Kutztown University is the new home of an American Revolution military archive collection that the school made public online, drawing heavy interest from historians and those researching their family roots.
One hundred reels of microfilm containing thousands of pages of original documents from the United States, Great Britain and Germany were digitized by KU after being provided by the nonprofit Johannes Schwalm Historical Association, which retains the hard copies.
The all-volunteer Schwalm group is dedicated to researching the German auxiliary troops often referred to as Hessians who remained in America after the Revolutionary War.
Some had been taken prisoner and a number were held at POW camps in Reading and Lancaster. Others had deserted or simply remained when the conflict ended.
Many of those former troops became loyal citizens, made cultural contributions and were the ancestors of thousands of Americans living today, said Dr. Michael Gabriel, KU history department chair and Schwalm association board member and editorial committee member.
A number of those former German auxiliaries settled in the Pennsylvania Dutch area of Pennsylvania, Gabriel said.
The nonprofit is named after Schwalm, who was among the Hessians captured at the battle of Trenton and who settled in Schuylkill County.
The records were digitized by the university’s library over the last several years, and in August the collection was launched on a website managed by KU.
Researchers from across the world can access those digital archives through KU’s Rohrbach Library at research.library.kutztown.edu/schwalm/.
“It’s easily accessible, and it’s pretty fascinating. You can find out all sorts of things about these men who came to fight here and then stayed,” Gabriel said of the records that include family histories, government documents and even diaries.
“They (the archives) shed light on a lot of history that happened all around us,” he said.
That KU website also contains the school’s institutional repository, which includes research by Kutztown faculty and students.
“I think this is really terrific,” said Susan Czerny, KU librarian and university archivist. “It’s the records of people who after the war stayed here and helped build our country.”
Czerny spent more than 100 hours digitizing the records so they could be put online, and Gabriel praised her for her efforts.
“It’s very interesting,” Czerny said of the collection, especially how meticulously the naval and other records were kept almost 250 years ago.
“Some of the calligraphy are works of art,” she said.
So far there have been 7,423 downloads of the files from 82 countries, Czerny said.
The countries where the downloads occurred most often were the U.S., United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and Singapore, she said.
The Schwalm association over the years had purchased copies of thousands of original documents relating to the service of German auxiliaries during the American Revolutionary War. These copies came from archives in the United States, Germany and Britain and are in English, German, and French.
Most of the collection was on about 100 reels of microfilm, but some more recent purchases were digital images. Whether on microfilm or electronic, the group placed them on permanent loan at the David Library of the American Revolution, where they were available to students and scholars of the Revolutionary War.
That library closed in 2019, and the association selected KU to be the new home of its military collection.
The collection should draw even more interest in 2026, Gabriel said, since that is the 250th anniversary — or semiquincentennial — of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the beginning of the United States.
Source: Berkshire mont