Ever since playing Assassin’s Creed 3, I have a mild obsession with the Hessians. I think it’s about time we talk about this and take a look into the interesting history of these German mercenaries and the many strikingly correct and incorrect ways they are depicted in the game.
Anyone who played Assassin’s Creed 3 is familiar with the Hessians, or Jägers as they are referred to in the game. Jägers appear whenever Connor obtains the highest wanted level and are fast and strong combat units that require a cautious approach. The fort commander that needs to be killed for Connor to conquer a fort is also of the Hessian regiment. Direct blows, counter attacks or throws are useless against these warriors and you typically want to disarm them, use as human shield or use the environment or (smoke)bombs on them.
These strong attributes are likely a nod to the actual reputation of the Hessians as extremely skilled, experienced and respected soldiers. Hessians, in case you’re getting confused, is the general term for the type of German troops that were hired by the British during the Revolutionary war. Jäger is a specialisation and is used to refer to Hessian sharpshooters with exceptional skills in scouting, reconnaissance and skirmish warfare in the woodlands. Jäger means hunter in German, which explains these particular skill sets. They can be compared to the US Army Ranger Regiment: during the Revolutionary War they often were sent ahead of the regular troops.
This also reveals a few inaccuracies in the game actually. Jägers in Assassin’s Creed typically appear in urban areas, since that’s the most likely place for Connor to stir up enough chaos to get a high wanted level. However historically the Jäger units of the Hessian regiment were utilised to battle the guerrilla type warfare that many colonial troops practised in the forests and wilderness. Many of the Jägers were actual huntsmen back home in Germany before becoming soldiers, and they were specialised in such type of warfare. Also, in most cases during the game you will struggle to defeat Jägers in melee combat but their actual specialisation, as described before, was marksmanship.
Hessians got their name from the currently German region of Hesse-Kassel. Back in the 18th century German counties were ruled by a prince and often had their own armed forces. It was common practise to hire these men out to other countries. Before fighting in America, Hessian troops had been active in Sweden, the Netherlands and England. Most of the Hessian soldiers weren’t volunteers but got press-ganged into service and were sent abroad by their prince without having a say in the matter. As a result of this, American patriots waged an active propaganda campaign highlighting the fact that the British were using foreign mercenaries against their own people. This fuelled a lot of anti-British sentiments and resulted in many loyalists switching sides. In addition the US congress offered the Hessians to join the large community of German colonists and would even exchange farmland to encourage them to defect.
Assassin’s Creed 3 briefly touches upon the subject in the form of character Jacob Zenger. When Connor meets Jacob and recruits him for the Assassins, the German reveals he previously was part of the Hessian regiment but left the service upon arriving overseas. This is a very accurate and likely thing to happen. A lot of the German hired arms were told they were shipped to America to protect the colonies from attacking natives. We have to remember that in the 18th century we didn’t have mass media and a lot of people in Europe didn’t even know there was a war going on in overseas colonies. Only upon arrival, the Hessians heard they’d actually be fighting against British colonists. Some of them would then end up deserting and either attempt to live a quiet life as civilian or join the rebel troops.
This also opens up an interesting parallel with the in-universe history of Assassin’s Creed. The lore of the game always talks about the difference in philosophy of the Templar Order and the titular Assassin’s Creed.
The structure of feudal land ruled by a prince, as was the case in most of Germany back then, is of course a typical Templar construction. The Knights Templar in the Ubisoft series are depicted as autocratic, shepherds of humanity. Hesse-Kassel was a state part of the Holy Roman Empire, another great example of a former power structure, probably led by the Knights Templar. Not to mention the existence of armies formed by impressment. This type of patronage and oppressive politics were parried by the more free minded Assassin ideology that let many of these Hessians live peacefully in America. The Assassin Brotherhood are the left, upper corner of the Nolan Chart. The previously discussed settlements like Davenport Homestead are an excellent example of small communities where the Assassin Brotherhood would allow people to live in peace and freedom, instead of the macro operated empires the Templars tried to establish to rule the masses.
Despite the examples of subverting their forces and the attempts to divide their ranks, the Hessians were the strongest card in the British deck. They fought in almost every battle in the American War for Independence and although many defected or deserted, a vast majority formed tough opposition and were considered one of the most deadly forces during the conflict. It’s no coincidence that writer Washington Irving chose the ghost of a Hessian to be the Headless Horseman in his famous fairy tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. A legend that actually makes an appearance in Assassin’s Creed 3 too.