During the American Revolution, Germany was divided into over 300 principalities. Many of these tiny countries supplied soldiers to the British army in its fight against America, but by far the largest group came from Hesse-Cassel. As a consequence, during the war and ever since, all of the Germans fighting with the British were lumped together and called Hessians.

The Hessians' services were bought and paid for by George III, who simply did not have enough soldiers in his own army to supply the needs of his commanders in America. German soldiers had served many European nations in a similar fashion for years, but they were not true mercenaries. Most of the Hessians received no compensation for their services beyond their daily bread. It was the Prince of Hesse-Cassel, Frederick II, who made off like a bandit in his dealings with George III. He sold the services of 12,000 Hessians to the English at [sterling]7 4s. a head.

In total, nearly 30,000 German soldiers fought for the British in North America. Once there, they discovered a thriving German-American community of almost 200,000 people. For many Hessians, the possibilities in this rich, new land with its growing German population was a great enticement to desertion—a fact that Americans worked hard to promote with promises of free land for Hessians willing to switch sides. An estimated 5,000 Germans stayed in this country, when their fellow countrymen returned home.