Why Did So Many Germans Fight For The British In The American Revolution?

The infamous Hessian soldiers

Grant Piper
5 min readDec 4, 2022


The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776, by John Trumbull

During the American Revolution, colonial soldiers frequently came in contact with Hessian soldiers. The Hessians were derided and despised by the Americans despite their military prowess. The Americans saw the foreign soldiers as a visible example of Britain’s heavy-handed practices. The British didn’t want to deal with the colonists as equals. They wanted to subjugate them with large hordes of mercenaries.

Hessian camps featured men who spoke no English. Bowdy German drinking songs. Lots of ale. Excessive European-style military uniforms and ostentatious officers. Locals would walk by and click their tongues or grind their teeth at the thought of the Germans camped on American soil.

But why did so many German soldiers fight in North America for the British? Who exactly were the Hessians?

The Business of Mercenaries

(Public domain)

Before the unification of Germany, there were dozens of German states in the old Holy Roman Empire. These states ranged in size from city-states to large countries like Prussia. Since the region was fractured and continental wars were so common many of these states were highly militarized. Prussia, Austria, France, Poland, England, and Russia were constantly fighting one another and pushing pieces around the continental chess board. These small German states often found themselves in the middle of Great Power politics and therefore kept relatively large standing armies.

One of these states was Hesse-Kassel. Hesse-Kassel was unique in two respects. First, the ruler of the small state had close ties to the British king. Second, 5% to 10% of the entire state’s population was trained as soldiers making it one of the most militarized states in Europe. This allowed the small German state to lend King George III thousands of soldiers for his fight in distant North America.

When no existential threats were pressing on them from local European powers, these soldiers would be meted out as auxiliaries and…



Grant Piper

Thought provoking articles, when time and payouts permit it.