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Hessian soldiers in the American Revolution



The Hessians

The Sinking of the Speedy



Donated by John Merz

copyrights 2005






A sad day for the young Province of Upper Canada.

Lake Ontario claims the lives of pioneers, among them the former Hesse-Kassel Lieutenant Stegmann.

The November 1804 issue of the "Upper Canada Gazette" contained an account which was repeated 100 years later in the Ontario Historical Society Papers and Records Vol. V (1904) which read:

"The Speedy, Captain Paxton, left this port (York, which today is known as Toronto) on Sunday Evening, the 7th of October last, with a moderate breeze from the N.W., for Presque Isle, and was seen off that Island on the Monday following before dark, where preparations were made for the reception of the passengers; but the wind coming around from the N.E. blew with such violence as to render it impossible for her to enter the harbour, and very shortly after she disappeared. A large fire was then kindled on shore, as a guide to the vessel during the night; but she has not since been seen or heard of, and it is with the most painful sensations we have to say we fear she is totally lost. It is reported by respectable authority that several articles, such as the compass box, a hencoop and mast, known to have belonged to this vessel, have been picked up on the opposite side of the lake.

The passengers on board the ill-fated Speedy, as near as we can recollect, were Mr. Judge Cochrane, Robert I.D.Gray, Esq., Solicitor-General and member of the House of Assembly; Angus McDonell, Esq., advocate, also a member of the House of Assembly; Mr. Jacob Herchmer, merchant; Mr. John Stegman, Surveyor; Mr.Geo. Cown, Indian Interpreter; James Ruggles, Esq., Mr. Anderson, student at law; Mr. John Fisk, high constable, all of York. The above named gentlemen were proceeding to the District of Newcastle, in order to hold the Circuit, and for the trial of an Indian (also on board) indicted for the murder of John Sharp, late of the Queen's Rangers. In addition there were two servants of the Judge and the Solicitor-General on board, as well as two children of parents whose indigent circumstances necessitated them to travel by land. The total number of souls on board the Speedy is computed to be about twenty."

The account reported by the Upper Canada Gazette on 3. November 1804, covered only the basic facts. The loss of so many prominent persons in high positions was a great setback to the young Province of Upper Canada. In addition it caused plans for the development of the Newcastle District to be altered radically. The newly constructed courthouse, where the trial of the accused Indian was to have been held as its first major event, and which had as a potential added attraction, a public hanging, was never utilized as a courthouse. Instead, a new courthouse was built in the town of Newcastle, closer to a safe harbour. 

The Globe and Mail reported in April of 1990 that divers had found the wreck of a ship at the bottom of Lake Ontario, which they believe to be the Speedy. The announcement of the discovery was held back to bring together agencies to protect the wreck, including the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Ontario Provincial Police, Transport Canada and the Ontario Heritage Foundation. The HMS Speedy Marine Heritage Foundation has been granted a licence to investigate the site, which is being kept secret for security. Nothing more has been heard since about the activities surrounding this discovery. The loss of the Speedy continues to remain a mystery.

What interests the reader of this book is the fact that a prominent Hessian settler, who was engaged in survey work all over the new Province of Upper Canada, lost his life in the line of duty. John Stegmann was to be an important witness in the trial of Ogetonicut, the Indian of the tribe of Chippawa Muskrats, who had murdered a white man, John Sharp, a former member of the Queen's Rangers no less. The brother of Ogetonicut, Whistling Duck, had been killed the year before by some unknown white men, and Ogetonicut, drunk like a skunk, had boasted that he had killed a white man to revenge his brother's blood crying from the ground. The members of his tribe paddled him to York to surrender him to the Governor.

Remarkable on the whole story is the way Justice has been handled in this, the youngest Province, still in the first stages of being established. In sharp contrast to the American way of Wild-West justice "catch-em and hang-em", with not much of an appeal process, British justice went by the book. First it had to be established in what jurisdiction the crime took place. The surveyor Stegmann, who had nothing else to do with the whole affair, had during the years 1802 and 1804 surveyed the Newcastle District and the Division line between the Home and Newcastle District. It was therefore his expertise to pinpoint the scene of the crime as belonging to the Newcastle District, thereby forcing the trial to be held in that District. Preparations were made for the trial to be held at the new courthouse, and the Governor ordered the Speedy to go on that, as it turned out, her last voyage. However, nothing went by plan, all men aboard were judged and sentenced by a higher power, although, rumours persisted, that the curse of Bitterskin, the mother of Ogetonicut and Whistling Duck, who hated all men, white or red, had something to do with the tragic disappearence of the Speedy.

The life, adventures and the tragic end of John Stegmann is worth remembering, a man who signed up with a Hessian Regiment to fight in the American Revolution. His story is one of thousands, full of adventure, danger, love for his new country and his family, hard work, and ending so unexpectedly. As a tribute to this pioneer and his many descendents here is what German military files, the documents of the National Archives of Canada, and a variety of other sources tell about him.

His German name was Johann Friedrich Stegmann, born around 1758 in the City of Kassel, Province of Hessen, loyal subject of his Landgraf Friedrich II of Hessen-Kassel. He was a real and true "Hessian". He came to America with the Hessian troops in 1776, serving as an Ensign with the Regiment von Lossberg in New York. The Hetrina II computerlisting (S#132) shows him as Free Corporal in June 1777, however, in a petition he made to the Upper Canada Landboard in 1788, he stated that he served His Majesty in America from 1776 to 1783, his rank in 1783 being that of a Lieutenant.

His Regiment belonged to a fighting force of over 12,000 Hessians who landed on Staten Island, New York, in August 1776, and they were immediatly engaged fighting against the American rebels led by their General Washington. In the battle of Trenton on Christmas 1776, his Regiment von Lossberg, together with the other Hesse-Kassel Regiments Rall and Knyphausen were ambushed by Washington's troops, and over 1,000 Hessian soldiers were taken prisoner. The rest of the men escaped in the dark of the night and avoided capture. Ensign Stegmann must have been one of them, because his name did not appear on any of the prisoner lists. The survivors of the defeated regiments were reorganized into a new combined Regiment von Loos, which later took part in the occupation of Philadelphia in 1777. After the evacuation of Philadelphia in June 1778 the Regiment of Loos returned to New York, and when through the exchange of prisoners and the arrival of new recruits from Kassel the overall manpower improved, the original Regiments were re-activated and resumed military duty in New York until September 1779, without much more excitement. Guard duty and training were the main military activities.

The new Governor of Canada, General Haldimand, fearing renewed attacks on the colony from the Americans, with insufficient manpower for the defense, asked for additional troops to be provided from New York, and September 8th, 1779, the Regiment v.Lossberg down at the harbour of New York was loaded on to three ships named Adamant, Badger, and King George. The Knyphausen Regiment boarded the ships Archer, Triton and Molly.

About the middle of September, the fleet set sail for Canada, but only a few days out at sea, a devastating powerful hurricane hit the fleet, scattering the ships in all directions. Most of them suffered great damage, the ship Adamant broke up and went down to the bottom of the sea. Captain Hanstein's Company of the Lossberg Regiment, over a hundred souls, were lost with the ship, no survivors found. The Badger and King George both heavily damaged made their way back to New York. The Knyphausen ships fared not much better, the Triton and the Molly in all the confusion of the storm were captured by American pirate ships, brought back to a rebel harbour and all the Knyphausen soldiers on board were taken prisoner for the rest of the war (S#8vol.4/2).

The only ship which made it through the hurricane, although damaged as well, was the Archer, she made it to Nova Scotia with one Company of Knyphausen soldiers, and sailed through the Canso Gap to the Prince Edward Island, were on account of the late season she took shelter until next spring. Some of the Hessian settler of P.E.I. who came back after the war, were members of this Company. (S#8vol.2/2 1982). 

Ensign Stegmann was on board of one of the ships which returned to New York. After repairs to the ships and waiting for a better season, finally in May of 1780 the Regiment boarded ships again, and this time reached the destination of Quebec City without further incidents. Stegmann must have breathed a sigh of relief after stepping on land, and one can well imagine those feelings of fear of the perils of sea travel. It sure was much more dangerous in those days.

For the Ensign Stegmann, who in the meantime received his promotion to Lieutenant, a new chapter in his life began. His Regiment was stationed at the Isle D'Orleans in the St. Lawrence river, just below Quebec City, and besides of regular guard duty saw very little war activity. When in August 1783, after the war had ended, the Regiment was shipped back home again, quite a few officers and soldiers asked for and received their honourable discharge in Canada. Some others, who would not get a discharge, just left their army unit and were reported as deserters, which later on did cause problems when they applied for land grants.. All these men remained behind to start a new life and better future, and to search for love and happiness. Many, and who can blame them, surely stayed behind for one good reason alone, the fear of another ocean voyage and the fear to suffer the same fate as so many of their good comrades had suffered. What must have gone through the mind of John Stegmann during the last hours of his life on board the Speedy. The memories of twentyfive years ago, the fury of a hurricane in the Atlantic ocean, and now on a sinking ship in Lake Ontario, only a short distance from land, and no help in sight.

The Lieutenant Johann Friedrich Stegmann, from his date of discharge on known as John Stegman, married in January of 1784 at L'Islet, just downstream from the Isle D'Orleans on the southshore of the mighty St. Lawrence. His bride was Marie-Ursule Choisy from the parish of L'Islet.

Already in 1783 the Governor of Canada gave him employment as a surveyor, and together with the surveyor Chewett he was ordered to survey the County of Dundas, west of the Ottawa River along the St. Lawrence. There was great urgency to proceed, because hundreds of dislocated Loyalists were ready to settle down and were waiting for the issue of their land grants. 

In the year 1786 John Stegman himself received his first land grant in the Township of Osnabruck, County of Stormont, and there he settled with his young family. In 1788 his grant was increased to 500 acres, and by 1792 he called a total of 900 acres his own.

The new Governor of Upper Canada, Lieutenant-Colonel John Graves Simcoe, not happy with Newark (Niagara) as the seat of Government for Upper Canada, in 1793 picked York (now Toronto) as the new center of command. His pet project was to build a road from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe, which, incidently, he had named after his father. The task of surveying was given to Surveyor General Augustus Jones. It was a very difficult undertaking, and progress was very slow. Before leaving Quebec for Upper Canada, Governor Simcoe requested Surveyor-General Holland to furnish him with the names of the deputy surveyors. Included on the list was the name of John Stegman, not employed since 1790. (S#11vol.21p59) It seems that John Stegman shortly thereafter was ordered to take surveyor duty in the York area, because his name comes up in many different historical books and other sources, and below are some of the quotations as they have been found:

S#5p422/23, note 195: In Vaughan two Germans are among the first four owners of land patents in 1797: W. Peters and Samuel Kiener; At that time the former Hessian officer, Stegmann or Steichmann, settled with his family in Vaughan near the Pine Grove. As a land surveyor in Canadian services after 1783, he played a leading role in the laying out of the townships on the St.Lawrence (Dundas) and at the Bay of Quinte, according to William Canniff.

S#6p107: "Evidently there were some Hessian soldiers who settled in York County. One of these, John Stegmann, was a land surveyor who eventually settled at Pine Grove near Woodbridge."

S#20p231: Staggmann, John. Lieut.Hessian Corps. (UEL Appendix B)
p323: Stickman, John. A wife and child.

S#11vol.24p132/33: The Petition of John Stegmann.

To His Excellency John Graves Simcoe, Esqr., Lieutenant Governor, etc.: The Memorial of John Stegmann late Lieutenant in the Regiment of Lossberg, commanded by Major Genl. de Loos - humbly sheweth - that your Memorialist begs to inform Your Excellency that he served during the whole war in the aforesaid Regiment till the Reduction took place in the month of August 1783. That his zeal for the Service and his attachment to the British Government induced him to become an Inhabitant of this New Settlement and Township of Osnabruck, where by the favour and indulgence of His Exc. Lord Dorchester he obtained five hundred acres of land. But he humbly begs that Your Exc. will be graciously pleased and put him upon the footing of a British officer in regard to the proportion of Additional lands granted to His Majesty's Troops in this Province, and that if Your Exc. should see proper to grant him this indulgence, Your Memorialist willever retain the most grateful sense thereof, and as in duty bound will forever Pray. Signed John Stegmann.

Osnabruck the 28th August 1792, County of Stormont.

Endorsed: - Referred by His Exc'cy the Governor in Council 17.Oct.1792, to the Surveyor General for Enquiry and Report.

S#11vol.37p92 (1945): Taken from the "Palatine Settlements in York County" by Mabel Burkholder: Stegman. One of the first land surveyors in the Province of Ontario was John Stegmann, who settled in Vaughan Township. He had been a lieutenant in one of the Hessian regiments, mercenaries hired by England during the Revolutionary War. He worked on cutting out Yonge Street. His descendents still live around Pine Grove.

(Note: In 1996 the City of Toronto celebrated "200 years of Yonge Street", names of pioneers closely connected to the construction of the longest Street in Canada, like William Berczy and John Stegmann were hardly mentioned during the festivities.)

S#11vol.5p54 (1904): The survey of Yonge St. was finished 16.Feb.1796, and the report handed to the Governor at York. Another surveyor whose name is associated with the early survey of the street and surrounding townships is John Stegman. He had been an officer in a Hessian regiment, fighting for the British during the American Revolution, and at its close, like a great many others, came over to Canada to seek his fortune. In 1801 he was directed to report on the condition of the road by the Surveyor General. A few extracts from his report may be interesting, as it proves, even at this early date, there were a few who did not hesitate to trifle with public funds. "Agreeable to your instructions", Mr. Stegmann writes June 10th, 1801: "I have the honor to report on Yonge Street as follows: That portion of the road from the town of York to the 3 mile post on the Poplar Plains is cut, and that as yet the greater part of the said distance is not passable for any carriage whatsoever, on account of the logs which lie on the street. On Lot No.33 West-side, Vaughan, clearing complied with, no house and nothing done to the street. No.93 King, four acres cut and nothing done to the street." This was the state in 1801.

Mr. Stegman closes by saying in his slightly broken English: "Sir, - I am sorry to be under the necessity to add at the conclusion of this report that the most ancient inhabitants of Yonge Street have been the most neglectful in clearing the street, and I have reason to believe that some (people) trifle with the requisition of Government in respect of clearing the street."

Mr. Stegman was a passenger on board the SPEEDY, which was lost in 1804, off the Newcastle shore, with all on board. Several of his grandchildren are living, one of whom is Mrs. O'Brien, of Richmond Hill.

S#103p22: Early settlers had to take an oath of allegiance in order to qualify for a grant of land, here is the oath of: I, John Stegmann, born in the City of Hesse-Cassall, late Captain in the Hessian Regiment of Sossberg, but now living in this Town of York, black eyes, dark brown hair - about five feet seven Inches high. Forty three years old, having taken the Oath of Allegiance & the other Oaths prescribed by Law, do subscribe the same, at York this 30th Day of June 1801. Sworn before me the day and year above written.

Will. Willcocks John Stegmann.

p115: Vaughan Post office, established in the Pine Grove area in 1837, was one of Vaughan Township's earliest post offices. George Stegmann was the first postmaster.

p148: The Pine Grove Chapel.... the land for the Chapel, and road leading to it, was donated by George Stegmann, a brother of John Stegmann, a well-known early surveyor who assisted in laying out Vaughan Township. (George was the son, not a brother)

S#103p249: Vaughan Agricultural Society held its first fair in 1847 on the property known as the Stegmann Estate in Pine Grove, on the corner of Gamble Street and Islington Ave.

In closing this chapter on the sinking of the Speedy and the Hessian pioneer Stegmann, who went down with her at the early age of 46 years, one has to say, he worked hard for his new adopted country and deserves to be remembered as a pioneer. He left behind a widow, Marie-Ursule, who died in January 1849 at the age of 83, and was buried at the St.Luke's Cemetery, Thornhill, Markham Township. They are both remembered by a great number of descendants, some of them learning of his life and history for the first time around Pine Grove.



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