by Judy Luo
Colonel Tye was a unique figure in the Revolutionary War. There were many respected military commanders on both the Patriot and the Loyalist side. But Colonel Tye stands out because he was a former slave whose skill and strength earned the respect and fear of soldiers on both sides.
The American Revolution complicated the lives and loyalties of many African-Americans. The Patriots fought for freedom from their British rulers and protested British injustices against the colonies. Many of these Patriots, however, supported slavery.
Virginian Governor and Loyalist Lord Dunmore offered slaves their freedom if they fought against the Patriots. Dunmore was trying to undermine the Patriots by encouraging slaves to rebel against their masters.
Colonel Tye was one of many African-Americans who saw fighting for the British army as their only chance at freedom. Born in 1753, Tye was in his early 20s when he escaped from slavery and joined Lord Dunmore’s all-black Ethiopian Regiment.
Tye was a successful fighter and war strategist. His British comrades called him “Colonel” even though Britain did not award military titles to blacks. He eventually led his own elite black troop, the Black Brigade. Tye’s specialty was waging guerilla war against the Patriots. He soon became feared wherever he went.
In 1780, Tye was shot in the wrist during an attack. He thought it was only a minor wound, but the injury became infected, and he died shortly after.
Though he fought for the British, Tye and other black Loyalists were struggling for the same freedoms demanded by the Patriots. In his own way, Tye’s efforts reflected the values most cherished by the Revolution and stated in the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal” and “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” such as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
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