Rosenthal, Gustav Heinrich Wetter von

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Rosenthal, Gustav Heinrich Wetter Von

ROSENTHAL, GUSTAV HEINRICH WETTER VON. (1753–1829). Born on 1 January 1753, Rosenthal (Rozental in Russian) was a nobleman of the Russian Empire. He came from a Baltic German family of the Estländische Ritterschaft (Noble Corporation of Estland), which owned estates throughout what is now Estonia. After studying law at the University of Göttingen, the baron went to St. Petersburg. There he fatally wounded his opponent in a duel and fled Russia for England. Learning of the events in the colonies and seeking refuge from his strict father, he sailed to America in 1775. After briefly studying medicine, he joined the Continental Army as Lieutenant "John Rose," becoming the only Russian subject and Baltic German to fight for the American patriots; throughout his stay in America, he would conceal his origins. On 12 June 1777 he was made surgeon of William Irvine's Seventh Pennsylvania Regiment and was at Valley Forge. Found not competent as a doctor, Rose was transferred to the army's General Hospital at Yellow Springs as a surgeon's mate under the name of Gustavus Henderson, before returning to the Seventh Pennsylvania as a lieutenant in the brigade staff. He subsequently served in the Continental navy as a surgeon but was captured on the privateer Revenge (commanded by Gustavus Conygham) on 27 April 1779 and imprisoned.

Exchanged, Rose joined the Fourth Pennsylvania at Carlisle on 1 April 1781, became Irvine's aide-de-camp on 8 July 1781, was promoted to the rank of major, and headed to the western frontier with Irvine when the general was ordered on 8 March 1782 to take command at Fort Pitt. In part because of his refined manners, Rose became a great favorite of Irvine (who praised him in a letter to Washington) and his family. Based on his popularity with the local militia, Irvine appointed "Major Rose" as the aide-de-camp to Colonel William Crawford during his expedition to Sandusky. (In his private journal Rosenthal was highly critical of Crawford's leadership.) In the chaos after their defeat at the Battle of Sandusky in early June 1782, Rose and Colonel David Williamson led the successful retreat of the routed American volunteers back to Fort Pitt. For his bravery and combat command skills throughout the expedition, Rose was widely commended by his fellow officers. Transferred to the Third Pennsylvania on 1 January 1783, Rose successfully saw to it that Irvine's troops received their final payment. After his honorable discharge in June 1783, Rose was chosen by his fellow Pennsylvania Line officers to lobby on their behalf at the Pennsylvania Legislature during the negotiations on land grants along the Susquehanna and Allegheny.

Having been pardoned in Russia, Rosenthal left America in April 1784 bound for Estland. Rosenthal divulged his story to Irvine as his ship waited to sail from Philadelphia. Back in Estland, he married and became a major in the Russian army. Rosenthal served as the "captain of the nobility" of Estland from 1803 to 1806, during which time the province became a center of liberal agrarian reform. Although the U.S. government granted Rosenthal bounty land in Ohio, and Pennsylvania gave him two tracts in the northwest part of the state, he never returned to America. He died in Reval on 26 June 1829.

SEE ALSO Crawford, William; Irvine, William.


Anderson, James H. "Colonel William Crawford." Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society Publications 6, no. 1 (1898): 1-34.

Rose, John (Baron Gustavus de Rosenthal). "Journal of a Volunteer Expedition to Sandusky, from May 24 to June 13, 1782." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 18, nos. 2-3 (July and October, 1894): 130-157 and 293-328.

William Irvine Papers (including Irvine-Rosenthal correspondence from 1780 to 1811). Manuscript collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

                              revised by Philip Curtis Skaggs