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Dawn of the American Revolution, 1768-1776

Section II

Military Costume Watercolors

Friedrich von Germann was a captain of a regiment from Hesse-Hanau, one of the many German auxiliary troops hired by George III to fight in the American Revolution. He arrived in Canada in 1775, served in the southern campaigns, and was present at the surrender at Saratoga.

During the war, he painted a series of watercolors of American, British, and German soldiers. The New York Public Library’s drawings are most likely 19th-century copies of von Germann’s watercolors, possibly by the artists E. Sack and Kail (whose names appear on the drawings). They were commissioned by the New York historian William Leete Stone to illustrate a personal copy of his translation of the famous Hessian commander’s writings, “Memoirs, and letters and journals, of Major General Riedesel during his residence in America.”


An American Officier [sic]
An American Soldier
After Friedrich von Germann (German, 1744–1794)
Watercolor, 19th century
Print Collection

When the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in June 1775, they recognized the military forces gathered in Boston as the Continental Army and appointed George Washington as commander in chief.

One of Washington’s goals was to outfit the entire army in uniform. Prior to his command, most militiamen wore ordinary clothing that quickly became dirty and tattered. Uniforms of blue and brown were issued to the army, but they were infrequently replaced and rapidly wore out.

These two drawings depict an officer and a private of unidentified Continental regiments.


62nd Regiment
Ein Britischer Soldat auf dem Posten, in der Canadischen Winter Kleidung. 1766
Regiment [Highlander]
After Friedrich von Germann (German, 1744–1794)
Watercolor, 19th century
Print Collection

During the period of the American Revolution, Britain was the most powerful nation in the world, with the world’s largest navy and a well-trained professional army. Nearly half of its naval force was committed to the war, and by 1778 almost 50,000 British troops were stationed in North America.

These four drawings depict a gunner in the Royal Artillery, a private in the 62nd regiment, a sentry wearing winter clothing, and a member of the Royal Highland regiment garbed in traditional Scottish plaid.


Hessen Hanau Regt. Erbprinz
Braunschw. Regt. V. Riedesel
Braunschw. Regt. V. Specht
Braunschw. Regt. Prinz Friedrich
Braunschw. Dragoner Regt.
Braunschw. Jaeger
After Friedrich von Germann (German, 1744–1794)
Watercolor, 19th century
Print Collection

The British army lacked enough soldiers to both supply the war in America and maintain their posts at colonies throughout the world. In 1776, George III hired auxiliary troops from Germany. Close to 30,000 Germans would serve in the American Revolution, with the majority coming from the principalities of Brunswick and Hesse-Kassel.

Thousands of these soldiers (frequently identified collectively as Hessians) remained in America after the war and joined the growing German-American population.

These six watercolors depict a fusilier from Hesse-Hanau and from Brunswick, a private in the light infantry (regiment von Riedesel), an officer in the infantry (regiment von Specht), a grenadier in the infantry (regiment Prinz Friedrich), a dragoon (regiment Prinz Ludwig), and an officer (Jäger Company)


Congress Voting Independence
Edward Savage (American, 1761–1817), after Robert Edge Pine (British, 1742–1788)
Engraving, 1803
Print Collection, Stauffer Collection

On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a Committee of Five (John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson) to draft a statement of the colonies’ right to independence. Written by Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence was submitted to the Congress less than three weeks later, on June 28.

Robert Edge Pine painted this scene of the committee presenting the Declaration to John Hancock, the president of the Congress. The painting was unfinished at Pine’s death in 1788 and was copied and completed by Edward Savage, who also created this engraving. Scholars consider this view the most accurate rendition of the setting, the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House.

The final version of the Declaration, which was ratified on July 4, contained alterations to Jefferson’s original text. In the following days, Jefferson wrote several copies of his original text, underlining the passages that had been changed. The New York Public Library owns one of two surviving copies of this complete text and regularly exhibits this treasured document.


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