Renegade Revolutionary

The Life of General Charles Lee

410 pages

41 halftones, 5 maps

April, 2014

ISBN: 9780814767658



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Phillip Papas is Associate Professor of History and Chairperson of the Economics, Government, and History Department at Union County College in Cranford, New Jersey. 

All books by Phillip Papas

Honorable Mention for the 2015 Book Award from the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond

Honorable Mention for the 2015 Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award

In November 1774, a pamphlet to the “People of America” was published in Philadelphia and London. It forcefully articulated American rights and liberties and argued that the Americans needed to declare their independence from Britain. The author of this pamphlet was Charles Lee, a former British army officer turned revolutionary, who was one of the earliest advocates for American independence. Lee fought on and off the battlefield for expanded democracy, freedom of conscience, individual liberties, human rights, and for the formal education of women.

Renegade Revolutionary: The Life of General Charles Lee is a vivid new portrait of one of the most complex and controversial of the American revolutionaries. Lee’s erratic behavior and comportment, his capture and more than one year imprisonment by the British, and his court martial after the battle of Monmouth in 1778 have dominated his place in the historiography of the American Revolution. This book retells the story of a man who had been dismissed by contemporaries and by history. Few American revolutionaries shared his radical political outlook, his cross-cultural experiences, his cosmopolitanism, and his confidence that the American Revolution could be won primarily by the militia (or irregulars) rather than a centralized regular army. By studying Lee’s life, his political and military ideas, and his style of leadership, we gain new insights into the way the American revolutionaries fought and won their independence from Britain.


  • "In Renegade Revolutionary, Phillip Papas, in hopes of resuscitating Lee and situating him alongside more celebrated English immigrant, Thomas Paine, provides a sympathetic and nuanced context for Lee’s role in the Revolutionary War.  He creates a full portrait of the man who failed to win the hearts of the revolutionaries.” 

    American Historical Review

  • "Papas does an exceptional job portraying this complicated personality, mostly through the correspondence of those who knew him.  But far from being limited in scope, Renegade Revolutionary offers a vivid insight into the politics and strategies of the American Revolution.  Whether readers finish feeling Lee was more scapegoat than scoundrel, they will feel it was worth the journey of discovery.” 

    Journal of America's Military Past

  • “In Renegade Revolutionary, Papas succeeds in deciphering the enigma that was Charles Lee.  He also recreates the different worlds in Europe and America that shaped this inspiring and infuriating soldier.  This well researched and thoughtful volume represents a major contribution to Revolutionary War history.”

    On Point

  • “Papas study examines the importance of the citizen-soldier in the struggle for liberty and challenges readers to reexamine an understudied advocate of Republican thought.”

    New Perspectives on the Eighteenth Century

  • “This skillfully crafted biography of Charles Lee restores to vivid life the career of a very different founding father.”


  • “This skillfully crafted biography of Charles Lee restores to vivid life the career of very different founding father… Papas’s study corrects… misrepresentations and rightfully highlights both Lee’s early and inspirational rallying to the patriot cause and the appeal and potency of his vision for the waging revolutionary warfare.”

    The Historian

  • "While admitting Lee’s faults, the author rehabilitates the much-maligned general and shows that in many ways he was ahead of his time, advocating for independence much earlier than most leaders and recognizing that the war could not be won with traditional European tactics unsuited to American conditions. Thoroughly researched and documented.”


  • "Meet the strangest hero of the American Revolution. Gen. Charles Lee, Papas writes, was a manic-depressive who was more comfortable around dogs than people, but he was also an early advocate of US independence, human rights and education for women."

    New York Post

  • "Mr. Papas argues that Lee's contributions to the winning of American independence, both as a propagandist and as a soldier, deserve recognition . . . [a] soundly researched and readable book that can be recommended."

    Wall Street Journal

  • “In so many words, Papas wisely concludes that the verdict against Lee reflected army politics; further, he sees the Congressional decision to sustain the verdict as a matter of public policy rather than a matter of justice. . . . Papas has fleshed out the record and told the story well.”

    Journal of Military History

  • "In this beautifully written biography of General Charles Lee, Papas has rescued a fascinating and important figure from the sidelines of American Revolutionary history and given him the centrality he deserves. Papas draws a compelling portrait of a complex and contradictory 18th century man: an aristocrat more democratic than most native born revolutionaries; a humanist  more comfortable with his dogs than with people; and a feminist in a patriarchal world. Charles Lee emerges from these pages as one of the few men bold enough to challenge George Washington's judgment and one of the most articulate visionaries of the future that was possible for America."

    —Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History, Emerita, Baruch College & The Graduate Center, CUNY

  • "Did General Charles Lee or General George Washington have the right strategy to win the Revolutionary War? Readers may end up debating the question with the passion that divided the Americans of 1776. But this much is certain. With deft touches and shrewd insights, Phillip Papas has restored to vivid life a major figure in America’s past."

    —Thomas Fleming, author of Liberty! The American Revolution

  • "Renegade Revolutionary is a revisionist book which corrects historical misimpressions of Charles Lee as bizarre, opinionated, abrupt, and morose to the neglect of his erudition, intellectual courage, social radicalism, and  capacity for military professionalism. But it is revisionism with a light touch. Almost every paragraph exhibits the author's determination to understand and explore Lee's character—including his bipolar mood swings—and to respect the readers' curiosity and capacity for balanced judgment. Alternately calling his subject 'Charles' when presenting instances of his complex humanity and 'Lee' when reporting objective fact, Phillip Papas strikes the kind of balance that Charles Lee unsuccessfully sought to exhibit to his contemporaries—especially the American people whose Revolution mattered more to him that personal vindication that he knew he could do little to garner."

    —Robert M. Calhoon, author of Political Moderation in America's First Two Centuries

  • "Papas has written a marvelous book about the bristling, impetuous eccentric that was General Charles Lee, whose pageant of a life included soldiering against Iroquois Indians, Spanish expansionists, Ottoman Turks, and Polish insurgents – all this before he made himself a historical figure in the American Revolution. Papas not only covers the controversies surrounding Lee’s capture by the British and his comportment at the Battle of Monmouth, but he also explains the nuts and bolts of 18th-century military life, be it battlefield formations or officer commissions in the British army. Papas’s subject evokes the sprawling novels of Henry Fielding and Daniel Defoe, full of adventures, pathos, and ambition."

    —Judith Van Buskirk, author of Generous Enemies: Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York