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German-American General von Steuben – Hero of the Revolutionary War

Cookouts, fireworks, and good company often come to mind when one thinks about Independence Day. From a young age, every American has heard the stories of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the trials it took to become a sovereign state. However, we tend to overlook the German-Americans who had a large influence on the freedom the United States enjoys today.  On July 5, 1776, the German-American newspaper, Der Wöchentliche Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote, was the first paper — in any language — to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence the day before.  The newspaper also published a German translation of the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776.

Germans started immigrating to the British Colonies as soon as Jamestown was founded. By the start of the American Revolution, about 10% of American colonists spoke German. Most of the Germans who assisted the rebelling American Patriots were colonists fighting for the same reason as their fellow British colonists. However, many Germans also supported the Loyalist cause and served as allies of Great Britain, whose King George III was also the Elector of Hannover.

German-speaking patriots were sprinkled across each of the thirteen colonies. One of the most famous patriots was Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who left his German roots to assist the American rebellion. Von Steuben was born in a Magdeburg fortress in 1730 and by the age of 17 had already served in the military as a Prussian officer. He was a member of an infantry unit as well as a staff officer in the Seven Years War. He served in Russia periodically as a member of the General Staff. This position gave von Steuben the knowledge and experience that would treat him well in his future as an American militant.

Von Steuben was discharged at the age of 33 due to speculations and found himself in financial predicaments. After looking for employment in several foreign armies across Europe, von Steuben met Benjamin Franklin in Paris in hopes of joining the Continental Army in America.

In September of 1777, von Steuben landed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and a few months later, was reporting to General Washington at Valley Forge. He did not speak English but was able to communicate with some of the officers in French. With the help of Alexander Hamilton, von Steuben drafted a program and trained 100 chosen men. Von Steuben’s prior knowledge and experience allowed him to successfully train Patriots to win the American Revolution.

After his apparent success, von Steuben was appointed Inspector General at the request of General Washington. He assisted and commanded troops through the end of the Revolutionary War and was discharged from the military with honor on March 24, 1784. Von Steuben established residency and remained in New York where he died a prominent figure in 1794.