It seems strange to me that my mom knew so little about her lineage because there is so much on record that I was able to find. Her father, John Raymond Klees, was publisher of the Cameron County Independent, their local newspaper. He died when my mom was rather young, so perhaps there hadn’t been the opportunity to ask him about family history.
Fortunately, by the time I began research, a lot of the work had been done for me. There were some family efforts at research that were helpful, but I was surprised to find so much well-documented online research that I could add to my family tree--enough to help me achieve my original objective, the first US immigrant of the line. And, while I had always heard tales of a Hessian soldier in the family, I didn’t realize he would be the ancestor linking my American Klees line to Europe.
Okay, so with my discoveries, I knew that my great-grandfather was Henry Rhodes Klees and that led to my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Klees, who was the son of the Hessian soldier I’d heard about, the previously nameless Georg Klees. He was from Eckenheim, Germany and he was a Private with the Hessen-Hanau Infantry Regiment Erbprinz, Company 2, fighting for England in Lieutenant Colonel Prince Friedrich's Company. Georg’s unit, consisting of almost 700 men, left as part of a larger convoy on May 6 1776. He was just 24 years old at the time. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like for his parents when he was conscripted. And, although we refer to the Hessians as mercenaries, we should be clear about who got the money. Count William of Hesse-Hanau negotiated with Britain and in return for the agreed-upon sum, provided almost 2,500 soldiers. Conscription was more forcible than voluntary and the soldiers received little in the way of food, clothing, and pay. They led meager lives from the voyage to America, through their combat service, all the way to when the British surrendered at Saratoga and they effectively became prisoners of war. And in a final insult, Count William of Hesse-Hanau did not encourage a return to their homeland.
Georg’s regiment was captured at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Given the British losses at Saratoga, he was lucky to have survived. From Saratoga, NY this group of Hessian soldiers went to Massachusetts, near Boston, and then in November 1778 began a march to Charlottesville, VA where they built their own barracks in January 1779. They were then sent to the Reading, PA prisoner camp where he was eventually sold as a hired hand in November 1782. I’ve heard a rumor that his regiment also spent time in Alexandria, VA, where they cobbled streets, but I haven’t found any historic record. [5/11/13 UPDATE: At the Alexandria, VA government website I found a reference to the streets being cobbled, "In 1794 Council passed an act to pave the principal streets with cobbles," more than 10 years after Hessian prisoners would have passed through Alexandria.]
Pennsylvania in 1782 in some ways must have seemed idyllic after what the soldiers had been through. Georg married Elizabeth Rhodes in 1787 in Berks County, PA and then with another Hessian, in 1790 cut a path into the wilderness and pioneered Quaquake Valley, PA. He purchased land in Easton, PA in 1810 and eventually settled in Lycoming County, PA. His tenth child, Jacob, was my great-great-grandfather, and Jacob’s son was Henry Rhodes Klees, born in 1853 (photo below).
My mom was 11 when Henry died. She remembers the names, and that her grandfather Henry ran a store in Emporium, PA. One thing she recalls is that her grandparents were caring for her at the store one day and she ended up covered in chocolate ice cream. But she was never close to her grandparents and thus the opportunity for learning family history was lost.
Oh, and one thing that got reinforced during my research—if someone can’t be found in a census, it really is worthwhile to try searching on first name only, first name of a family member or even a page-by-page search when you know the locale. Let’s face it, Soundex was never going to give me Klbece as a match for Klees.