Colonel Tye

1754 - 1780

Leader of Black Brigade of Loyalist raiders

When the Revolution broke out I was one of many New Jersey slaves who were agricultural laborers and lived independently in small cabins. In Monmouth County, unrest among us slaves prompted the county’s white leaders to argue against manumission and slaves being out at night. They also confiscated arms from both free blacks and slaves. This may have prompted me to run off. As a Loyalist freedman, what others called a runaway slave, I turned to raid warfare as a way of making a living. In 1779, Loyalist raids against New Jersey rebel areas increased in frequency and intensity. A year later, I joined a growing group of runaway slaves based at Refugeetown, a settlement on Sandy Hook near the lighthouse and British naval base and became the leader of a new Loyalist group called the Black Brigade. Under my leadership, the Black Brigade launched a string of raids in which we captured horses, plundered houses, and captured rebels. During one raid, I took “several Negroes and a great deal of stock” making people think that I was either liberating other African Americans, or, potentially, selling them as war booty. On September 1, I attempted my boldest raid, marching ten miles inland to Colts Neck to capture Captain Joshua Huddy. In the action on that raid I was shot in the wrist and died shortly thereafter from lockjaw caused by the wound. The Black Brigade continued on, but was less effective after my death. Black Loyalists continued to raid rebels into 1782.

Learn More About Colonel Tye…

Some historians have speculated that I was a runaway slave who was born in Virginia and came north to New Jersey as part of the Ethiopian Brigade, a black Loyalist corps raised in 1775 by Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s last Royal Governor. But it is more likely that I was born in Monmouth County. I was probably the slave named Titus, who ran away from John Corlies of Shrewsbury on November 8, 1775. Corlies was a Quaker, and one of the few in his meeting who refused to free his slaves. When I ran off, Corlies offered a reward for my return. His advertisement described me as “about 21 years of age, not very black, [and] near 6 foot high.” It also suggested that I would likely change my name. I was one of many New Jersey slaves who were agricultural laborers and lived independently in small cabins. In Monmouth County, unrest among us slaves prompted the county’s white leaders to argue against manumission and slaves being out at night. They also confiscated arms from both free blacks and slaves. I was likely among the slaves that participated in the unrest, and likely felt the sting of the crackdown. This may have prompted me to run off.

In the early years of the American Revolution, hundreds of slaves from New York and New Jersey responded to British promises of freedom by going behind British lines and becoming Loyalists. The British attempted to organize us into segregated units—the Negro Horse, the Negro Pioneers, etc.— and I likely served in one of these. But most of these units had short tenures. Some of us freedmen, what others would call runaway slaves, became sailors or laborers while others, like me, turned to raid warfare as a way of making a living.

In 1779, Loyalist raids against New Jersey rebel areas increased in frequency and intensity. Many of the new raiders operated outside of British control and I likely participated in some of these raids. A year later, I joined a growing group of runaway slaves based at Refugeetown, a settlement on Sandy Hook near the lighthouse and British naval base. In spring 1780, I became the leader of a new Loyalist group at Sandy Hook called the Black Brigade.

Under my leadership, the Black Brigade launched a string of raids. A newspaper reported my June 9 raid against Middletown saying, “Ty, with his party of about 20 Blacks and whites, last Friday afternoon took off prisoners Capt. Barnes Smock and Gilbert Van Mater; at the same time spiked-up the iron four pounder [the militia’s signal cannon] at Capt. Smock’s house but took no munitions. Two of the artillery horses and two of Capt. Smock’s horses were likewise taken off. The above mentioned Ty, who wears the title of Colonel, commands a motley crew at Sandy Hook.”

On June 22, I led a larger raid and the newspaper reported that, “A party of the Enemy, consisting of Ty with 30 Blacks, thirty six Queens Rangers and thirty Refugee Tories landed at Conkaskunk. They, by some means, got in between our scouts undiscovered and went to Mr. James Mott, Sen., plundered his & several neighbor’s houses of almost everything in them and carried off several.” During this raid, I took “several Negroes and a great deal of stock” making people think that I was either liberating other African Americans, or, potentially, selling them as war booty.

I launched other raids, most of which escaped documentation, but two of the raids are documented. On June 25, I raided Shrewsbury and skirmished with the township militia, and, on August 16, I led a raid that succeeded in carrying off Lt. Col. John Smock. By this time, I was so feared that the Middletown militia was reluctant to turn out against me. A local militia return dated August 17 showed that only two of 17 listed militiamen answered a call to march after me.

On September 1, I attempted my boldest raid, marching ten miles inland to Colts Neck to capture Captain Joshua Huddy. A newspaper reported that I and two white Loyalist officers, with 72 men, attacked Huddy’s tavern. He resisted us for some time, but we eventually came in close and set fire to the tavern. We captured Huddy and sacked his tavern, but the delay allowed the rebel militia time to assemble. During the resulting skirmish, Huddy escaped. The newspaper further reported “their brave negro Tye was wounded.” I was shot in the wrist and died shortly thereafter from lockjaw caused by the wound.

The Black Brigade continued on, but was less effective after my death. Black Loyalists remained active in raid warfare in New Jersey into 1782. The remaining members of the Black Brigade and their families (49 men, 23 women, 6 children) were resettled in Canada in 1783.

Adelberg, Michael, The American Revolution in Monmouth County: The Theatre of Spoil and Destruction(Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010).

Hodges, Graham R., African Americans in Monmouth County during the American Revolution (Lincroft, NJ: Monmouth County Park System, 1990).

Chopra, Ruma, Choosing Sides: Loyalists in the American Revolution (Plymouth U.K.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013)

Art: Joe Barsin

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