Backhausen – a mercenary

Johan Backhausen came 1781 as a mercenary from Hesse in Germany, to Copenhagen in Denmark.

My ancestor Johann Backhaus was a German mercenary like many others, who came to Denmark at the end of the 1700’s, became married to a Danish woman and settled permanently in Denmark.

Much of the material in this little biography was compiled by genealogist Svend Petersen some decades ago. This applies to all info related to Germany and to Johanns soldier career.

According to the military documents, he enlisted in Mühlhausen near Hesse on April 17th, 1781, for 10 years. He served in the Norwegian Regiment which was in garrison in Copenhagen. From the stated age he should be born around 1762. He was 63 3/4 inches high (approx. 162 cm), had brown eyes and brown hair, and of Reformed religion (meaning non-catholic).

A Christopher Backhaus, who recruited a little later, was born in Wanfried a few miles from Mühlhausen and is also of the Reformed religion. This suggests that Johann is also from the village of Wanfried.

Johann’s origin is unknown, only have I found a Johann Backhaus as citizen in the nearby town Treffurt in 1749 – it might be family, maybe even the father?

Who were these mercenaries?
The German mercenaries recruited to Denmark were mainly from northern and central Germany, because Danish governments preferred Lutherans rather than Catholics. The German princes seemed sympathetic to recruitment – they’ve probably found it convenient to get rid of the unemployed and unruly elements that could pose a threat to their position of power. Many of the German mercenaries came to Denmark, settled down and married Danish women. Many German-sounding names used today, date from this period. I have several other examples in my family. Other Germans emigrated to find work as military officers or craftsmen.
The nickname Backhaus comes from a separate building that was used for cooking in some parts of Germany. It could be shared by an entire village. Why Johann was called Bachhaus is not obvious. Perhaps his father built these houses?


His life after the military service
Johann Backhaus first used the short form of the name. There was also a well-known bricklayer in Copenhagen, called Backhausen. From 1787 Johann consistently uses the name Backhausen, i.e. he added the -en.

Johann was probably soldier in Copenhagen over the 10 years from 1781 until 1791. Many of the mercenaries were privately quartered in the town. Soldier Johan was in the 1787 census in private accommodation in Skindergade 7.

Johan Backhausen was married to Else Christen’s Daughter from Viborg on 5 August 1792 in the German congregation of the Garrison Church of Copenhagen. Enlisted soldiers mostly were not allowed to marry, so he probably waited until he had left the service.

Johann and Else only managed to be married 5 years, but they had 3 sons named Henrich, Christian and Johannes Backhausen. The older is baptised in the German Reformed Church of Copenhagen.

Johann Backhaus died on 14th June 1797 in Copenhagen, and was buried from the Garrison Church. He was probably not even 40 years of age, although he was stated to be 43 years at his death. Even though his life was short, he managed to initiate a large number of descendants.