Teaching Colonel Tye: Slavery, Self-Emancipation, and the Black Brigade

Teaching Tye: Slavery, Self-Emancipation, and the Black Brigade

By Bill Smith

Colonel Tye represented much of the inchoate American spirit that the United States would one day embody, even though he fought against the Colonists as a commander working with the British during the American Revolution. Enslaved in Monmouth County, Colonel Tye self-emancipated one day after the promulgation of Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation, freeing all enslaved persons who escaped and fought alongside the British.[1]

Like many enslaved and formerly enslaved persons who participated in the American Revolution, Colonel Tye left very few written records, leaving historians to rely on historical texts sourced mostly from local legends.[2] Colonel Tye first appears in the historical record in a runaway advertisement from November 8, 1775, after self-emancipating from John Corlis, an enslaver and disowned Quaker from Shrewsbury, New Jersey. Tye may have traveled south to Virginia after self-emancipating, joining the famed Ethiopian Regiment, though this possibility lacks corroborating documentary evidence.[3] Colonel Tye then made his way back to New Jersey, likely to Sandy Hook, termed “Refugee town,” by the many free blacks or formerly enslaved persons who lived there.[4] In “Refugee town,” Tye joined the Black Brigade and eventually became the regiment’s commander.[5]

Teachers using these documents can also inform students about the dearth of sources regarding enslaved and formerly enslaved persons during the Revolutionary period while also empathizing how local traditions can become the accepted historical canon without corroborating documentary evidence. Aside from his birthdate and the location where he was enslaved, almost nothing is known from Tye’s early years.[6] However, from his self-emancipation in 1775 until his violent death in 1782, Tye appears in the historical record, most often in local newspapers. Historians, teachers, and students can use these documents to learn about the lived experience of Tye’s early twenties and the outsized impact he had on Revolutionary New Jersey.

On November 8, 1775, Colonel Tye enters the historical record for the first time in a runaway advertisement. Using his footprints as ink, Tye wrote himself into history by self-emancipating from his enslaver John Corlis. From this runaway advertisement, teachers and students can be introduced to the future Colonel Tye, referred to in the advertisement as “Titus.”[7] Teachers can use Colonel Tye’s runaway advertisement to introduce students to the concept of reading archival sources “against the grain,” otherwise known as “counter-reading the archives.”[8] It is imperative for teachers to add context when using sources such as runaway advertisements to teach about the history and lived experiences of enslaved persons. The runaway advertisement for “Titus” reveals important biographical information about Colonel Tye. However, teachers must make students aware that this historical document was written and paid for by his enslaver in an attempt to recapture him. While using runaway advertisements in the classroom, teachers can use Colonial Williamsburg’s useful and accessible “How to” guide.”[9]

While John Corlis paid for runaway advertisements in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, some historians conjecture that “Titus” took the name “Tye” and headed south to Williamsburg, Virginia, where he served in the Ethiopian Regiment.[10] For the next two years, Tye disappears from official sources before reemerging at the Battle of Monmouth, where according to historian Graham Russell Hodges, he took on the title “Colonel Tye.”[11] After the Battle of Monmouth, Colonel Tye established himself as the leader of the “Black Brigade,” an elite combat unit comprised of black loyalists who led a series of devastating raids in Monmouth County over the last three years of the American Revolution.[12]

From 1779 until his death in 1782, Colonel Tye and the Black Brigade repeatedly appear in historical sources as New Jersey newspapers documented their attacks on Jersey shore communities. Teachers can use these newspaper accounts, sourced from throughout the state, to reconstruct the actions of Colonel Tye while also using the primary sources as a lens through which their students can view the experiences of the Black Brigade and the communities they impacted. Focusing on the summer of 1780, teachers can use two newspaper accounts, published within two weeks of one another, to compare the scale of the attacks, the types of supplies taken by the Black Brigade, as well as the response and tone of the primary source authors. For these sources and numerous others, teachers and their students can rely on Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey, a collection of newspaper articles related to the American Revolution. Compiled and published in the early twentieth century, this extremely valuable collection of documentary evidence of the American Revolution has now been digitized.[13]

For a life remembered as nothing short of remarkable, Colonel Tye’s somewhat nebulous death reads like an afterthought. Indeed, a footnote rather than a coda in a well-deserved symphony of life. Tye and the Black Brigade laid siege to the Colts Neck Inn, hoping to capture Joshua Huddy, a well-known Monmouth Militia leader infamous for the extralegal hangings of loyalists.[14] After capturing Huddy following an hours-long siege, Tye and the Black Brigade rowed their prisoner across the Shrewsbury River when they were ambushed by the Monmouth Militia attempting to rescue Huddy. During the fight with the Monmouth Militia, or perhaps during the initial siege, Colonel Tye was shot in the wrist.[15] Teachers can bring the death of Colonel Tye to life by having students examine a letter written by Nathaniel Scudder, in which he describes Tye’s injury.

Tye died shortly after sustaining the gunshot wound, likely succumbing to tetanus, though no documentary evidence survives.[16] While the few remaining extant sources on Colonel Tye present opportunities for teachers and students to critically examine and contextualize part of his life, teachers can offer students secondary source readings from historians when discussing the legacy of Colonel Tye, such as Franklin Ellis, who wrote: “Like our forefathers, he fought for his liberty, which our ancestors unfortunately refused to give him.”[17]


[1] For recent works that have examined Colonel Tye, see Douglas R. Egerton, Death of Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); James J. Gigantino, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); Joseph E. Wroblewski, “Colonel Tye: Leader of Loyalist Raiders and Runaway Slave,” Journal of the American Revolution, (2021); and Graham Russell Hodges, Root and Branch: African Americans in New York and East Jersey, 1613-1863, (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1999). Hodges has also written a local history of Monmouth County that investigates Colonel Tye. See Graham Russell Hodges, Slavery, and Freedom in the Rural North: African Americans in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1665–1865, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997).

[2] Wroblewski, “Colonel Tye: Leader of Loyalist Raiders and Runaway Slave.”

[3] Hodges, Slavery, and Freedom in the Rural North, 92.

[4] For further elaboration on “Refugee town,” see Hodges, Slavery, and Freedom in the Rural North, 98-100.

[5] For more on the “Black Brigade,” see Jonathan Sutherland, African Americans at War: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2004), 420-421.

[6] Philip Papas, That Ever Loyal Island: Staten Island and the American Revolution, (New York: NYU Press, 2009), 97-98.

[7] The New Jersey History Partnership transcribed a copy of the runaway advertisement, “John Corlies’ Ad for Runaway Slave Titus, a.k.a. Col. Tye, 12 November 1775,” New Jersey History Partnership. While this transcription and some other sources uses the spelling “Corlies,” the runaway advertisement uses the spelling “Corlis.” Tye is referred to as “Titus” in this runaway advertisement, however, this article will use his chosen name of “Tye.”

[8] On “counter-reading” the archives as a historical methodology and the issue of archival silences, see Stephanie E. Smallwood, “The Politics of the Archive and History’s Accountability to the Enslaved,” History of the Present, Vol. 6, No. 2 (2016); Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, (Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press Books, 1995); and Marisa J. Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

[9] Deirdre Jones, “How to Read a Runaway Ad,” Colonial Williamsburg, June 11, 2020. https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.org/learn/deep-dives/how-read-runaway-ad/. Accessed 2/19/2023.

[10] Egerton, Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America, 71.

[11] Hodges, Slavery and Freedom in the Rural North, 97.

[12] Hodges, Slavery and Freedom in the Rural North, 106.

[13] “Documents relating to the revolutionary history of the state of New Jersey,” digitized by Digital Commons Providence College, part of United States History Commons.

[14] Egerton, Death or Liberty, 67.

[15] For differing accounts, see Hodges, Slavery and Freedom, 104; Wroblewski, “Colonel Tye: Leader of Loyalist Raiders and Runaway Slave;” Sutherland, African Americans at War, 421; and Papas, That Ever Loyal Island, 97.

[16] Wroblewski, “Colonel Tye: Leader of Loyalist Raiders and Runaway Slave.”

[17] Franklin Ellis, The History of Monmouth County, New Jersey, (Philadelphia: R.T. Peck & Co., 1885), 114, in Wroblewski, “Colonel Tye: Leader of Loyalist Raiders and Runaway Slave.”

The Use of Social Framework as an Analysis of a Historical Event

The Use of Social Framework as an Analysis of a Historical Event

Jakob Morrissey

A “social framework” is a way that the public perceives a specific event that is ongoing or is being analyzed. Learning how something is socially constructed is by analyzing the primary sources of the specific event one is talking about. Primary sources include newspaper clippings, speeches, government documents, etc.… Social framework determines if a historical event is genuinely bad or genuinely good, but sometimes social frameworks of historical events are not completely true. When analyzing traditional history, generally speaking, top-down, it’s difficult to see what is going on at the smaller more local levels of society. Put this way, traditional history is usually analyzed from the top-down perspective, an analogy would be looking at a battle and looking at the battle from the general’s perspective. So an alternate way to determine the social framework would be taking the social-historical route where when analyzing an event, again back to the battle example, one can see the soldier’s perspective of the battle and how bullets were flying by, no food, seeing their friends being killed. Taking the social history route is key when discussing a lot of historical events. For example, during the crack epidemic, many politicians and rich people were not affected and they are at the top of society, therefore they never realized what life was like for people in those positions. During the crack epidemic, there were not many primary sources that were actually showing and displaying some of the characteristics that were shown during the heroin epidemic. So, the differences between the crack epidemic and the heroin epidemic were that first off there was a racialized component, and second that the crack epidemic was seen from that top-down analysis, and the heroin epidemic was seen from the social history approach

A way to show the racial privilege effect of the crack epidemic is the way that the epidemic was framed socially compared to other drug epidemics. Sadé L. Lindsay, author of Drug Epidemics and Moral Crusades: The Role of Race in Framing Issues of Substance Abuse  explains the idea of public perception perfectly. Lindsay discusses the crack epidemic and the heroin epidemic and how they were both framed in the public eye. In one section of her research, Lindsay describes her findings on personal narratives in newspaper articles. Prior, Lindsay discusses how the heroin epidemic primarily hit suburban neighborhoods which are predominantly areas that affect white people, and how the crack epidemic hit inner cities which predominantly affect areas of African Americans. In her findings, Lindsay cited an article from the New York Times that stated Everyone’s dream child… She was in the honor society, a cheerleader, and sang the national anthem at school events” (Sade, 2017, p.2) and described this quote as a “positive characterization of heroin addicts was common from family and friends who were given the opportunity to discuss their heroin-addicted loved ones.” (Sade, 2017 Page24)  When a media outlet describes victims of a drug-related death as positive, it gives a sense that what’s going on is a tragedy which is true. A tragedy in one drug-related death during a drug epidemic should be applied across the board regardless of what drug caused the death, but when it comes to the crack epidemic, Lindsay quoted an article from the Washington Post stating “[Crack] users typically binge without eating, sleeping, or bathing until their crack and money are gone and they collapse physically… addicts break into vacant buildings to smoke and share pipes. They also share common squalor (WP 1988).”(Sade, 2017 Page 26)  Stating that the victims of a drug epidemic are unhygienic and physically unhealthy gives a negative connotation to them and is completely opposite of the heroin epidemic. With the heroin epidemic affecting whites, the media gives sympathy for them and praises the victims for how good their life was and how they got ruined by heroin. When the media covers the crack epidemic, there is no sympathy at all but rather a somewhat condescending attitude toward victims and most of the victims of the crack epidemic were blacks in inner cities.

To prove the difference in the social framework of the two drug epidemics, an article by the New York Times and by STAT news were drawn. Crack’s Destructive Sprint Across America written by Michael Massing, in 1989, discusses the effects of the crack epidemic while Behind the photo: How heroin took over an Ohio town written by Casey Ross, in 2016, discusses the heroin epidemic and its effects in small towns in Ohio. In Massing’s article, he stated many negative connotations of the crack epidemic specifically drawn into New York City. Massing discusses how the neighborhood of Washington Heights used to be an excellent vibrant cultural melting pot then states now if you “Wander off Broadway, though, and the neighborhood quickly seems like an American nightmare” (Massing 1989) giving a bad reputation to a neighborhood and people that lived in it as a whole. Massing also went on to state that “in Harlem, in South Jamaica, Queens, in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick and Brownsville, poor young blacks – jobless, uneducated and desperate – hungered for a piece of the ”crazy money” crack offered”(Massing 1989)  again going back to what Sade stated, the use of condescending labels was put onto the people who were affected even going as far to state that “the gangs did their job only too well, killing 800 people by election day” (Massing 1989). In Ross’s article about the heroin epidemic, they hone in on a personal narrative rather than the heroin epidemic as a whole, again a statistic that Sade stated would be popular in comparison to the articles. The heroin epidemic has caused many people to overdose right in front of their children, in an interview with paramedic Christine Lerussi she stated “do you know how many houses we go into that the kids are sitting on the couch watching us?” (Ross,2016) as the newspaper article is sort of portraying a need for sympathy. A photo was taken by police of two parents overdosed in a car with a child in the back screaming for help, and the police department decided to put it on their Facebook as “Their decision to put it on Facebook was, in some ways, a cry for help.”(Massing 1989) It’s understandable to seek sympathy for victims in all aspects of a drug epidemic, but when the epidemic gets racialized, it’s seen that there is no sympathy for African Americans. Referring back to Sade she states that “largely frame the heroin epidemic as a public health concern by humanizing heroin addicts through personal narratives and advocating for collective action” (Massing 1989) but “the crack epidemic was framed as a public safety concern that emphasized punishment and crime prevention” (Sade,2017, p. 2), which is what can be seen between an analysis of both of these articles. Crack was dehumanizing, patronizing, and condescending acting as if the victims were not to be cared about. A drug epidemic again is a sad deal, but the application of sympathy through personal narratives should be applied equally when discussing both of them.