Colonel Tye, though born a slave, became one of the most successful and feared Loyalist commanders of the revolution, and the first Negro commissioned officer in the British army.
Born Titus Cornelius in about 1753, Tye was a slave, owned by John Corlies, a Monmouth County, New Jersey Quaker who held slaves despite his religion's opposition to slavery. It was Quaker practice to teach slaves how to read and write and to free them at age 21. However, Corlies refused to do so, and was known to be especially cruel to his slaves, severely whipping them for even the most minor reasons.
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 their disloyal masters and join the royal Loyalist forces. The proclamation led almost 100,000 African-American slaves to escape and join the British — Titus among them — while enraging white planters who saw this as a "diabolical scheme"; it contributed to their support for the Patriot cause. Having learned to sell his own goods and memorizing a map of the area, Titus ran away from Corlies and fled down the coast to Virginia, passing himself off as a freedman and doing odd jobs. Corlies posted a reward for Titus's capture and return, saying "he is about 21 years old, not very black and about six feet high".
Now calling himself Tye, Titus became a sergeant in Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment(though in the short-handed Loyalist force, he often did the job of captain) and survived the famine and sickness that plagued the unit after they retreated from Virginia. Returning to New Jersey, he fought at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, where he captured an American captain.
The Black Brigade
Tye later helped form and led the Black Brigade; a group of freedmen loyalists; the Black Brigade at first fought independently, but later served alongside the Queen's Rangers. Tye's knowledge of Monmouth County and his bold leadership soon made him a well-known and feared Loyalist commander.
bestowed the honorary title of 'Colonel', Tye led several successful raids during the summer of 1779, seizing food and fuel, taking prisoners, and freeing many slaves. He continued to fight through 1780, exacting revenge against his former owner and others, including the killing of well-known rebel Joseph Murray, who was hated for executing all captured Loyalists.
In September 1781, the Continental army under George Washington moved to attack New York with their French allies: Tye was one of the first to learn of the Patriot movements, and helped delay his advance from New Jersey; after the failed attack on the 28, Tye and the Black Brigade were one of a number of partisan bands that devastated Patriot supply lines, making a siege of New York impossible, and forcing Washington to withdraw from New York.
When Clinton counterattacked into New Jersey in January 1782, Tye aggressively pursued the retreating Patriot forces, greatly aiding in their destruction.
For his service, Tye was officially commissioned Captain 'John' Tye in the British army: he served throughout the remainder of the war, and attended Washington's surrender at the invitation of Clinton.
After the Treaty of Paris, Tye returned to Monmouth County, where he held a command in the militia and took an active part in local abolitionist circles; when, largely due to pressure from General Clinton, New Jersey abolished slavery, Tye led a delegation of freedmen who presented him with a sword, embossed with the phrase 'Freedom to Slaves' the same motto as adorned the banner of Murray's Etheopean Regiment.
He later entered into business as a merchant, and became quite successful, helping to return prosperity to war-torn New Jersey.
After the Napoleonic Wars came to America, in the form of a Spanish-Patriot invasion of the British colonies, John Tye raised a regiment of freedmen and was commissioned its colonel: the honorary title bestowed for service became a true rank.
Tye led his regiment the 'Black Legion' throughout the Great Lakes campaign, then at the Battle of St. Louis, where the Black Legion was one of the three regiments to come nearest to piercing the Patriot defenses.
After St. Louis, Tye commanded a wing of the rearguard as the British army retreated back to the great lakes; at the Battle of White River Falls, he was wounded by a Patriot sharpshooter in the wrist; the wound became infected, and he died of Tetanus on September 5, 1810.
Tye was buried in Detroit, before the body was exhumed in 1812 and reburied in Middleton Township, Monmouth County; as fighter for freedom and Negro rights, he was well-remembered in British North America.