Colonel Tye, who was born in New Jersey around 1753, would go on to become one of the most feared and respected military leaders of the American Revolution. He led the Black Brigade as a member of the Black Loyalists. As he led his group in ambushes, raids, and assassinations, no deed was too dirty.
Early in his life, Titus Cornelius served a Quaker named John Corlies. This was unusual at the time because Quakers were strongly opposed to slavery and did not own slaves. He flees New Jersey for coastal Virginia, changing his name to Tye. Given Virginia’s history as a slaveholding state, this is a risky choice. He makes do with whatever jobs he can find and lives as a freedman. Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, had an open policy toward fighting men of any color, and Tye joins his forces.
THE BLACK BRIGADE
His exploits prior to joining the Black Brigade reveal glimpses of a man who would go on to become the most effective Black soldier of the War. He captures Monmouth militia captain Elisha Shepard in 1778. His performance merits a position as leader of the dreaded Black Brigade. This fighting force uses guerilla tactics and did not follow the rules of war at the time. The unit is made up of black Loyalists.
Black troops’ knowledge of their home areas makes them valuable in combat during the war. Tye’s territory is Monmouth County, and any missions he receives in the area are usually successful.
They strike at night, target slaveholders, free slaves, take supplies and food, and return to Refugeetown, their base. The Brigade frequently collaborates with the Queen’s Rangers, another outfit with similar tactics.
In early 1780, the Crown designates Joseph Murray of the Patriot force for assassination. According to Britain, Murray’s crime was the execution of British subjects. Tye and the Black Brigade would find Murray and complete their mission.
The Patriots and slaveholders were terrified by such raids and hits carried out by a group of Blacks in their own county and neighboring counties. This fear grew as word spread about their raids and that some of the slaves were from their own plantations and knew the layout.
Tye led the Black Brigade and a group of Queen’s Rangers in a hunt for Captain Joshua Huddy in late 1780. He, like Murray, was known for mercilessly killing Loyalists. They were able to capture Huddy but were caught off guard by the Patriots.
Colonel Tye was shot in the wrist by a musket shot after the fight lasted two hours. He would contract tetanus and gangrene before succumbing to the infection at the age of 27.