Titus Cornelius, AKA Colonel Tye
Titus Cornelius, better known as Colonel Tye, was born a slave around 1753 in Monmouth County, New Jersey. He grew up toiling in the farm of a Quaker owner named John Corlis, who parted company with his denomination’s growing opposition to slavery. The few Quakers who did own slaves were in the habit of teaching their bondsmen how to read and write, then freeing them at age 21. Not so Titus’ master, who not only refused to educate his slaves, but was a cruel master to boot.
Slavery was gradually declining in New Jersey, and Titus’ master became one of the last few slaveholders in Monmouth County. Titus grew up getting routinely whipped for trifles, and seeing other slaves enduring the same treatment from Corlis. When Titus reached age 21, the age when most owners in the region – particularly Quakers – typically freed their slaves, it became clear that Corlis had no intention of freeing him.
So Titus decided to free himself by running away in 1775. Fortuitously, he escaped one day after Virginia’s governor, Lord Dunmore, had issued a proclamation offering freedom to all slaves who escaped their American masters to serve the British. So Titus made his way to the Virginia Tidewater region, where the new freedman changed his name to Tye.
He settled in Williamsburg, Virginia, and initially made his living performing a series of odd jobs. Eventually, Tye enlisted in Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment, took to his new life under arms like a fish to war, and distinguished himself. The fortunes of war eventually returned him to New Jersey, and he ended up in the birthplace where he had been enslaved, Monmouth County, as a freedman under arms in British service. There, he would distinguish himself, and earn his place in history as Colonel Tye.