Col. Tye, now based in Refugeetown on Sandy Hook, along with other escaped slaves, black freedmen, and loyalists from Monmouth County as well as elsewhere. Col. Tye begins a reign of terror, leading raids into his former neighborhoods at the front of marauding black and white loyalists, seeking food, guns, ammunition, silver, provisions – and hostages, and revenge against Patriots. The African American raiders, about 24 in number, become known as the Black Brigade, and their courage and merciless nature strike fear across Monmouth County. Due to their unjust treatment as slaves, the Black Brigade often aimed their raids at former masters and their friends. Locals feared both the loss of life and property from these raids, but also the fearof a slave uprising in New Jersey.
July 15, 1779: The Black Brigade, with “about 50 negroes and refugees,” executed a daring raid on Shrewsbury, during which they captured 80 cattle, 20 horses, and William Brindley and Elisha Cook, two well-known inhabitants. The British paid Tye and his men five gold guineas for such successful raids.
Henry Muhlenberg, a German Lutheran pastor sent to the colonies as a missionary, commented on how formidable the Black Brigade was: “The worst is to be feared from the irregular troops whom the so-called Tories have assembled from various nationalities– for example, a regiment of Catholics, a regiment of Negroes, who are fitted for and inclined towards barbarities, are lack in human feeling and are familiar with every corner of the country.”
On March 30, 1780, The Black Brigade captured Captain James Green and Ensign John Morris. In the same raid, Tye and his men looted and burned the home of John Russell, a Patriot known for his raids on Staten Island. Shortly thereafter, Tye and his men killed Russell and wounded his young son.
June 9, 1780: Tye’s forces attacked and killed Joseph Murray in his home in retaliation for Murray’s vigilante executions of loyalists. He also raided Barnes Smock, a leader of Patriot militia in Monmouth County, capturing 12 of Smock’s supporters and destroying his artillery. Three days later, Tye led a large band of blacks as well as the white refugees known as “Cow-Boys” in a daring attack on the home of Barnes Smock, a leader of the Monmouth militia, while the main body of British troops was attacking George Washington’s forces. Smock used a six-pound cannon to warn residents of the raid and summoned a number of men to help fight the raiders. “After a stiff battle, Tye and his men captured Smock and twelve other Patriots, depriving Monmouth’s militia of many leaders and Washington’s troops of their effective aid. The Loyalist victors captured valuable livestock and looted Smock’s home. Tye himself spiked Smock’s cannon – a symbolically disheartening action for the Patriots – before spiriting the prisoners back to Refugeetown at Sandy Hook, and thence to a sugar house prison in Manhattan.
On June 22, 1780, Tye and his men captured James Mott, the second major in the Monmouth’s militia regiment, James Johnson, a captain in the Hunterdon militia, and six other militia men; the Black Brigade and Cow-Boys plundered Patriot homes, moving around Monmouth County without any reported casualties.
Adelberg, Michael S. (2010). The American Revolution in Monmouth County. The History Press, Charleston, S.C., P. 75-97.
Allen, Thomas B. (2010). Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War. HarperCollins, New York, N.Y. P. 316-320.
Hodges, Russell Graham (1997). Slavery and Freedom in the Rural North: African Americans in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1665-1865. A Madison House Book, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., P. 91-107.
Image: Colonel Tye, original illustration by Charlie Swerdlow. Commissioned by Monmouth Timeline, ©2021, Charlie Swerdlow, History Depicted.