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A Revolutionary Revelation

It’s Nov. 16, 1776: Do you know where your ancestors are? Two Swarthmore staffers do, and, inexplicably, they were together. After a conversation about genealogy, Michael Patterson, media services manager and Eric Behrens ’92, associate chief information technology officer, realized that their great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers fought in the same Revolutionary War battle. 

Upon learning about Behrens’ Hessian ancestor, Patterson—an buff who can trace his lineage to King Edward I—asked to see the 3-inch-thick book compiled by Behrens’ relatives that traces the bloodlines of that soldier. Patterson would discover that a Hessian regiment, which included Johannes Nicholas Bahner, Behrens’ ancestor, captured a garrison of Continental soldiers during the Nov. 16 Battle of Fort Washington in northern Manhattan. George McCreary, Patterson’s ancestor, was in that captured group. 

“There were only about 9,000 people involved [in the battle] and these two were there. That just blew my mind,” says Patterson. McCreary was imprisoned for two months on a British ship before being paroled and returning home to York, Pa. Of the 2,800 troops captured in that battle, he was one of only 800 to survive the wretched conditions. 

Meanwhile, Bahner’s regiment crossed into New Jersey, fatefully garrisoning at Trenton just before the bellwether Battle of Trenton in the wee hours of Dec. 26, 1776. 

After the Hessian defeat, Bahner was captured and marched to Lancaster, Pa., likely as an indentured laborer, before returning to battle after a prisoner swap 18 months later. In April 1779, Bahner deserted his post near Savannah, Ga. He does not officially resurface until 1782 when he paid taxes on a cow in Lebanon County, Pa. He would eventually settle on 700-plus acres of farmland in nearby Northumberland County where many descendants remain. 

“Even though we work together every day,” says Behrens, smiling, “I swear Mike has never made any derogatory remarks about ‘mercenaries’ who fought on the wrong side of The Revolution.” 


+ Where were your ancestors during the Revolution? Leave us a comment below!