Pass for Christopher Witzel
In 1776 the Duchey of Braunswig-Lueneburg in which Jerxheim was located was a fiefdom of the King of England. The Duchey sent 5,723 soldiers to North America to fight with the British Army during the American Revolution. Of these soldiers, only 2,708 returned to Europe in 1783, leaving 3,015 in America, some buried, but more electing to stay and Christoph was one of these.
Christoph was a member of the regiment von Rhetz, which participated in the engagement at First Stillwater and later at Saratoga, New York. The regiment von Rhetz is expressly reported as having been engaged in the battle at Saratoga, and two companies of the regiment were at the battle at Freeman’s Farm.
AFter the successful summer campaign, autumn brought a change in the fortune of General Burgoyne’s army, and on October 17, 1777, at Saratoga, New York, General Burgoyne surrendered his army, which included the Braunswig troops of General Baron von Riedesel, to the colonial army. From the battlefield, these Germans were marched through the snow to Boston, Massachusetts, where they spent the winter in Winter Hill Barracks, near Cambridge.
General George Washington immediately began to try to have them exchanged, and a convention was held to consider the terms of the exchange. A tentative agreement was reached which would have allowed the prisoners to return to Europe on the condition that they not be rehired to fight against the Americans. However, during the pendency of these negotiations, an alliance was formed between France and the United States. The French protested the return of the German troops to Europe, citing as their reason that these prisoners could be employed against France. Accordingly, the Continental Congress annulled the convention at the suggestion of Thomas Jefferson, and on November 9, 1778, the captured Germans embarked on a march to Williamsburg, Virginia. The prisoners were marched south via Rutland, Massachusetts, through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to Williamsburg, Virginia, which they reached in January, 1779. In Williamsburg, the prisoners were divided into three detachments for separate interment at camps in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Christoph was sent, Winchester, Virginia, and Frederick, Maryland.
Fortunately for posterity, Christoph retained his passes and certain other documents from the Revolutionary War period, which have been preserved by his family. These documents were apparently passed from Christoph to his son, Julius, to his son, Joseph Wetsel, from Joseph to his son, SAmuel Julius Wetsel, from whom they passed to Ruth E. Wetsel, who gave these documents to the lender in 1986.
Christoph is reported to have been a stalwart and upright man, and the 1799 salary subscription list of the Peaked Mountain Reformed Church near McGaheysville carried him as a subscriber. On this list his name is recorded as Christoph Wetzel. Around 1800, Christoph married Mary Livingston Long, the window of David Livingston. Mary Long was the daughter of Jacob Long, who was the minister of the German Reformed Church in Frederick, Maryland in the 1760’s, and he was one of the first German Reformed Church ministers west of the Blue Ridge. Christoph and Mary Witzel had five children: Mary, Catherine, Julia, Julius, and Christopher, Jr.. By the first decade of the nineteenth century, the phonetic spelling of “Witzel” finally evolved to “Wetsel.”
These documents, which show Christoph’s regiment, provided the basis to trace Christoph back to Jerxheim. Roles of the Regiment von Rhetz at the Handley Library in Winchester, Virginia, listed Christoph, his place of birth, and his age.
(Information provided by Lender; See accession file for cited document)