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I chose to feature Hessians in today’s post for English Historical Fiction Authors to better understand one of my ancestors, Johann Gebel.

He had a decision to make, one that affected the family for generations: does he stay with the Hessian army or does he desert and forsake his home and his parents across the Atlantic?

We don’t know a lot about Johann. Even the spelling of his name varies. Nor is there direct evidence that he was a Hessian soldier, but circumstances point to his service in this army of conscripts who faced harsh discipline. Johann was born February 11, 1756, in Waldeck, one of the six principalities to rent troops to the British. He was 20 when America declared its independence. If he was healthy and “expendable,” he was a prime candidate for the army.

According to family lore, Johann did not want to fight. Possibly, he saw this as a war among foreigners, and it had nothing to with him or the defense of his home and country.

There are variations in what happens next. He was shipped across the Atlantic by himself, or he was one of three brothers who deserted, or he was one of seven brothers who split up to fight for the Americans. The first story is most plausible to me. He somehow wound up in Havana as a prisoner of war and deserted the Hessian army.

Maybe the promise of freedom lured him. He would be out of jail and free of the beatings in the military. Plus, he had a shot of being a respectable citizen rather than an expendable conscript.

After the war ended in 1783, he was living in the States and married Elizabeth Bens Martzall (or Marzell), perhaps in 1789. They had a son, John Gable, six years later; the anglicized version of the name shows they were assimilating to the young country. Johann moved around in Pennsylvania a few times before finally settling in 1803 in Warwick Township in Lancaster County. He would remain there until his death at age 96 in 1852.

Hessians

By Richard Knötel (January 12, 1857–April 26, 1914) (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

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