilstein. According to a pedigree chart given to me, he was born in Hesse-Darmstadt in Germany in 1851. So I thought I'd go looking to confirm that.
The earliest record from the States that I have on Jacob is the 1860 census, where he's listed as a 9-year-old boy in the household of Frederick and Maria Beilstein (who are obviously not his parents, given they are ages 26 and 23, and that he is listed last in the family, under Fred and Maria, their 1-year-old daughter Sophia, a 50-year-old Sophia Beilstein, and 13-year-old Christian Beilstein). Jacob's birthplace is listed as the Grand Duchy of Hessen. I knew FamilySearch had a big database of German BMDs (birth, marriage, and death records) so I thought I'd start there. Searching FamilySearch led me to a birth record confirming that he was born 5 January 1851 in Groß-Bieberau, Starkenburg, Hesse-Darmstadt.
I wanted to learn more about Groß-Bieberau, so I Google searched it, and found this little Wikipedia page. And I mean little - the whole entry is two and a half sentences (really, the last sentence isn't even complete). It does manage to say that Groß-Bieberau is a town in Hesse, Germany, with a link to a page on Hesse, so I went there.
Once there, two sentences immediately struck me - "The English name "Hesse" comes from the Hessian dialects...An inhabitant of Hesse is called a Hessian."
A Hessian. My Beilsteins were Hessians.
Being a linguist, I should have clued in the Hessians might be from Hesse a little earlier, but for some reason it never dawned on me. But now it's got me wondering - were any of my people among the Hessians that were rented by the British? Do I have any relatives, perhaps even direct ancestors, that were involved in that bloody battle I mentioned earlier? Jacob went to school in America, and must have learned about the American Revolution as a boy. What was he taught about the Hessians? Being only 80 years removed from the war, did he have any stories of relatives who fought on the German side? What did he think about or feel towards them?
Unless I find a journal written by him or his children, I'll never know the answers to those questions in this life. But it does make me want to learn more about my Beilsteins, and find out whether they had any military service back in Hesse. Perhaps I'll get lucky and find out they were ordinary civilians. Either way, I'm really interested in finding out!