Tonight’s episode was another Who Do You Think You Are masterpiece. A touching story, that brought much information to light that we seldom ever think about.
Tonight’s celebrity is actor Rob Lowe. A career that spans more than 30 years, and being one of Hollywood’s leading men, makes Lowe easily recognizable to the public.
Lowe lives with his wife, Cheryl and sons John Owen and Matthew.
When Lowe was 12, his parents divorced and he and his mother moved from the mid-west to Malibu. He states that family history was discussed and he really didn’t care about it until recently.
“You start to think about who you are, and where came from,” he says.
Lowe states that when he first thought taking this journey, he wondered which side of his family to look into.
Since his Dad is still living, and his mother has passed on, he thinks he would like to know about where they came from her side.
Lowe begins with meeting his brother Chad to discuss about their mother. Chad brings out a scrap book that their mother had. There was a photo of their mother, taken probably in her senior year in high school. Photos of grandparents, and they came across a photo of their great-grandparents, Oran Hepler and Bessie May East. There was also a newspaper clipping from 1906 from the East family reunion, in Lima, Ohio, which expounded upon the family patriarch, John Christopher East, who was a Revolutionary War patriot.
The men look up John Christopher East on Ancestry.com, and do find that he is listed in the Revolutionary Patriots list. But no other info was available.
So Lowe heads to the D.A.R. [Daughter’s of the American Revolution] in Washington, D.C.
My dream is to have a connection to real heroes,” Lowe says.
On his arrival at the D.A.R., Lowe is met by genealogist Josh Taylor.
To be a member of the D.A.R., you have to have a documented ancestor, and the D.A.R. recognizes both military, and non-military, Patriots.
Taylor locates a listing on the D.A.R. website that states Lowe’s ancestor was a Private in the Pennsylvania Militia during the Revolution. Taylor explains that an application may contain documents, Bible records, etc. that are not seen online. So he is off to find the application.
When Taylor returns, he lays out the application materials before Lowe. Immediately Lowe spies his great-grandmother, Bessie May East, and knows he is on the right track. They discover that John Christopher East is Lowe’s 5x-great-grandfather.
They also discover that a Stophol East is on the 1790 tax list for Newtown, Pennsylvania, and determine that this is Lowe’s ancestor.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” Taylor states.
The D.A.R. considers the line closed. There is no documentation to prove that East was a private in the militia.
“However, when one door closes – one opens,” Taylor says.
So, the pair split. Taylor will search for non-military documentation to prove East was a Patriot, while Lowe moves forward to the Library of Congress to look for military documentation.
Revolutionary War Historian Scott Stephenson meets Lowe at the Library of Congress. They discover a Christoph Oest was in a Hessian Grenadier Regiment, listed among prisoners. Stephenson moves on to George Washington’s personal papers, in hopes of discovering just what this all means. [As a Hessian Grenadier soldier, Oest – or East – would have been fighting against the Patriots in the revolution.]
In June of 1775, George Washington took charge of the American forces. He was very careful to document every move he made, realizing from the start that this information would all be of historical regard as this was the birth of a new and different nation.
What Lowe and Stephenson discover was that there were three Hessian commands, one of whom was commanded by a man named Rohl.
Stephenson explained to Lowe that these Hessian commands were actually rented out to the British forces by the prince of the Hessians during the Revolution. So these Grenadier soldiers were pressed into service, and were not volunteers.
“It just never occurred to me! That explains why he’s not in the D.A.R! He was among those fighting to kill Washington!” Lowe exclaims.
Captured at the Battle of Trenton, Lowe takes that as cue as to where to head to next. He is off to the Old Barracks Museum at Trenton, where he meets with Hessian Prisoner Expert, Daniel Krebs. The pair meets in actual barracks the Hessian soldiers occupied.
In attempting to find out what East’s role and activities must have been like, Krebs offers Lowe a copy of a diary written by Johannes Ruber, who was in the same regiment as Lowe’s ancestor.
Everyone recognizes the stealth attack from Christmas Eve 1776 from the portrait of Washington crossing the Delaware River, this is the attack that Lowe’s ancestor was captured at. This attack by Washington was considered a daring move then, and even in today’s military standards, a bold move on Washington’s part.
When the Patriot forces attacked, the Hessians retreated outside of the city to regroup. Washington stole a cannon from them, but they later went back, retook their cannon, and the fighting was moved into the city streets. Washington’s men encompassed the Hessians, and because their leader, Rohl, was weakened, they were forced to surrender rather than fight to the death. Rohl’s defining notation was “…all was lost.”
“Now I want to know more about what happened to my ancestor after he was taken prisoner,” Lowe stated.
Krebs takes Lowe to the old Presbyterian Church at Newtown, Pennsylvania where the Hessian soldiers went on the first night of their march to the prison.
Ruber discusses in his diary about the old women lined up on the street who screeched and screamed at the Hessians for attempting to take away their freedoms. They were marched through the city streets in shame and humiliation.
However, George Washington, being the supreme leader that he was, posted broadsides about the city stating that these prisoners were forced into service in the Revolution and were not volunteers, and that they were NOT to be violated. These men were offered citizenship should they wish to accept it, or they could return to their homelands.
“To be vanquished and in a prison, and to be told this, it must have blown their minds!” Lowe exclaims.
Lowe asks Krebs how many men accepted the offer to stay. Astonishingly, only about 15% decided to stay, and about 85% returned to their homeland.
East then disappears, so we don’t know if he took the offer, or simply escaped.
It was decided that Lowe would head off to Marburg, Germany to the Hessian military museum to see if he could find out what would make East stay in America, rather than return to his own country.
Lowe meets with Professor Holbert Graf a Hessian Historian at the Marburg University in Marburg.
Christoph Oest is listed as one of the Hessian soldiers pressed into service, but unlike other’s listed, no personal information is listed.
“I didn’t come all this way not to learn anything,” Lowe states.
Graf suggests he begin checking the towns where other’s named Oest on the list came from. The name Oest was rare enough that he didn’t think there would be a problem in locating the information once he located the right town. And this was done with the very first town Lowe went to. Fuerstenhagen.
The parish minister pulled some records, and Graf and Lowe went over them together.
In August 1754, John Christoph Oest was born to Johan Oest, and he was baptized in the very church where they sat reading the records.
Next, a marriage record was found for Johanes Oest and Laura Noll, Christoph Oest’s mother. They find that Christoph was the youngest of eight siblings. They also discover the burial of Johanes in 1766, when Christoph was only 12 years of age, and his mother only five years later.
Only the eldest son could inherit the family goods, lands, or monies, in those days. So, Christoph had no proposition of being more than a hired laborer. This then was the impetus for Christoph to remain in America when he was offered citizenship.
“It all makes sense to me now, based on his life in Germany. Why he chose America. The puzzle is solved,” Lowe said.
When Lowe returned to his hotel suite, he found an envelope from Josh Taylor.
Taylor had submitted a letter to the D.A.R. regarding John Christopher East. Because East had been forced into service with the Hessians, and because he paid taxes as early as 1782, which were used to supply American forces, it is thus proven that he contributed to the American effort in the Revolutionary War, and as such is accepted on record with the D.A.R. But as Lowe goes further through the sheaf of papers, he finds not only the D.A.R., but also acceptance into the S.A.R. as well [Sons of the American Revolution].
Lowe was quite moved emotionally. He had his American Patriot.
“I think the way he came to be authenticated was much more than I could ever imagine. And that’s a happy ending,” Lowe stated in closing.
This was, indeed, quite the interesting program this evening, with an ancestor who actually fought on both sides of the Revolution! More amazing, the reasons why this happened.
Only in America!
Thanks WDYTYA for another great show!
You can betcha I’ll be watching next week when Rashida Jones is the guest celebrity.