At the beginning of the American Revolution, the British offered freedom to any black slaves who joined them to fight the Americans. Of the many slaves who managed to escape and ended up as soldiers, sailors, or workers in the British army, one became the most feared and respected guerrilla commander of the Revolution. Born in 1753, Titus was the slave of a cruel, quick-tempered Quaker named John Corlies of Shrewsbury in eastern Monmouth County, New Jersey. When the Quakers in that region began to free their slaves, Corlies refused to do so and by 1775 was one of the few remaining Quaker slaveholders in the county.
|Ethiopian Regiment Soldier, 1775
The Ethiopian Regiment served in 1775 and 1776, and with its uniform emblazoned with “Liberty to Slaves” became a symbol of hope for enslaved black Americans. Although the men were most often used for foraging, constructing fortifications, and other work, they also saw battle. They fought effectively alongside the Regulars to defeat patriot militia forces at the Battle of Kemp’s Landing. After Dunmore’s defeat at the Battle of Great Bridge, he loaded his black troops onto ships of the British fleet headed for New York, where he hoped to give them better training. The cramped conditions led to the spread of smallpox, however, and with only 300 of the original 800 soldiers surviving, Dunmore disbanded the regiment in 1776.
Nothing further is known of Tye until the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, the first military action he’s known to have fought in and during which he captured an American militia captain. As the leader of the Black Brigade, an elite guerilla unit of 24 men that served in New Jersey alongside the Loyalist Queen’s Rangers, he became known as Colonel Tye, an informal rank given out of respect since the British Army didn’t formally commission black officers in the 18th and 19th centuries. He and his band raided and plundered Shrewsbury the next month, capturing two of the town’s inhabitants. During the severe winter of 1779 they and the Queen’s Rangers provided protection for the British in their stronghold at New York City and launched raids to obtain food and fuel for the garrison.
|The Death of Major Peirson
John Singleton Copley, January 6, 1781
|Thomas Peters, Nigerian-born slave and black
Loyalist in British Black Company of Pioneers
That September Tye and his Black Brigade attacked the home of Captain Josiah Huddy, an officer who had been wanted by the Loyalists for several years. Huddy and a friend, Lucretia Emmons, managed to hold off their attackers for two hours, until the Loyalists torched the house. Tye was shot in the wrist during the battle, a minor wound that became infected, and he died from gangrene within weeks.
With Colonel Stephen Blucke of the Black Pioneers in command, Tye’s raiders continued fighting long after the British defeat at Yorktown. And Tye left behind a reputation that lived on among his comrades as well as among the patriots who fought against him.
~~~J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Book 6, Refiner’s Fire, releases in April 2019. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 Indie Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, received the 2017 Interviews and Reviews Silver Award for Historical Fiction and was named one of Shelf Unbound’s 2018 Notable Indie Books. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year and a finalist in the Carol Award.