Letters to the Editor
Response to Dilling Saga
May 25, 2023
To the Editor:
With great interest, I have been following the articles about the Dilling family and its abandoned cemetery in your publication. Years ago, I wrote a master’s thesis about former German soldiers (“Hessians”) who settled in York County, PA after the American Revolution, and Casper Dilling, the progenitor of the family, came to my attention at that time.
I chortled at this week’s installment (“Last Visit with the Dillings,” May 11, 2023, p. B1) about Casper because it is riddled with obvious historical errors. Allow me to enumerate a few of the more humorous ones:
1) The article claims that the Dilling name was “first brought to the Cove in 1737” by Casper; however, later in the piece, he is alleged to have arrived in America with the Hessian troops during the Revolutionary War. That conflict didn’t start until 1775, so he couldn’t have been in the Cove as early as 1737--almost 40 years later! Furthermore, western settlement in Pennsylvania was just reaching the western edges of Cumberland and Franklin Counties in 1737 and did not extend as far as Bedford/Blair County until a little later. From other sources, I believe that the approximate year of Casper’s arrival in the Cove was 1797. The 1737 date may have been a typographical error.
2) How could Casper have “fought alongside George Washington as he crossed the Delaware” when he was “in the group of Hessians when Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Eve and captured the force”? How was he serving on both sides at the same time? In her article “Casper Dilling, Tradition or Fact?” (Mennonite Family History, January 1985, pp. 8-9), Dilling family researcher, Phyllis B. Hanson provided a more accurate account of his military service. He arrived in America with the Hessian army in 1776 and later was captured at the battle of Yorktown in October 1781. He was among the German prisoners until he “deserted” from his Hessian unit in May 1783 just as the war was ending.
3) As noted above, the German records (HETRINA, Vol. 3) show that he deserted from the Hessian army in May 1783; thus, he would not have “joined the colonial force and fought alongside the [Continental] army to the end of the war.” A preliminary peace treaty between England and the United States was arranged in April 1783 and the British and German prisoners in the hands of the Americans were returned in early May 1783, making Casper’s alleged Continental Army service impossible for all practical purposes.
4) Casper’s loyalty did not provide “him a gift of 600 acres” in what is now Blair County. No lands issued to veterans of the Revolutionary War were located east of the Allegheny River, which is much farther west than this area (see: Donna B. Munger, Pennsylvania Land Records: A History and Guide for Research, Scholarly Resources, 1991, pp. 159-67). Additionally, the largest tracts of land in Pennsylvania given for military service were 500 acres in size; only colonels and generals were eligible for such large amounts (Munger, p. 165). To my knowledge, no one has found evidence that Casper held the rank of an officer, much less a colonel or a general. Consequently, he could not have received 600 acres in Blair County for his military service.
While the details of the Dilling article are problematic, I continue to appreciate your efforts to publish local history in the Herald. I always enjoy learning a bit more about the region where my ancestors lived for almost 100 years. Keep up the good work!
Jonathan R. Stayer
Note: The articles in question, written by Kathy Mellott, were NOT based on original research but on what was long ago ago printed in public domain by Ella Snowberger and Milton Burgess.