Thursday, August 2, 2012

Trumpeter John Philip Aulenbach, 17th Light Dragoons, and Dorothea Aulenbach

Those who follow this blog already know that most British regiments received a number of German (and other European) recruits; these men arrived in America in October 1776 as part of a large augmentation of each regiment. The augmentation of 180 private soldiers per regiment (only a portion of whom were Germans) was made so that regiments could maintain an effective operational strength in spite of wartime attrition. Besides the infantry regiments, the two cavalry regiments sent to America were also augmented. 

One German recruit who stands out is John Philip Aulenbach. He is the only one identified so far to serve in a cavalry regiment, and the only one to take up a musical instrument rather than a musket. Aulenbach was born in Gottingen, Hanover in 1755, the son of a lawyer. His parents died when he was very young, leaving him to be raised by his mother's two spinster sisters. He was educated, and at 14 years of age was confirmed in the Lutheran church. Soon after, he found work as a servant to a wealthy gentleman. During this time, he learned to play several musical instruments. 

Early 1776 brought profound changes to Aulenbach's life. On 28 March he married Dorothea Magdalena Herbst, daughter of a blacksmith. For reasons that he did not record, he then joined the German recruits being raised for the British army. In the middle of May, the young couple boarded a transport loaded with German recruits and sailed to England. There the 5' 11" Hanoverian's musical skills earned him an appointment as a trumpeter (equivalent to a drummer in the infantry) for the 17th Light Dragoons; he joined the augmentation of about 200 men for that regiment that had gone to America over a year before. 

Aulenbach and the other recruits joined their regiment in New York in late October. He dutifully served the regiment on many major campaigns - in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the Carolinas. Although he must have experienced many adventures, we have no details whatsoever of his wartime service except his own statement that he became Trumpet Major for the regiment. 

War's end brought the opportunity for men who joined the army after the onset of hostilities to be discharged if they'd served three years. Aulenbach accepted this offer; he and his wife were among the discharged soldiers who accepted land grants in Nova Scotia, disembarking in Port Roseway (now Shelburne) late in 1783. 

Early in 1784 a Lutheran congregation was established in Shelburne. Aulenbach, now all of 29 years old, was elected an elder and led the singing. He worked to secure space in town and money to build a church, but the new congregation did not coalesce. The pastor left after a few months, and Aulenbach took over conducting the services in a rented house. Some of the elders moved away. The treasurer absconded with funds. To make matters worse, jobs were scarce. 

In 1785 Aulenbach was advised that the town of Lunenburg needed a teacher for their parochial school. He arrived in the new town on 15 August, began his work, and quickly established himself in the Lutheran congregation there. He led the singing and conducted services when the pastor was ill. He taught Catechism and presided over funerals in town and the neighboring countryside. He and Dorothea lived alone in the school house. 

16 years and one day after arriving in Lunenburg, his faithful wife Dorothea who had followed him from Germany to America, died at the age of 52. 46 years old and childless, the teacher and sometime pastor quickly found a new connection. Just three months after his wife's death, John Philip Aulenbach married Catherine Barbara Hahn (or Horne, depending on the source), daughter of a Lunenburg blacksmith who was 23 years his junior. The couple had two sons and four daughters; their descendents still inhabit the region. 

Age gradually took its toll on the old soldier turned teacher. His left leg grew lame. His hearing failed as a result of ringing the church and school bell. In February 1819 he had a bad fall and broke his right leg, an injury that left him crippled. He nonetheless continued to teach, but his days serving the congregation were over. 

Although one source says that John Philip Aulenbach died in 1820, others suggest that he lived much longer. In 1836 the man who had once been a servant, who had presided over 142 funerals in his lifetime, was himself laid to rest. He had requested that the bell, which had claimed his hearing, not be rung at his funeral; it remained silent. His wife Catherine survived him by 29 years.


  1. Excellent writeup of who I believe to be my oldest identified ancestor. Thank you!


  2. This was my great,great, great grandfather. Thank you for the write-up.