I'm looking for any instances where a British soldier voluntarily changed sides mid conflict and fought for the colonies. People who were as infamous as Benedict Arnold but for the British.

  • 19
    Mmm... All of them?
    – SJuan76
    Feb 3, 2017 at 18:38
  • 19
    This guy named George Washington comes to mind...
    – justCal
    Feb 3, 2017 at 19:45
  • 1
    A couple of other officers: Charles Lee and Horatio Gates.
    – justCal
    Feb 3, 2017 at 20:14
  • 7
    Those reprobates who signed the Treasonous Document That Shall Not Be Named.
    – Ne Mo
    Feb 3, 2017 at 22:58
  • Please show your preliminary research. If they were as infamous as Benedict Arnold (apparently his name is no longer a proper noun), then they should show up on a google search.
    – MCW
    Feb 4, 2017 at 21:47

4 Answers 4


Besides the fact that many of the Continental Army officers were trained British officers, including George Washington, Charles Lee, and Horatio Gates, to list a few, nobody as famous(infamous) as Benedict Arnold comes up as switching sides during the conflict.

There were plenty of 'regular' deserters, which chose to join the soon-to-be United States. The German Hessian soldiers, feared by both sides, could often be induced to stay for a stake in property. As could British Soldiers. The congress actually set up a bounty system for awarding land grants to British and Hessian deserters. According to American Agriculture: A Brief History By R. Douglas Hurt

congress lured Hessian soldiers to desertion with offers of 50 acres of land, and tempted British soldiers by providing 50 to 800 acres, depending on rank, as a reward for desertion

The wikipedia entry on Hessian Soldiers does list some individuals:

By early 1778, negotiations for the exchange of prisoners between Washington and the British had begun in earnest.[12] Nicholas Bahner(t), Jacob Strobe, George Geisler, and Conrad Kramm are a few of the Hessian soldiers who deserted the British forces after being returned in exchange for American prisoners of war.[13]

The article later gives the figures that out of the 30,000 Hessians that served in the war,

Approximately 5,000 German troops settled in North America, either the United States or Canada.

. This number seems to have been confirmed in The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, 1884 By Edward Jackson Lowell.


Concerning the number of British deserters during the Revolutionary War, I just found some figures in the book The British Soldier in America: A Social History of Military Life in the Revolutionary Period, by Sylvia R. Frey. Page 72 has the

Official British figures show a total of 3701 desertions in North America and the West Indies

and goes on to state that this doesn't include individuals who returned when pardons were offered, so the initial count would have been higher. So, somewhere between 8000-9000 desertions from the British and Hessian forces facing the Continental Army occurred.


William Alexander, or better known as Lord Stirling was a member of British Parliament who sympathized with the American cause and forsook his Scottish and British lands and his seat in Parliament. He travelled over and joined the American Revolution on the side of the American colonists. He was killed in battle during the American Revolution. But he wasn't an officer on the British side, he was a British government official who had never seen battle or conflict prior to his deserting and coming to America, there upon being made a officer in the American Army.

  • 2
    Welcome to History Stack Exchange! Please consider editing your answer to add some links to sources. Jun 20, 2017 at 3:09
  • @brian According to WIkipedia, Stirling was born in New York in 1726, and died of ill health (gout, rheumatism) in 1783. Jul 24, 2017 at 18:44
  • Stirling was not a member of Parliament and so could not "forsake" his seat; as far as I can tell from the ODNB, the House of Lords did not recognise him as the Earl so he would not have been entitled to a seat there. He was born in New York and live there most of his life, save for a five-year period in which he travelled to London as part of his (unsuccessful) lawsuit to claim the earldom. Jul 24, 2017 at 19:11
  • ...so, all things considered, he doesn't look that different from any other American landowner who joined the revolutionary side having previously had a crown appointment (which was plenty of them), other than that he had a claim to a hereditary title. Jul 24, 2017 at 19:12

There is nobody remotely as famous as Benedict Arnold who switched sides to the Americans while the conflict was in progress. The whole business is considered far less significant in British history than it is in American, for obvious reasons.

There was a saboteur, "Jack the Painter" whom I think I might have heard of before I went looking for candidates, but that's the most famous person I can find.


My ancestor was a British officer who changed sides and fought for the Americans. He was given land but refused any reward and chose to stay in the American army and finally settled in southern Alabama. He changed sides on moral bounds after witnessing a women and her daughter being raped by English soldiers. His actions caused problems for his family back in England who he never saw again.

  • 3
    It would improve your answer if you mentioned the ancestor's name (and the units he served in).
    – Steve Bird
    Jul 24, 2017 at 15:56

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