The Story of the Private and the
Reverend Georg Daniel Flohr
To the left is a recent picture of Reverend George Flohr’s log house. This is the same house that was willed later to his adopted daughter Elizabeth Kegley Umbarger. It sits in the grounds of St. John’s Church, Wytheville, Virginia (at the intersection of Route 52 and Cove Road in Wytheville).
The house itself was moved to this spot from about a mile away on Route 52.
(Photos courtesy of Ms. Mary Miller)
Georg Daniel Flohr’s life (at least in America) is quite well documented, most particularly in the following three articles by the scholar Robert A. Selig (dates and issues where indicated)
Private Flohr’s Other Life:
The young German fought for American Independence, went home, and returned as a man of peace
By Robert A. Selig
American Heritage …. October 1994 | Volume 45, Issue 6
Georg Daniel Flohr, a butcher’s son, enlisted at nineteen in the Regiment Royal-Deux-Ponts, a German outfit in the service of France, and came to America in 1780 with the Comte de Rochambeau’s army to help the Continentals in their struggle against Great Britain. Readers of this magazine may recall the beautifully illustrated diary Flohr kept of his service, which for a century lay unnoticed in Strasbourg’s main library. [See the article below this one] For the December 1992 issue I wrote an article, “Private Flohr’s America,” that reproduced some of those superb sketches and his account—the only one known by an enlisted man in Rochambeau’s forces—of his march south from Newport to Yorktown and the signal feat of arms there that cost Britain its American colonies.
The victory won, Private Flohr returned home; discharged by the Royal-Deux-Ponts in 1784, he settled in Strasbourg. “Nothing is known of his later life,” I wrote. That was true at the time, but I am happy to say that thanks to an unusual chain of coincidences, it no longer is.
Among the bright, crisp scenes Flohr drew in his journal was a plan of Williamsburg, Virginia—so accurate, says Ray Betzner, director of public information at the College of William and Mary, that “if you gave this drawing to a present-day tourist he could make his way around town with very little trouble.” In the fall of 1992 the college selected this watercolor for the poster commemorating its tercentenary, which was introduced to the public at a press conference. Among those attending was Richard Miller, a curator at Williamsburg’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center.
Miller had recently helped conduct research for an article about the decorated gravestones of Wythe County, Virginia, which had been published in Antiques magazine. He told Carolyn Weekly, director of the Folk Art Center, that during his investigations he had come across the grave of a Reverend Flohr. Dr. Weekly in turn called Martha Hamilton-Phillips, of William and Mary, who, aware of my work on Flohr, passed on the information to me.
Just off Interstate 81 on Route 52, in Wytheville in western Virginia, stand a log house and a white church building surrounded by a cemetery. A historical marker informs the visitor that the church, St. John’s Lutheran, closed since 1924, was built in 1854 on the foundations of a church dating back to around 1800. A plaque in front of the log house reports that it was built around 1807 and was once owned by a Reverend George Daniel Flohr. Slated for destruction, it was rescued and moved to its present site in 1984. In the adjacent cemetery, where the oldest readable stones bear dates of around 1805, one grave is distinguished by inscriptions in Latin, German, and English that identify it as the final resting place of the minister. Reverend Flohr departed this life on April 30, 1826.
But could Rev. George Daniel Flohr and Pvt. Georg Daniel Flohr actually be the same person? And how did the German soldier become the Virginia clergyman? My quest for the answers began with some useful pages from Mary Kegley’s History of Wythe County and soon expanded into state and local archives, county courthouses, parish libraries, and university and church records in Germany, France, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia.
I was especially happy to find a volume of Reverend Flohr’s sermons published in 1840 with a biographical preface by the Reverend John T. Tabler of Wythe. According to Tabler, the preacher Flohr had been born in Germany around 1759, but German church records indicate that Private Flohr had been born in August 1756. Regimental records give both 1758 and 1760 as his birthdate; the Wytheville tombstone, August 1762. Such discrepancies in eighteenth-century dates are common enough that these five different birthdays didn’t rule out the possibility that Private Flohr had indeed emigrated to the United States to settle in Wytheville.
We know that Private Flohr was in Strasbourg in June 1788; after that the trail grows cold. The Strasbourg census of August 1789 does not list a Flohr living in the city. Not long after that time, according to Tabler, the future Reverend Flohr was in Paris and studying medicine. In a frustratingly opaque account of the turning point in Flohr’s life, Tabler writes that on January 22, 1793, “the morning of the execution of Louis XVI, the accidental, but awful death of an individual near Mr. F., so operated on his mind as to render him averse to the further prosecution of his medical studies. This change of purpose may no longer create surprise in the reader, when told that a part of the mangled body was cast against Mr. F.”
Perhaps as early as 1793 the traumatized Flohr was back in America. Soon after his arrival he began to study theology under the Reverend William Carpenter, a fellow Revolutionary War veteran, at Hebron Church, the oldest Lutheran pastorate in Virginia. Around 1799 Flohr accepted a call to serve in the New River Valley of western Virginia near Evansham, as Wytheville was then called.
In a letter dated August 1, 1799, Flohr informed his friend Paul Henkel of Winchester of his safe arrival in western Virginia. That letter, one of about twenty in existence, which I received through the courtesy of Klaus Wust, a leading authority on Germans in colonial Virginia, established the final link between Private Flohr and Reverend Flohr. Handwriting experts who compared samples from the Revolutionary War diary and the letters all agree that they are the work of one author. Flohr’s letters reveal the usual problems that a new pastor might encounter, but he seems to have taken them in stride. Martin Kimmerling, he wrote, “played the hypocritical flute” (i.e., was pouting) because nobody had voted for him during the recent elections of church elders and deacons. Then there was young John Koppenhoffer who had gotten two women pregnant: “He does not deny it, but does not want to marry either of them.”
Within a year of his arrival he had baptized eighty-nine children and confirmed fifty-four more. In early 1801 Flohr, though still two years away from being ordained, was serving at least six churches in three counties. In addition, he headed four schools, practiced medicine, and had to involve himself in planning the church where he was later buried.
Further digging in county records revealed that on October 5, 1802, Flohr married a local girl named Elizabeth Holsapple. Six years later he bought forty-seven acres in Wytheville and built a house. Since he and Elizabeth had no children, they adopted Polly Hutzle around 1810; ten years later the infant Elizabeth Kegley joined the family.
On April 30, 1826, four months short of his seventieth birthday, George Daniel Flohr died, deeply mourned by the congregations he had served faithfully for twenty-five years. As a token of respect Lawrence Krone, a local stone carver and member of the German Reformed Church, donated the monument for Flohr’s grave.
Even today “Father Flohr,” as he is affectionately called in his adopted town, has not been forgotten. There are plans to turn his home into a historical museum, and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Wytheville, with which St. John’s merged in 1924, still owns some of Flohr’s hymnals and recently established a St. John’s room in its parsonage. And every year on St. John’s Day, the third Sunday in August, a special service is held on the grounds of Wytheville’s old church to honor the original St. John’s and its first pastor, the onetime soldier Georg Daniel Flohr.
Private Flohr’s America
From Newport to Yorktown and the battle that won the war: A German foot soldier who fought for American independence tells all about it in a newly discovered memoir
December 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 8
“EwrĠe Pöbels in the Nord america bin the werĠe fein Leyds,” wrote Georg Daniel Flohr, composing in very broken English a preface to his memoir of his time as a soldier in the American Revolution. “All the people of North America are fine people.” Sometime in the summer of 1788, in Strasbourg, France, Georg Flohr put down his pen, having completed about 250 pages of script in his native German (except for the English prologue) and some thirty extraordinary illustrations. He titled his volume Account of the Travels in America Which Were Made by the Honorable Regiment of Zweibrücken on Water and on Land from the Year 1780 to 1784 .
It lay forgotten in a city library for nearly a century before being rediscovered as the only known account of events in America by an enlisted man in the great army of the Comte de Rochambeau and certainly one of the most vivid accounts of the war by anyone. Flohr viewed life in the Colonies through the eyes of a common soldier, and he remarked on racial diversity, the scene in Boston and Newport, the rural countryside, slaveowning, Iroquois he encountered, American women, and his eyewitness view of the storming of Redoubt 9 at Yorktown, the culminating military moment of the war.
Flohr was born in 1756, the son of a butcher and small farmer in a tiny German village named Sarnstall, near the French border. Nothing is known about his childhood; he was nineteen when he joined the Royal-Deux-Ponts, a German regiment in the service of France formed near his home (Deux-Ponts was French for the German city and principality of Zweibrücken). The regiment’s records describe him as five foot eight, with black hair and black eyes. Unlike most diary-keeping soldiers, Flohr did not interest himself in everyday life in camp; rather he focused on his unique experiences, beginning with the transatlantic crossing in the summer of 1780, a harrowing experience for a landsman.
The journey, he wrote, made plain the “omnipotence of God.” Life on board ship was marked by frequent deaths, boredom, strong language, “godless life,” and spates of feverish prayer during the frequent storms. Flying fish and the sighting of whales, as well as a naval engagement with the British during the trip, brought Flohr only temporary diversion from the onset of scurvy and his pain at watching “how daily our brothers were thrown into the depths of the ocean. Yet nobody was surprised since the food was bad enough to destroy us all.” By the time the regiment reached Newport, Rhode Island, after seventy-two days at sea, “two to three hundred men were sick on every ship, and half of them could not walk anymore.”
How did Flohr feel after this torturous trip about the cause he would fight and possibly die for? He never says, and he probably never gave it much thought. He knew enough to describe Boston as “where the rebellion first started” and an Englishman as “a Tory, meaning a good Englishman, who ran away when the rebellion started,” but he portrayed the role of French troops as simply to protect Americans against the English inclination to “wreak havoc on the country.” War was an accepted part of life in the eighteenth century, a profession, and a soldier like Flohr would expect to go wherever the winds of war might take him.
Once encamped in Newport, Flohr started to look around the countryside. He was impressed by the friendliness of the people, a sentiment not echoed by officers like Count William von Forbach, a brother of the regimental commander, who felt that he had “not met with that reception on landing, which we expected and which we ought to have had.” Flohr discovered that the rank and file “were especially liked by the girls, since we were Germans, and they hold the German nation in very great esteem.” The freedoms enjoyed by young Americans, particularly their custom of bundling, surprised him: “Once they are sixteen years old, their father and mother must not forbid them anything anymore, cannot give them any orders on anything anymore, and if they have a lover he can freely go with them.” Furthermore, no one “may hit them under pain of great punishment.”
He found the citizenry handsome: “You also do not see any difference in their clothing between Sunday clothes and workday clothes. [The women] are always dressed like noblewomen, and even for only half an hour’s journey they always ride on horseback or in a carriage. The women ride as well as the men. They also are the prettiest among all foreign nations, but they are not haughty and talk to anyone, rich or poor.”
Once the regiment had left Newport, wherever it made camp “such a great number of inhabitants gathered around that you had to wonder where they all came from, since we had encountered only a very few houses during our day’s march. As soon as we came to a new camp it was always surrounded by Americans. However, you saw very few men among them; they were only women. If you saw a man he was invariably old or crippled, for all men between fourteen and sixty had to join the colors. … There was no lack of women, however, and they came into our camp on numerous occasions seeking to buy a soldier free, which was invariably and harshly denied them, and they had to go home empty-handed.”
Flohr’s officers tended to prefer Virginia, with its aristocratic pleasures, to New England, but he felt the opposite, and the treatment of slaves in Virginia “ashamed” him: “You can see at all times the black people or moors running around naked as God has created them. All in all, Virginia has the richest gentlemen you can find in the country. They have up to a hundred and fifty or more slaves, or moors. These moors stand under the command of white overseers to do the work of their masters. You can see them working, men and women, young and old, without any clothes on, which seems very strange to someone who has never seen this. … I was very surprised when I saw this for the first time and felt very ashamed for them, since I saw that other white people were around too, men and women, who were quite used to it. … Many times I asked why they could not clothe these moors, since it was altogether too disgraceful to let them run around naked. They answered that it would cost too much …
“I also saw, which surprised me very much, how they are kept like cattle and their young are raised in a state of nature just like young cattle. The more young ones they have, the better the masters like it. They are kept in a state of nature in various ways that I do not want to explain here in detail, since it is completely against human nature.”
Higher-born foreign observers tended to be more accepting of American slavery. The assistant quartermaster of the French forces wrote that “severity, which seems inhuman to a European, is necessary” and that American slaves are still “more fortunate than most of our peasants, who despite their labors often lack for bread.” Flohr offered no such mitigation.
He also took a relatively unprejudiced view of American Indians. When a delegation of Iroquois visited Rochambeau’s camp in Newport, the officers described the natives’ “bizarre manners,” “gibberish,” and “distasteful dancing, disgusting to all the spectators.” Flohr called the Indians “savages”—common usage in the eighteenth century —but he evinced genuine interest in their culture, enough to, unlike his officers, visit the Iroquois in their camp several times with a translator.
He explains: “On August 20, twenty savages, or rather their chiefs, arrived from Albany; among them was even a king. The savages had been sent by four of their guilds [nations] from Albany to inquire about our arrival and offer us their alliance. With the help of interpreters … our general ordered them to be brought before him. … Except for carpet plaited from tree bark, which they had hung around their bodies, these savages were completely naked. On their feet they wore stag or deerskin instead of shoes. When they talked to one another their language sounded like geese cackling. Every soldier could see them daily in and outside the city, and every day they were led to the parade at noon to watch it march by. They were entertained with all available amusements, such as music and comedies, and it was amazing to watch them there. I was surprised by their behavior several times, especially when I saw them dance to their wild music according to their own ways. … One of them had a very small drum, poorly made from wood, on which he beat a peculiar beat with a stick. The others danced in a wondrous way, always in one place and all naked, except that on their legs they had deerskin up to their knees. Above the knees their thighs were bare, just like their upper bodies; their private parts were girdled with interlaced tree bark. Their whole bodies were painted in various colors. They had dyed their hair all red and adorned it with all kinds of feathers. After they had danced for about an hour, some of them repainted themselves in other colors and put all kinds of rings in their noses and ears. … They never use chairs but always sit on the ground. …
“On several occasions I had conversations with the German translator, [who] told us all about how he had gotten here. He told us that he was a Palatine, and that his father had emigrated to America and taken him with him when he was still a little boy, and that after his father’s death he had ended up living with the savages for twenty-three years, and he wanted to stay with them.”
“Every Friday these savages move to a different place. They have their divine services and sacrifices, and they say that God was a good man but they must make sacrifices to the devil so that he may remain well disposed toward them. Every year they have a sacrificial feast. They collect a large pile of wood and gather there with their priest. Then they light the fire and dance around it with heartrending screams. At some point their priest will hit one of them with a battle-ax on the head. As soon as the others see this they come and help throw the victim into the fire. This is their sacrifice.”
“At their departure [from Newport] they were accompanied by Americans into their lands. The following spring they Visited’ the English and ravaged the country so badly that it was impossible to live in the border area. …”
“When they caught an American officer, they tied him to a tree and stripped him completely naked and stabbed his body full of holes with sharp sticks or knives. When they saw that he was about to breathe his last, they took straw or similar material and wrapped it around him and burned him alive.”
In Philadelphia in the summer of 1781, the troops learned that they were to march to Virginia, to what Flohr called “a small village named Little Yorck,” where “General Kornwallis of the English had dug in with twelve thousand men, ravaging the country very badly.” Private Flohr was heading straight for the climax of the American Revolution.
Lord Cornwallis had built a base at Yorktown for attacks on Virginia, and Washington and Rochambeau were placing it under siege. The siege began as soon as the French forces—including Flohr—reached the city. The soldiers set to work preparing fortifications “contentedly and with good courage.”
They began digging trenches on September 3 as cannonades thundered forth between the French and the English. Flohr felt sorry for his enemies: “We could see from our redoubts the people flying into the air with outstretched arms. … There was a misery and a lamenting that was horrible. … The houses stood there like lanterns shot through with cannonballs.” But from a distance, he had to admit, it “was the greatest fun to see and hear.”
The culmination of the siege was the storming of two fortifications known as Redoubts 9 and 10, on the night of October 14, 1781. Cornwallis and his troops were cornered without any avenue of escape and had already been forced back from their outer line of defenses. In a climactic thrust companies of the Gâtinais and the Royal-Deux-Ponts stormed forward on the allied left against Redoubt 9, while Americans under Alexander Hamilton moved in on the right. In an uncommonly vivid account of Revolutionary-era hand-to-hand combat, Flohr describes what followed:
“They started firing at us from all around until it was as bright as daylight. We however did not worry and kept on marching as if nothing was happening. Once we got closer to the redoubt, and they could reach us with their muskets, they fired so heavily at us from out of the redoubt that we fell just like snowflakes. One could think it was raining bullets, as we were completely surrounded by the enemy and were almost annihilated. One screamed for help here, another there—but to no effect, since we had to run at a double-quick pace until we finally reached the redoubt and got into a ditch where we were without protection from fire from within the redoubt.
“The carpenters cut down the palisades with the utmost speed. As soon as there was an opening, the attack had to be made up into the redoubt, from which many a man would never return.”
“As soon as by sheer luck some of us got up there, the English ran away. Once we realized this was happening, we cut off their retreat so they could escape no farther. The enemy troops stood on top of the redoubt and lowered their bayonets against those who wanted to climb up. Many of them had axes to defend themselves with, and they split the heads of many of us with them as we ascended.”
“The Baron de Viomenil performed bravely, girdled with a leather belt over his uniform in which two pistols were stuck and holding a saber in his hand. He announced that if any soldier or noncommissioned officer reached the top of the redoubt ahead of him and gave him a hand up, he would remember him and reward him. Count William [von Forbach] said the same.”
“Under these conditions we conquered the redoubt by storm, and Count William was wounded, but not dangerously. Anyone can imagine what happened once we were inside the redoubt. People of four nations were thrown together: Frenchmen, Englishmen, Scots, and Germans. The Hessians and Hanoverians [fighting on the English side] surrendered the moment they saw that everything was lost, but the noise was so great that our general could not become master of the situation. The soldiers everywhere were so furious that our people were killing one another. The French were striking down everyone in a blue coat. Since the Deux-Ponts wore blue, many of us were stabbed to death. Some of the Hessian and Anspach troops wore uniforms almost identical to ours, and the English wore red that in the dark of the night seemed blue as well, so things went very unmercifully that night.”
“On our side every soldier was determined to win booty, and many did. … Our general gave orders that the first soldier who harmed a prisoner would pay for it with his life. Things started to quiet down. You heard nothing but lamenting and commiseration. Here one screamed; there one cried that for God’s sake we should kill him off completely. The whole redoubt was so full of dead and wounded that you couldn’t walk without stepping on them.”
The whole battle took less than ten minutes, during which the French alone lost approximately five officers and eighty men dead or wounded—more than a third of their casualties for the entire siege. Three days later, on the morning of October 18, the articles of capitulation of the English army in Yorktown were signed. The defeated army marched out that afternoon, and the Royal-Deux-Ponts held the place of honor among the French troops present. Afterward the troops were freed to inspect the damage they had inflicted. Flohr was horrified: “Everywhere dead bodies lay around unburied, the majority of them blacks.”
On July 3, 1782, the Royal-Deux-Ponts broke camp in Virginia and began their march back to New England. That November they reached Providence. There, Flohr wrote, “we received a nice farewell letter from the governing men of America, in which they and the country thanked us very politely for the help we had rendered in the country’s cause. But when we remained there a while longer the Americans were never quite at ease with us, but kept on thinking that we might want to keep this area for ourselves since we just did not seem to want to leave.” On December 23, 1782, they set sail, and the American portion of Flohr’s journal ended.
Flohr was discharged by the Royal-Deux-Ponts in 1784 and settled in Strasbourg. Nothing is known of his later life. His manuscript eventually passed to a half brother who used empty pages at the back to record the births of his five children. Sometime after 1870 it entered the city library of Strasbourg (which was under German rule at the time). Its existence became known in the mid-1970, when excerpts were published in a local paper by a Zweibrücken resident. Still, it attracted no attention.
I learned about it when I doing research on the Royal-Deux-Ponts in 1987 and first had a chance to read the manuscript, at the Strasbourg library, three years later. Soon anyone who wants to should have the same opportunity, for arrangements are being made for a scholarly press (we’re not yet certain which one) to publish Flohr’s unique book in its entirety, after two centuries of eclipse.
Robert A. Selig is a visiting assistant professor of history at Hope College, in Holland, Michigan. He would like to thank the city of Strasbourg for its permission to publish text and images from the Flohr diary.
Note: Professor Selig’s homepage is at http://www.xenophongroup.com/vita/selig/
Doctor Selig received his Ph.D. in history cum laude from Universität Würzburg, 1988 He has most recently been Visiting Professor of History and German at Hope College in Michigan.
Recipient of many awards and grants, his articles have appeared in American Heritage, Colonial Williamsburg, Military History Quarterly, William and Mary Quarterly, and others. Other fine articles by him include Franz Ludwig Michel , the story of an early visitor to America, The Revolution’s Black Soldiers, Admiral de Grasse and Yorktown, Lauzun’s Legion. and Deux-Ponts Germans.
Sitting in his room somewhere in the city of Strasbourg in the summer of 1788, Georg Daniel Flohr finally put down his quill. In front of him lay a stack of manuscript pages. Filled with gothic script in the author’s native German and adorned with brightly colored illustrations, they contained his Account of the travels in America which were made by the Honorable Regiment of Zweibrucken on water and on land from the year 1780 to 1784. Exactly one year had passed since he had completed the elaborate title page on June 5, 1787, and the “Specification in English,” tucked in almost as an afterthought between the preface of the work and the title. Still single and rapidly approaching his 32nd birthday, Flohr must have spent some time of reflection on the turn of events 12 years earlier, on June 7, 1776.
On that date Flohr made a decision that would change his life forever: He enlisted for an eight-year term in the Deutsches Koniglich-Franzosisches Infanterie-Regiment von Zweybrucken, or Royal-Deux-Ponts. Royal-Deux-Ponts, one of 22 foreign regiments in the French army, was a young regiment. Established in April of 1756 by Duke Christian IV of Zweibrucken, it was only a few weeks older than its latest recruit, who had been born on August 27, 1756, in Sarnstall, a tiny village of some 20 families near Annweiler in the Duchy of Zweibrucken. Nothing is known of Flohr’s trade or education, or why he joined the regiment. Was it the enlistment bonus that tempted the young man, who had been orphaned at age five by the death of his father, a butcher and small farmer, and who had been raised by the widowed mother? Was it the prospect of free instruction in reading and writing, dancing and fencing, promised by recruiters? Or was it simply the desire to see the world, to follow the example of David Wittmer, who had enrolled on April 29, 1776, and that of other acquaintances from Sarnstall and Annweiler who were serving with Royal-Deux-Ponts?
In this same summer of 1776, events across the Atlantic Ocean would make certain that Flohr was to get his wish. On July 4, 1776, the British colonies in North America declared their independence from the mother country. As war broke out, volunteers and adventurers, some more sincere than others, from all over Europe offered their help, among them the Marquis de Lafayette. His connections to the court of Versailles were instrumental in bringing about the Franco-American Treaty of Friendship of 1778 and the promise of military aid.
In the fall of 1779, France decided to send an expeditionary force under the command of General Rochambeau to aid the hard-pressed Americans. One of the regiments chosen to cross the Atlantic was the Royal-Deux-Ponts. In April of 1780, the French troops embarked from Brest for Newport, where they arrived in July. Sixty-nine officers, 1,013 noncommissioned officers and men, six soldier’s wives, and three children from Royal-Deux-Ponts were among the roughly 6,000 French troops who made the dangerous journey.
Flohr was aware of the enormous educational possibilities provided by his grand tour, courtesy of the king of France. Almost immediately he began to keep notes of events, “daily and most meticulously,” to gather information on what he heard, and to draw sketches of what he saw. During his three years in the New World he collected enough material to fill 251 pages of text and 30 pages of illustrations in a journal describing his travels in America.
His account is largely descriptive in nature. Flohr apparently cared little about politics or the military trade and, with the exception of the siege of Yorktown, his journal is largely devoid of scenes of the military life. Rather he was interested in “the towns, villages, hamlets and plantations” and in the inhabitants “of North – as well as in West – America,” their customs, and modes of life. His journal presents a fascinating picture of life in Revolutionary America as it appeared to a young European peasant, an image of colonial America from the bottom up. His observations on Virginia, where the French forces spent almost 10 months from September 1781 to July 1782, and where the decisive battle of the war was fought, add a new perspective to the accounts provided by officers.
After a rather uneventful year in New England, highlighted only by the visit of Iroquois Indians to Rochambeau’s camp in August 1780, the troops were told in early September 1781 that they were to march to Virginia and “a small town by the name of Little York,” where “the General Kornwallis of the English had dug in with 12,000 men, ravaging the country very badly.” On September 28 the siege began; on October 9 French and American artillery opened fire on the defenders. “We could see from our redoubt the people flying into the air with outstretched arms,” Flohr wrote. “There was a misery and lamenting that was horrible…The houses stood there like lanterns shot through by cannon balls.”
On October 14 grenadiers and chasseurs of Gatinais and Royal-Deux-Ponts with Flohr among them stormed Redoubt #9, heralding the last stage of the siege. Again, he wrote, “things went very unmercifully that night…One screamed here, the other there, that for the grace of God we should kill him off completely. The whole redoubt was so full of dead and wounded that one had to walk on top of them.” Five days later Cornwallis surrendered, and the troops inspected the damage they had done. “The whole ground was so turned up and full of holes…that one could barely walk. Wherever you looked corpses were lying about that had not yet been buried, the majority of which were blacks. The camp of the [English] army in and about the city resembled a veritable scene of destruction.”
After the prisoners had been sent off and defensive works razed, the French moved into winter quarters around Williamsburg and Jamestown on November 16, 1781. “Here we remained throughout the winter, and we felt quite at home there.” Three companies of Royal-Deux-Ponts under Lieutenant-Colonel Ludwig Eberhard von Esebeck were sent to Jamestown Island, “a desert island,” where the buildings had been “almost entirely destroyed by the English who left barely the four walls,” as Esebeck reported to his brother in Zweibrucken. But once the French had established themselves, Esebeck was “enchanted with it. The place is beautiful,” despite the destruction all around.
Flohr, too, thought that the companies around Jamestown were well taken care of, “since it is a very pleasant area.” But Jamestown itself, “a little village and one of the oldest settlements in America,” was in ruins. “It used to be a nice trading town, but it is now completely ruined. But there are signs, still visible, that it once was a sizeable city, about six miles from Williamsburg.”
Flohr and his company received quarters in Williamsburg, “a pretty little town,…where the English ViceRoy had his seat or residence while it was still English.” The arrival of hundreds of foreign officers, and their cash, transformed this town of some 1,500 inhabitants into a center of social life. “Were it not for the French officers it would be a dead calm,” Peter Colt reported to his family in Wethersfield, Connecticut, in March 1782. But the staid Yankee added quickly that “when we depart the inhabitants may starve.” According to Colt, Virginians were foolishly, if not immorally, spending much needed funds in a “universal Spirit of gambling, Hors-racing and other expensive Diversions.”
Unlike the morally upright Colt, the noble officer corps enjoyed the lifestyle of the tidewater gentry. Baron Closen, a captain in Royal-Deux-Ponts, thought that the fair sex of Virginia was not only the prettiest in all of America, but that they danced the minuets “infinitely better than those up North.” If he thought the cockfights “a little too cruel,” he and his fellow officers from Rochambeau on down thoroughly enjoyed the fox hunts. If there was any complaint, it was that the hunts were over too soon: “the species of foxes is not as strong as that in Europe.”
While officers chased foxes, Flohr found out how Virginians hunted beavers: they flooded their ponds at night when the beavers were home and then drained them. “As soon as the water recedes again, they come out…and then they can be shot.”
“Virginia,” according to Flohr, “is one of the largest provinces among the thirteen colonies in all of North America, but still has very few inhabitants, which is why the German Europeans are very welcome there.” It was not just the emptiness of the country which lay behind this attitude – the large number of black slaves was also partly responsible.
“In Virginia there are the richest Gendelmanner of the whole country, who own up to 150 and more slaves, or rather Mohren.. These moors are supervised by white overseers to do the work of their masters. One can see them at work, men and women, young and old, without clothes on…On the cotton fields one could see up to 100 and sometimes even more moors harvesting cotton for their masters.”
Flohr felt ashamed for the blacks, but white Virginians, even “the white women,” did not seem to notice the nakedness of the slaves. When asked about it, “they answered me that if we had to clothe all these blacks it would cost us too much, and the clothes would be torn again in three to four weeks, and that they (the slaves) were not worth that expense.” Flohr was greatly upset by the treatment of the blacks, who “were kept just like cattle, and the children of the blacks are raised in a state of nature just like the young cattle. The more young ones they make, the better for the master who owns them.” Flohr did not want to go into any more detail, since he thought the system “completely against human nature.”
Officers may have questioned some of the manifestations of slavery but never the system as such. The Comte de Clermont-Crevecoeur thought that “Virginians are quite cruel to their slaves,” who, in the words of Baron Closen, were “not considered to be much better than animals.” But Closen also thought them “thievish as magpies,” and Clermont-Crevecoeur considered them “naturally lazy.” “Such severity, which seems inhuman to a European, is necessary,” at least in the opinion of Louis Alexandre de Berthier. After all, he continued, “the slaves are sure of being cared for and fed to the end of their lives.”
But Flohr did more than watch the slaves. While the officers toured the country estates of Virginia, Washington’s Mount Vernon or Jefferson’s Monticello, the soldiers were restricted in their movements. Flohr used the time on his hands to look around his winter quarters:
“The city of Williamsburg lies on a plain in a beautiful country and is also rather large. It is also adorned with a few beautiful buildings, which are the College with two wonderful adjacent buildings. There is also the Capitol which is parallel to the college on the other end of the city. In addition there is also the building of the Vice-Roy who resided there when it was still British. There is also the Doll House, also a beautiful large building, and there is also a beautiful church-tower.”
In the Capitol Flohr also saw the statue of Governor Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt, which is today in the Swem Library of the College of William and Mary. “There in the Capitol can also be seen in life-size the old Vice-Roy, cut out of marble in a very remarkable way. The marble is as white as snow. On the bottom of the statue his name can be seen, written in golden letters on black marble in English and in Latin. He is also buried in this very same building.”
Throughout the journal, Flohr enhanced his verbal accounts with drawings of the towns he visited and the countryside he marched through. These drawings are folk art impressions of colonial America by a talented but untrained artist. They were not meant to provide accurate depictions of every detail. With the exception of such buildings Flohr thought noteworthy or that stood out in his memory, the landscape and buildings are highly stylized. All buildings, but especially the little houses he drew to fill up space in between the structures he wanted to emphasize, resemble model houses similar to modern ones we would use today for toy-train landscapes.
Examples of German wooden toy houses, most dating from the 19th century, bear remarkable resemblance to those seen in Flohr’s drawings. Such toys were likely made in Germany as early as the late 18th century. Maybe Flohr played with similar toys as a child and still remembered them as an adult when he painted the pictures for his manuscript in the 1780s.
One of the most interesting and detailed drawings of the journal is the picture of Williamsburg as it would have appeared to Flohr in late 1781. Any visitor to Williamsburg will immediately recognize the historic landmarks depicted: the College of William and Mary with the President’s House on the left, the Wren Building in the center, and the Brafferton, used to educate Indian children, on the right. The other buildings mentioned are the Capitol and Bruton Parish Church. The Doll House is undoubtedly the Insane Asylum (toll meaning insane, mad, raving in German). But the most interesting feature of the drawing is the low arched building to the left of the asylum. It is identified by Flohr as Die Halle, the Market Place.
Flohr found the college “pretty and remarkable” though it had been “established by the King of England (as) a place to study” much earlier than “in 1756.” But “because of the war it had been completely neglected, and the French used it for a hospital.”
Until the transformation of the college into a hospital, the wounded had been lying “on straw in a poorly closed barn” in Yorktown. Here “they die of cold,” according to the Chevalier de Chastellux, a major general in Rochambeau’s army. On October 21, 1781, he requested transportation to Williamsburg for some 25 wounded with “terrible fractures caused by the explosions of bombs and cannon shots.”
Yet the wounded would not stay there for long. On November 23 the President’s House burned down, “set on fire by the French, who had to pay for it.” A few weeks later, on December 22, the Governor’s Palace, already badly damaged during the war and used as a hospital by the Americans, also burned down. According to Flohr, some of the sick and wounded perished in a fire caused by American negligence. In the course of the winter many soldiers, including 18 of Royal-Deux-Ponts, died in Williamsburg. Today their names are inscribed on a plaque on the back of the Wren Building.
On July 2, 1782, the French forces departed from Virginia and arrived in Boston in early December. On Christmas Day they set sail for the Caribbean and would not return to France until June 1783. Discharged in August 1784, Flohr moved to Strasbourg, where he compiled his journal between June 1787 and June 1788. In the spring of 1789 he departed Strasbourg for Paris to study medicine under an uncle. The manuscript was left with a half-brother in Sarnstall. From one of his descendants it found its way into the collections of the Bibliotheque Municipale in Strasbourg sometime after September 1870, where it lay forgotten for more than 100 years until rediscovered in the 1970s.
AND GEORG DANIEL FLOHR?Shortly after his arrival in Paris, the Great Revolution broke out. By the summer of 1792 the Jacobins had come to power, and in January 1793 Louis XVI was executed. Flohr, who witnessed the event, decided to give up medicine, quit France, and return to that “most beautiful country,…so pleasant that any body could have liked to stay there,…where all people are rich and well,” and where “the German nation” was held “in very great esteem.”
By the mid-1790s we find him in Madison County, Virginia, studying theology with the Reverend William Carpenter. Licensed as a Lutheran minister in 1799, ordained in Baltimore in 1803, Flohr took up residence in Wythe County, Virginia.
For the next 27 years he served half a dozen congregations as far away as Lewisburg in then Greenbrier County, West Virginia. When he died in 1826, his parishioners carried the coffin on their shoulders the mile and a half from the parsonage to the cemetery. Stonemason Lawrence Krone carved a unique coffin-shaped marker with a footstone and headstone, still visible in St. John’s cemetery in Wytheville. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church still owns some of his hymnals, and in 1984 his house was moved onto church grounds to save it from destruction.