Colonel Tye, also known as Titus Cornelius (c.1753—1780), was a slave of African descent in New Jersey who achieved notability fighting as a Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War; he was known for his leadership and fighting skills. He was one of the most effective guerrilla leaders opposing the American rebel forces in central New Jersey.
Early life and education
Titus was born into slavery in New Jersey and originally owned by John Corlies, a Quaker in Monmouth County. Corlies held slaves despite his denomination's increasing opposition to slavery. By the 1760s, it was Quaker practice to teach slaves how to read and write, and to free them at age 21. Corlies kept his slaves past that date, and he was one of the last slaveholders in the region. He was known to be hard on his slaves, severely whipping them for minor causes.
Prelude to revolution
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 and the disruption of the war contributed to an estimated nearly 100,000 slaves to escaping during the Revolution, some to join the British. Planters considered Dunmore's offer a "diabolical scheme"; it contributed to their support for the Patriot cause (Henretta et al. 2006).
Titus happened to escape in New Jersey the day after Dunmore's proclamation (too early to have learned the news) and joined British forces.
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 of a band of blacks and whites 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. He executed a daring raid on Shrewsbury, New Jersey.
By the winter of 1779, Tye was serving with the Black Brigade, 24 Loyalists who served with the white unit known as the Queen's Rangers, also guerrillas, to defend the British who occupied New York City. They also raided rebel sympathizers in New Jersey.
Beginning in June 1780, Tye led three actions in Monmouth County. His forces attacked and killed Joseph Murray, known for executing loyalists as a vigilante; and raided Barnes Smock, capturing some of his militia and destroying artillery. In September 1780, Tye raided the home of Capt. Joshua Huddy. The guerrilla was injured by a musket ball that passed through his wrist. Huddy and a female servant had managed to resist Tye's band for two hours before the Loyalists set fire to the house.
Death and legacy
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 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 1779 winter siege by American forces under Gen. George Washington.
Representation in popular culture
- Colonel Tye and other Black Loyalists are among the subjects of PBS' Slavery and the Making of America.
- Tye is listed as the possible namesake for Battlestar Galactica character Colonel Tigh.
- Ellen Gibson Wilson, Loyal Blacks, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1976
- "Colonel Tye". Black Loyalists: Our History, Our People. Canada's Digital Collections. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- "The Black Pioneers". Black Loyalists: Our History, Our People. Canada's Digital Collections. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- "The Royal Ethiopian Regiment". Black Loyalists: Our History, Our People. Canada's Digital Collections. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- "Colonel Tye", PBS, Study the Past
- "Colonel Tye", Children's play, Liberty's Kids
- "Ethiopian Regiment", The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies
- "A History of the Black Pioneers". The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies. Retrieved 25 February 2012.