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Modern Voices
Margaret Washington on Colonel Tye
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Q: Can you describe for me Colonel Tye? Who was he, and what was his significance during the American Revolution?
Margaret Washington

A: Probably one of the most colorful individuals during the American Revolution was a black man named Colonel Tye, an enslaved man in Monmouth Country, New Jersey, enslaved by Quakers who disobeyed the general Quaker ruling that Quakers put their enslaved people on the road to emancipation. So even though some Quaker-owned slaves were getting their freedom, Tye wasn't. And he had a especially cruel master.

When the American Revolution emerged, Tye emerged as a fearless leader. He was only about 21, and he commanded both black and white Loyalists, and literally wreaked havoc in New Jersey and also in New York. He captured patriots. He executed patriots. He visited the region of Monmouth, where he was from, and burned and looted the slaveholders, freed slaves.

He probably had probably 800 men under his command at one point, both black and white. And he would capture people, if he didn't want to execute them, send them to what was called the Sugar House in New York City, and then go on his guerrilla raids. He was probably more feared in that region than any other British loyalist, black or white. The kind of guerrilla warfare that he engaged in kept the country in turmoil.

So he was very important in terms of the morale of African Americans, because many of them joined him. Others who didn't join him certainly got a big charge out of the fact that here was this black man who was leading these raids against the patriots, freeing slaves. And it gave them a sense of their own capacity. And they began to flee the farms and to move into the British, those who didn't join Tye, and also to fight in little guerrilla skirmishes themselves. So he was really largely responsible for the war effort in a non-orderly way, but in a sort of a guerrilla way, in the New Jersey countryside. A very important individual who remained on the scene, beginning in 1778, all the way up through 1780.
Margaret Washington
Associate Professor of History
Cornell Universiy

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