Indentured to Liberty: Peasant Life and the Hessian Military State, 1688-1815

TitleIndentured to Liberty: Peasant Life and the Hessian Military State, 1688-1815
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication1994
AuthorsTaylor, Peter
Number of Pages291
PublisherCornell University Press
CityIthaca, NY

When Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Eve in 1778, he attacked German farm boys hired out to the British monarchy as "mercenaries." Throughout the eighteenth century the British rented such armies from the Landgraves of Hesse-Cassel under the auspices of the so-called subsidy treaties. Forced to defend the liberties of English elites, Hessian conscripts were themselves subjected to a harsh authoritarian rule. In this engaging book, Peter K. Taylor reconstructs the world of these peasants and their families. Taylor examines the political economy of the international trade in military units and shows how Hesse's notorious system of military conscription was in fact nourished by England's demand for armies for hire. Drawing on tax records, muster lists, and parish registers, he then determines who served in the Landgraves' army, what this service required, and how the subsidy system transformed peasant families and the rural economy. Hessian soldiers, he shows, began their military life in their own villages and often spent most of their terms of service there, but as outsiders to the communities of their childhood. Providing readings of three folktales collected in Hesse-Cassel by the Brothers Grimm, Taylor considers how the conditions of conscription and military taxation in the Hessian state affected peasant kinship networks. In vivid detail, he demonstrates that peasant soldiers - and their sisters, lovers, wives, and families - helped pay for eighteenth-century advances in English liberty with their own lives and culture.

Short TitleIndentured to Liberty
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