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Colonel Tye, also known as Titus Cornelius(c. 1753–1780), was a slave of African descent in New Jersey who achieved notability during the American Revolutionary War by his leadership and fighting skills, when he fought as a Loyalist. He was one of the most effective guerrilla leaders opposing the American rebel forces in central New Jersey.[1][2]

Although never commissioned an officer by the British Army, which did not appoint anyone of African descent to such positions, Colonel Tye earned his honorary title as a sign of respect for his tactical and leadership skills. His knowledge of the terrain in Monmouth County, New Jersey was integral to his success. As the commander of the elite Black Brigade, he led raids against the American rebels, seized supplies and assassinated many American leaders during the war. He provided substantial aid to the British. His aid to the British in New York City helped them withstand a siege by American forces under Gen. George Washington.

Titus was originally owned by John Corlies, a Quaker in Monmouth County. Corlies held slaves despite his religion's increasing opposition to slavery. It was Quaker practice to teach slaves how to read and write and to free them at age 21. Corlies refused to do so, and he was known to be hard on his slaves, severely whipping them for minor causes.[3]

Prelude to revolution[edit | edit source]

John Corlies's runaway advertisement for Titus.

In November 1775 John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation offering freedom to all slaves and indentured servants who would leave rebel masters and join the British. The proclamation led almost 100,000 slaves to escape and join the British — Titus among them. Planters considered this a "diabolical scheme"; it contributed to their support for the Patriot cause (Henretta et al. 2006). Having learned to sell his own goods and memorized a map of the region, Titus escaped from Corlies and traveled down the coast to Virginia. There he passed as a freedman and did odd jobs. Corlies posted a reward for Titus's capture and retue, a guerrilla group of 24. His first recorded military action was at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, where he captured an American captain.

Tye's knowledge of Monmouth County and his bold leadership soon made him a well-known and feared Loyalist guerrilla commander. The British paid him and his men to destabilize the region. Colonel Tye led several successful raids during the summer of 1779, seizing food and fuel, taking prisoners, and freeing many slaves. During the summer of 1779, Tye and the 23 members of the Black Brigade served with a white Loyalist unit called the Queen's Rangers, also guerrillas; together they helped defend the British in New Jersey.[4]

Tye continued to fight through 1780, exacting revenge against his former owner and others. He killed the well-known rebel Joseph Murray, who was known to summarily execute all captured Loyalists.

Death and legacy[edit | edit source]

In September 1780, Tye was injured by a musket ball that passed through his wrist. He was trying to smoke out the patriot leader Captain Joshua Huddy. Huddy and a female servant had managed to resist Tye's band for two hours before the Loyalists set fire to the house. Colonel Tye developed tetanus and gangrene from his wound, which soon caused his death.[5]

Colonel Tye in culture[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Colonel Tye", Africans in America, PBS
  2. Jonathan D. Sutherland, African Americans at War, ABC-CLIO, 2003, accessed 4 May 2010
  3. "Colonel Tye", Africans in America, PBS
  4. Jonathan D. Sutherland, African Americans at War, ABC-CLIO, 2003, accessed 4 May 2010
  5. "Colonel Tye", Africans in America, PBS

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Ellen Gibson Wilson, Loyal Blacks, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1976

External links[edit | edit source]

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