Loyalists, those Americans who openly supported the British Government during the American Revolution, have been largely assumed to have had unchanging allegiance during the conflict; once a Loyalist, always a Loyalist. Similarly, those supporters of Congress and the new United States are assumed to have been constant in their beliefs throughout the war, with one famous general as the notable exception.
The reality was more complex than that. It is becoming clear that thousands of soldiers changed sides at one time or another, some more than once. This is not a fundamentally new revelation; recent research, however, shows that the numbers are greater than has been previously appreciated. The Philadelphia Campaign of 1777-1778 provides superb examples. Surviving records for a large portion of both the Continental Army and the Provincial (Loyalist) Corps during this period are much more complete than for most earlier or later periods, making it possible to quantify the phenomenon of switching sides during one stage of the war.
The most tantalizing piece of evidence in showing the extent of disaffection in Washington’s Army during that campaign comes from Joseph Galloway, a former delegate to the Continental Congress. Galloway had come over to the British in December 1776, and joined Sir William Howe on the Philadelphia expedition. Upon the city’s capture, Galloway was appointed by Howe as Superintendent of the Philadelphia Police. In this office he tendered oaths of allegiance to the city’s inhabitants and all those seeking refuge within it. Galloway, assisted by Philadelphia merchant and Loyalist Enoch Story, were engaged in “making out weekly returns of all recruits attested, with the names of deserters from the Rebel Army and Navy, as well as the Inhabitants who had taken the Oaths of allegiance…” While their list of named deserters has not been located, we do have an abstract of some of its information.
Two documents by Galloway, one showing a month by month breakdown of oaths of allegiance tendered and another showing the nativity of deserters who arrived in Philadelphia, show the precarious situation of Washington’s Army and underscore what might have been with a more active British commander in Philadelphia. Galloway was no fan of Sir William Howe, and would spend his later years in London penning newspaper pieces against the former British commander-in-chief.
The first document shows deserters from the Continental Army on monthly basis once the British entered Philadelphia on 26 September 1777:
October 1777 300
November 1777 187
December 1777 100
January 1778 152
February 1778 132
March 1778 180
April 1778 106
May 1778 104
June (to the 17th) 28
Also on Galloway’s list, but not included above, were 61 wagoners, 391 sailors and 603 militiamen, plus 2003 inhabitants.
Galloway’s second document breaks down the deserters by nationality, giving us an insight into the composition of Washington’s Army at this time. Of the 1134 Continental Army deserters who had registered with the British, there were:
French __ 5
Nationalities for the 354 sailors that had registered were proportionally similar. Significantly, Galloway estimated that perhaps one-third more had come in and bypassed the registration process.
What was to be done with all these deserters? Deserters tended to be doubly beneficial: while decreasing the army they deserted from, they often enlisted in the army they deserted to. British official policy, as ordered by Sir William Howe on July 3, 1777, stated: “The Provincial Troops (except Wemys’s Corps) are not to enlist Deserters from the Rebels.” This prohibition, however, was not even casually enforced. Every Provincial unit raised, most from their inception, eagerly took in rebel deserters.
An examination of the rolls, in various states of completeness, of sixty-three Continental regiments, and scattered documents on some sixteen others, identifies by name some 2,953 deserters, prisoners and missing in action from the end of August 1777 until the end of June 1778. By cross-referencing the names of those men and the times of their desertion or capture against corresponding enlistments in Provincial units, a more detailed picture can be drawn of the men who served on both sides. Some common names make this process difficult, but even using a conservative approach, some 546 former Continental soldiers have been identified amongst the Provincials raised at Philadelphia. To put this into perspective, it is necessary to know how many men the British raised there at that time. Sir William Howe later testified the number was just under a thousand, while Galloway estimated sixteen hundred. Neither figure is correct, as neither had access to the rolls kept in the muster master’s office. Shortly after the Battle of Brandywine, there were 543 Provincials serving with Howe’s Army, divided among the Queen’s Rangers, 2nd Battalion New Jersey Volunteers, and Guides & Pioneers. By the time of the Battle of Monmouth, there were 2,016 Provincials with Clinton’s force, not including detachments of recruits and baggage guards sent on ship to New York. In between there were deaths, desertions, prisoners captured and men discharged, amounting to several hundred men. Muster Rolls and other documents show at least 1,947 men were raised at Philadelphia. 546 known Continental enlistments means that at least twenty eight percent of the new recruits were from Washington’s Army. The actual figure was probably higher, given the incomplete state of Continental Army records and the ambiguities caused by common names and other factors.
These deserters present an interesting problem to those who feel the need to label groups of people: were these men considered Rebels or Loyalists? It was a puzzle then just as it is now. The question was actually asked in 1779 by Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe, the commanding officer of the Queen’s Rangers. Simcoe, since October 16, 1777, had under his command the colorful Capt. John Ferdinand Dalziel Smyth, who during the six preceding weeks had attempted to raise an independent corps, the Royal Hunters. On that date, however, his unit, the strength of two companies, was attached to the Queen’s Rangers and fully incorporated into them by Simcoe. Smyth, in 1779, brought Simcoe to trial on a number of charges concerning this and other things. During his trial, Simcoe noted that Smyth’s Company “being in general Rebel Deserters and not Loyalists as he had been ordered to raise was one reason of his being sent to the Rangers — for they [the Queen’s Rangers] having a General Order in their favor to enlist Rebel Deserters, and all other Corps being excluded, had a right to any men of that description that Captain Smyth had enlisted.” The trial testimony of Captain Smyth provides an excellent description of recruiting at Philadelphia during that time:
Q. You … had orders to enlist no men but of approved Loyalty and attachment to Government. Do rebel Deserters come under the denomination of approved Loyalists?
A. I had orders to enlist any men that I thought good; but to be particular careful they were so. I conceive a great number of men, who have deserted from the Rebels, have been Loyalists from the beginning, and forced into their Service, and who have deserted from them the first opportunity: Instances of which I have in my own Company.
Q. … you say you proposed to raise men who were well acquainted with the roads throughout the Country. Do rebel Deserters come under that description?
A. I conceive they do.
Q. What do you mean by saying you refused many men as improper persons, that other Corps must enlist?
A. A great number of men came to me at Philadelphia when having examined them, I conceived some only wished to enlist for the sake of Provision, Cloathing or some other Sinister purpose: on which suspicion tho their appearance was ever so good, I did not enlist them.
While few deserters left behind written records of their actions, one appears to somewhat confirm Captain Smyth’s opinion. Gersham Hilyard of Piscataway, New Jersey, entered the Philadelphia Campaign as a sergeant in Capt. William Piatt’s Company of the 1st New Jersey Regiment. Muster rolls of that corps show he deserted sometime in October 1777. After the war, applying to Parliament for compensation for property losses, Hilyard related that he joined the British “from Loyalty and Attachment to his King and Country.” After serving some time in the secret service, Hilyard enlisted as a sergeant in Emmerick’s Chasseurs, a Provincial corps in which he was later promoted to quartermaster. He remained with the British for the remainder of the war, and was in London in 1784.
The deserters from Valley Forge and other places around Philadelphia are only a part of the story. Another significant source of recruits, not mentioned by Galloway and possibly unknown to him, was the prisoners taken during the campaign. Battles such as Brandywine and Germantown yielded hundreds of prisoners for the British. Enlisting prisoners for the Provincial Forces began in 1776, when hundreds of those captured at Quebec and Brooklyn joined the Royal Highland Emigrants. Although officially prohibited by Congress and Washington, the practice had actually been started by the Americans in the very first weeks of the war when George McKay, a British private soldier of the 26th Regiment of Foot taken prisoner at Crown Point on May 11, 1775, immediately joined the American army.
Richard Jesper was another person enlisted out of the prison. When on trial in July 1778, he related the story of his capture, his enlistment in the Pennsylvania Loyalists, his desertion from them, and his subsequent apprehension:
… he was a Servant to a Colonel Antill of the Congress’s own Regt. and was taken prisoner at the Battle of Germantown, and put in the Provost Guard, where Captain [Thomas] Stephens found him; that upon Captain Stephens asking him what Countryman he was, and whether he would enlist, he reply’d that he would rather wait upon some Gentleman, & Captain Stephens said that he would enquire if any Gentleman wanted such a man, & that he afterwards took him out of Goal to wait upon himself, that Captain Stephens gave him small Sums of money at different times, which he thought he had earned, as a Servant, & not as a Soldier and never Signed any Pay Lists; that he had no thoughts of going off till Smith persuaded him to attempt to go home in some Ship, as there was a Slur lay upon his Character in the Regt. but Smith being apprehended, he could find no Opportunity of going off, & therefore went into the Jersies, where he lived as a servant with a Colonel Ogden, in which Capacity he was and not in Arms or Serving as a Soldier, when he was taken by a Party of the Guards.
Jesper’s story indicates that he was a non-combatant, but he was on trial for his life when he told it. His account does not bear scrutiny. If he had been a servant of Lt. Col. Edward Antill, he was not in that capacity at the battle of Germantown: Antill had been taken prisoner six weeks earlier during an American raid on Staten Island. The muster rolls of the Pennsylvania Loyalists show that Jesper enlisted on October 20, 1777 as a soldier in the ranks of Captain Stephens’s company, from which he deserted on February 7, 1778. After deserting from the Pennsylvania Loyalists, he eventually enlisted in Capt. John Flahaven’s Company of the 1st New Jersey Regiment, joining them on May 24, 1778; he is listed as having been taken prisoner the following month. The muster rolls of the Pennsylvania Loyalists show he rejoined that corps on June 27, 1778, the day before the Battle of Monmouth, and was found lodged in the provost wearing a blue coat faced with red, the uniform of the 1st New Jersey. For the crime of desertion, the British found Jesper guilty and sentenced him to receive 1,000 lashes on the bare back with a cat o’ nine tails. Whether he actually received all or part of the punishment is not recorded, but Jesper went on to become a useful soldier. He served with the Pennsylvania Loyalists in the garrison of Pensacola, the capital of West Florida, where he was killed on May 4, 1781, during the Spanish siege of the city.
The stories of Hilyard and Jesper raise the question of just how reliable or serviceable men were who had at least once deserted their cause. Parliament had similar thoughts when it inquired of Joseph Galloway, “What is the character that the Provincials serving in the British army bear? Are they good troops, and have they behaved well when employed?” To which Galloway replied “I have understood, as soon as they are disciplined, they are very good troops, and have always behaved well; I know of no instance to the contrary. That I know to be the opinion of many of the military gentlemen.” Galloway was right in general, but the deserter recruits ran the full spectrum of very good to very poor.
British Judge Advocate records provide several accounts of former deserters’ troubles with their new army, none more serious than Edward Warren, a deserter from the 1st New York Regiment who enlisted in the Roman Catholic Volunteers. When this corps was drafted in 1778 (that is, its men transferred into other regiments), Warren entered into the Volunteers of Ireland, from whom he deserted on March 28, 1779. He was not seen again for several months, when he was brought back into New York City by HMS Rainbow among the crew of a captured rebel privateer. Warren had the dubious distinction of being the only Provincial executed at New York during the command of Sir Henry Clinton.
Some deserters had their new careers in the British Army cut short – literally, in the case of John Crawford. Crawford deserted from the 2nd Connecticut Regiment on June 10, 1778 and enlisted as a sergeant in Emmerick’s Chasseurs four days later. In a severe action against a party of Stockbridge Indians in the Bronx on August 31, 1778, Crawford lost an arm, effectively ending his military career. He continued on as an invalid until the corps was drafted exactly a year later, soon after which he was discharged from the army and sent to England in quest of a pension at the soldier’s hospital of Chelsea.
Some deserters not only maintained a new sense of loyalty to King George, but chose the British Army as a lifelong career. William Jackson, a soldier in the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment, was captured on September 21, 1777, at Paoli. Not choosing to remain a prisoner, he enlisted in the Queen’s Rangers, with whom he served the remainder of the war. At the termination of the conflict, apparently enjoying a soldier’s life, he enlisted in the British 3rd Regiment of Foot, serving until discharged because of wounds received at St. Vincent in 1798, almost twenty-one years to the day after his capture at Paoli.
Some Continentals-turned-Provincials served faithfully for the remainder of the war and then settled on land grants in the Maritime provinces of Canada. Almost every Provincial regiment disbanded along the River Saint John or across the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia included Continental Army veterans from the Philadelphia Campaign. One interesting settler was John Bettle. Before deserting to the British in January 1778, Bettle was a surveyor and commissary for Pennsylvania. He apparently made a detailed survey of Washington’s position at Valley Forge and headed straight to Philadelphia with it. Continental Congressman William Duer, upon learning of Bettle’s desertion, wrote to George Washington that “before he [Bettle] went in he told a Person confidentially that he could put the Enemy in a way of investing it in such a Manner as to cut off your Communication with the Country, and thereby prevent the Supply of Provisions &ca.” For his daring, Bettle was rewarded with a lieutenant’s commission in the West Jersey Volunteers, with whom he served until that corps was drafted in the fall of 1778. Thereafter he put his surveying talents to use in the Guides & Pioneers. He was captured and spent six months in 1781 confined as a prisoner in Philadelphia, but somehow escaped being hanged for desertion. By 1786 Bettle was at Saint John, New Brunswick, petitioning the British for the retirement income due to British officers.
Representative of the rank and file soldiers was James Dyer, a soldier who deserted from the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment the day following the bloody defeat at Paoli. About three weeks later, Dyer enlisted out of prison into Capt. John F.D. Smyth’s Royal Hunters, which was almost immediately absorbed into the Queen’s Rangers. The thirty year old Irishman served with the Rangers throughout the war, surrendering with his corps at Yorktown in 1781. Because he was a deserter, he was able obtain passage to New York rather than remain in American incarceration; he remained there on parole until the final exchange of prisoners in May 1783. After the disbanding of his corps on October 10, Dyer eventually settled on Regimental Block 5 at Queensbury, New Brunswick. He and his wife Margaret were living in Brighton Township, Carleton County in 1838 when he applied for a pension as an old soldier, being in “indigent circumstances.”
Piecing together a man’s entire military career takes some effort, as shown by the case of Daniel Gill, a soldier of Hartley’s Regiment. When he gave a deposition for his pension application, he stated succinctly that “at the battle of Iron hill, I was taken a prisoner by the enemy and was held by them nine months and made my escape from the enemy at Charleston, South Carolina and after having thus escaped again entered into the service of the United States.” At face value, this appears to be a patriotic soldier who served his country, was captured in battle, then escaped from the enemy far from home. But the events described need to be examined for their historical accuracy, then checked against the Provincial Forces for possible references. In Gill’s case, it was not difficult. The Battle of Iron Hill, or Cooch’s Bridge, was fought in Delaware on September 3, 1777. If Gill’s deposition was truthful and accurate, he would have effected his escape in South Carolina around June 1778. The problem with this of course was that there were no British troops in South Carolina in 1778, and prisoners were not removed out of their district. Gill’s tenure as a prisoner actually lasted no more than three months, when he enlisted in the Maryland Loyalists commanded by Lt. Col. James Chalmers. Gill, promoted to corporal, sailed with his new corps for Pensacola, West Florida, stopping en route at Jamaica, where he deserted on December 16, 1778. His subsequent whereabouts are unknown until he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion New Jersey Volunteers in New York on July 29, 1780. The part of Gill’s story that is true is that he left the British service in South Carolina. After joining the New Jersey Volunteers, Gill volunteered for service in the battalion’s newly-formed light infantry company, which was then attached to the corps of Provincial Light Infantry. This unit embarked for Virginia in early October 1780 as part of Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie’s expedition, staying there but a month or so before moving on by sea to South Carolina. The corps marched into the High Hills of Santee, where Gill indeed did desert on January 27, 1781. Whether or not he actually re-entered the service of the United States is anyone’s guess.
There are many similar cases among the thousands of depositions for Revolutionary War pensions, particularly for those Continentals who surrendered in 1780 at Charleston and Camden, many of whom later served at Jamaica as part of the Duke of Cumberland’s Regiment or other similar corps. They prove that single sources cannot be taken at face value, particularly things like pension applications and court testimony where the deponent was likely to put himself in the best light possible. Correlation of data from muster rolls and other sources is tedious and time-consuming, but it reveals the complexity of the war and its many and varied participants. For thousands of soldiers and civilians, “patriotism” or “loyalism” were secondary concepts to personal safety and security.
 “The Memorial of Enoch Story, late of the City of Philadelphia Merchant” London, March 16, 1784. Audit Office, Class 13, Volume 102, folios 1205-1206, Great Britain, The National Archives (hereafter cited as TNA).
 “An account of the number of Persons who have taken the Oath of allegiance at Philadelphia from the 30th of September 1777 to the 17th June 1778…” George Germain Papers, Volume 7, item 46, University of Michigan, William L. Clements Library (hereafter cited as CL).
 “An Account of the number of Deserted Soldiers, Gallymen &c from the Rebel Army and Fleet, who have come in to Philadelphia and taken the Oath of Allegiance, with a particular account of the places in which they were born. Philadelphia March 25th 1778.” Germain Papers, 7:31, CL.
 “Wemys’s Corps” refers to the Queen’s American Rangers, then commanded by Major James Wemyss. General Orders, Head Quarters, New York, July 3, 1777. “The Orderly Book of Lt. Col. Stephen Kemble, 1775-1778,” Collections of the New-York Historical Society for 1883 (New York: printed for the Society, 1884), 460.
 Howe appears to have used a state of his army prepared on March 24, 1778 for his figure. Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 95, folio 222, TNA.
 Court Martial Proceedings of Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe, Jamaica, Long Island, May 4-8, 1779. War Office, Class 71, Volume 88, Pages 448-496, TNA.
 Hilyard enlisted on December 15, 1776 in the 1st New Jersey Regiment. Muster Roll of Capt. William Piatt’s Company, 1st New Jersey Regiment, May 31, 1777. Record Group M246, Revolutionary War Rolls, RG 93, Reel 57, Folder 18-1, National Archives and Records Administration (hereafter cited as NARA).
 Enlistment attestation of Gersham Hilyard, May 1 and 19, 1778. Misc. Manuscripts No. 3616, New York State Library. See also muster roll of Captain Benjamin Ogden’s Troop of Emmerick’s Chasseurs, June 1778. RG 8, “C” Series, Volume 1891, Library and Archives Canada (hereafter cited as LAC).
 Memorial of Gersham Hilyard to the Commissioners for American Claims, March 24, 1784. Audit Office 13/96/492, TNA.
 Robert William Walker of the 2nd Battalion Royal Highland Emigrants recruited 173 of the 1006 prisoners taken at the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776. “The Case of Robert William Walker a Loyalist Planter in Maryland.” Audit Office 13/40/234-236, TNA.
 Return of the Garrison of Ticonderoga, etc. made prisoners, May 10-11, 1775. Thomas Gage Papers, American Series, Volume 129, CL.
 Court Martial of Richard Jesper, Pennsylvania Loyalists, held at Brooklyn between July 24 and August 1, 1778. War Office 71/83/181-183, TNA.
 “Return of Prisoners received from Staten Island into New York August 25, 1777.” Sir Henry Clinton Papers, Volume 23, item 19, CL.
 “Muster Roll of Captain Stephens Company in the first Battalion of Pennsylvania Loyalists Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Allen, Banks Skulkyll 24th February 1778.” RG 8, “C” Series, Volume 1907, 6, LAC.
 Pay Lists of Captain Flahaven’s Company of the 1st New Jersey Regiment for May and June, 1778. Record Group M246, Revolutionary War Rolls, RG 93, Reel 56, Folder 10-2, NARA.
 The Examination of Joseph Galloway, Esq; Late Speaker of the House of Assembly of Pennsylvania, Before The House of Commons in a Committee of the American Papers with Exploratory Notes (London: Printed for J. Wilkie, 1779), 20.
 Court Martial Proceedings of Private Edward Warren, New York, August 1779. War Office 71/90/90-92, TNA.
 Warren was hanged at New York on August 30, 1779. “List of Executions, during the Command of His Excellency Lt. Genl. Sir Henry Clinton, in North America &c &c &c. New York 6th Mat 1782.” Clinton Papers, 194:8, CL.
 “Muster Roll of Capt. Muirsons Troop of Lt. Dragoons Commanded by Lieut. Col. Emmerick, October 24th 1778.” RG 8, “C” Series, Volume 1891, LAC.
 Discharge of John Crawford, New York, October 24, 1779. War Office 121/6/246, TNA.
 Muster Roll of Captain Joseph Howell’s Company, 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment, for September 1777. Record Group M246, Revolutionary War Rolls, RG 93, Reel 80, Folder 9-1, NARA.
 Discharge of William Jackson, London, September 24, 1798. War Office 121/33/340, TNA.
 Duer to Washington, Reading, February 16, 1778. George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence, January 25, 1778 – March 16, 1778, Library of Congress.
 Bettle (also spelled Biddle or Bittle) was never put on the half pay list like other reduced officers, the British claiming he ‘having several times desired to resign.” Memorial of John Biddle to Sir Henry Clinton, New York, September 21, 1780. Clinton Papers, 124:9, CL.
 Memorial of John Bittle to the Commissioners for American Claims, Saint John, February 20, 1786. Audit Office 13/25/45, TNA.
 Muster Roll of Captain John Patterson’s Company, 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment, for October 1777. Record Group M246, Revolutionary War Rolls, RG 93, Reel 80, Folder 12-1, NARA.
 Dyer enlisted in Smyth’s Company on October 11, 1777. This company was permanently made a part of the Queen’s Rangers five days later. Muster Roll of Captain John F.D. Smyth’s Company, Queen’s Rangers, Philadelphia, November 30, 1777. RG 8, “C” Series, Volume 1861, Page 4.
 “Return of Settlers on Block No. 5 as Surveyed by Mr. Allan.” F-50, Folio 13, No. 5, Collections of the New Brunswick Museum.
 Memorial of James Dyer to Gov. Sir John Harvey and the Legislative Council and Assembly, Brighton, January 26, 1838. RS 24, Provincial Secretary, Old Soldiers and Widows Pension Administration Records, 1838 Petition No. 149, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.
 Pension Application of Daniel Gill, July 25, 1820. Collection M-804, Pension and Bounty Land Application Files, No. S42745, Daniel Gill, Maryland, NARA.
 His date of enlistment was either November 29 or December 10, 1777. “Muster Roll of Recruits in the First Battalion of Maryland Loyalists Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Chalmers Esqr. January 19th 1778.” RG 8, “C” Series, Volume 1904, Page 10, LAC.
 Muster Roll of Captain Walter Dulany’s Company, Maryland Loyalists, Pensacola, February 22, 1779. RG 8, “C” Series, Volume 1904, Page 42, LAC.
 Abstract of Pay for the 2nd Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers, August 25 to October 24, 1780. Dept. of Defense Manuscripts, Loyalist Manuscripts, Doc. No. 47, New Jersey State Archives.
 Major John André to Colonel Beverley Robinson et al, New York, August 15, 1780. Clinton Papers, Volume 275, Letter Book of John André, CL.
 The Provincial Light Infantry was described by Sir Henry Clinton as “well officered & commanded.” Return of the corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Leslie embarked for Virginia, October 6, 1780. Clinton Papers, 125:18, CL.
 Muster Roll of Captain Norman McLeod’s Company, Provincial Light Infantry, High Hills of Santee, February 23, 1781. RG 8, “C” Series, Volume 1900, LAC.
 Between the Duke of Cumberland’s Regiment, Jamaica Corps, and the Loyal American Rangers, some 1,200 or more Continental prisoners or deserters served from 1781-1783 at Jamaica or on the Spanish Main in Honduras and Nicaragua. Many settled in Nova Scotia after the war. See “Recruiting List of the Continental Prisoners of War, Taken at the Surrender of Charlestown, the 12th day of May 1780 and at Gates’s defeat by Cambden, the 16th day of August 1780 Now inlisted in His Majesty’s Service, since the 10th February 1781 For the West Indies, in His Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland’s Regiment of Carolina Rangers; Commanded by the Right Honble Lord Charles Montagu. The within named Soldiers have been inlisted by me, William Löwe Captain in said Corps.” State Papers, Class 41, Volume 29, TNA.