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The most famous of the Black Loyalist military units were the Black Pioneers and Guides. Divided into a number of different corps attached to larger armies, they served as scouts, raiders, and what we would today call military engineers. Their diverse situations mean that records of their activities are scarce - for the most part they weren't treated as a standard regiment but were instead divided into small companies and assigned as needed to various units. For the most part they dug fortifications and built huts and accomodations. While not a fighting unit, they would have often been called on to work under heavy fire and in the most dangerous conditions. In the record books of their arrival in Port Roseway, they are divided into companies of about 30 men each.

Although the Pioneers were the most numerous black unit, the Black Brigade was more daring in action. This small band of elite guerillas raided and conducted assassinations all across New Jersey. A former slave known as Colonel Tye, one of the original leaders of the Ethiopian Regiment, was the man who led them. Tye survived the famine and sickness of that regiment and returned to fight in his native Monmouth County, New Jersey, exacting revenge against his old master and his friends. The Colonel was an honorific; the British never formally commissioned blacks as officers but sometimes informally bestowed (or perhaps allowed others to give them) officer's titles.

He was the most feared Loyalist in the area, raiding fearlessly through New Jersey, from his first recorded action in the Battle of Monmouth in 1778 until 1780. Tye captured Patriots and much needed supplies, and in one celebrated raid murdered an infamous Patriot named Joseph Murray. Tye and the Black Brigade first fought independently, and then in partnership with a white unit called the Queen's Rangers. The supplies they seized were vital to the survival of the Loyalists in New York.

During a raid on a patriot militia leader, Tye and his brigade were caught in a drawn out battle. Eventually they burned their target out, but not before Tye had taken a musket ball through his wrist. The wound quickly turned gangrenous, tetanus set in, and within weeks he had died. Probably the most effective and respected black soldier of the Revolution was lost.

Other fighting units that Black Loyalists served in included the Jersey Shore Volunteers, the King's American Dragoons, the Jamaica Rangers, and the Mosquito Shore Volunteers. Blacks also commonly served in the navy and as musicians in nearly all regiments.

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Uniform of the Black Pioneers Regiment - Drawing by Terence Hawkins and reproduced with his kind permission.
The original uniform for the Black Pioneers regiment.

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Colonel Tye

Colonel Blucke


History of the Black Pioneers