Ishmael Titus was a warrior, make no mistake. He was enlisted in the militia as a substitute for his master, and thereby won his freedom after his service of a year. He then enlisted as a free man and continued the struggle for American Independence on his own accord. Though we know little about his actual battlefield exploits we can garner some knowledge by following the orders given to his superiors.
He served under Captain James Dunn stationed at Fort Defiance in Lenoir, NC. Fort Defiance was, at that time, a stockade fortification built over-looking the Yadkin River in the mountains of NC. It was constructed to offer a safe haven against Indian attacks. It served also as a rallying point for militia against the Indians and Tories in the area.
Dunn was attached to Col. Elijah Isaacs and it is in Isaacs’ history that we find some corroboration in the pension request made by Titus in his old age. Isaacs was sent to the first battle of Camden to support General Gates in the middle of August 1780.
Col. Isaacs was assigned by General Gates to assist General Sumter in a raid on Cary’s fort, south of Camden, on the Western side of the Wateree river. General Sumter succeeded in this part of the plan as Gates was attempting to maneuver for battle at Camden. But Gates loses his battle and retreats pell-mell to North Carolina. Sumter’s men; and it would seem Isaacs and Titus, are now exposed with only a river between them and the whole British army. They slowly make their way north, up the western side of the river. Hampered with a long train of baggage, prisoners and livestock in tow, they are surprised and overtaken at the battle of Fishing Creek in present day Great Falls, SC. According to some sources, over 450 patriot soldiers were killed or captured by British leader Banastre Tarleton and his troops. Sumter is able to elude capture and make it back to NC to reform his militia. Col. Isaacs is one of the men captured. Ishmael reports that he went to Salisbury during the retreat from Camden.
We find Ishmael again in the field at Kings Mountain where he fought up the mountain with Captain John Cleveland and Colonel Benjamin Cleveland. After traveling for upwards of ten days in pursuit of the British through the NC mountain passes in the snow and rain, the citizen army finds them waiting with their Major Ferguson on a ridge just north of York, SC. On October 7, 1780, they pushed up the northwestern side of the mountain while militia troops from other parts of the back country encircled the British and did the same. It was a severe fight that lasted almost an hour. Fighting from tree to tree while scampering up the steep banks of the mountain, “Cleveland’s Devils” reached the top near where the British finally surrendered. On the march back up into the mountains of North Carolina they had to guard the many prisoners taken in the battle; the logistics of which tested the ill-supplied over-the-mountain men. Famished to the point of exhaustion, Titus’ militia melted back into the hills around the Yadkin river valley to rest and recuperate.
At the battle of Guilford courthouse Ishmael is again among the ranks of patriot soldiers. In March of 1781 American General Nathaniel Greene calls upon the NC over-the-mountain men to assist him in his tactical battlefield maneuver that decimates the British army and causes them to retreat to the coast. The Wilkes county militia faced off on the left flank with the lauded Von Bose Regiment of Hessian troops. The Hessians quickly closed the ground on the militia while wielding their bayonets. Titus and his militia would fall back again and again while trying to reload their rifles in the face of this charge. At the end of the day, General Greene had a substantive army intact, while Cornwallis was left to wander far away from his supply lines towards the coast.
Our hero is captured with others the next month by a band of outlaw Tories under a Captain Riddle in the vicinity of Wilkesboro, NC. Titus’ commander, Colonel Cleveland (the “Terror of the Tories”) is also arrested and bound with the others. Titus is forced by his captors to forage for horses for the Tories and while doing so played a part in directing Colonel Cleveland’s rescue party to the camp. In so doing, Colonel Cleveland is saved and Captain Riddle and others are hanged for their abuses.
At 89 years of age Ishmael Titus begins the process of documenting his war record. Starting his service as a slave and then enlisting afterwards for freedom sake, his loyalty would surpass many of his contemporaries. He had moved to Williamstown Massachusetts and was vouched for by four leaders of that community in his efforts to obtain a pension. However, documentation of that time period in the mountains of NC was sparse, at best, and his recognition would not come till more recently in 2012. We are fortunate to have some sliver of knowledge of this man of history. He saw the fledgling nation in the worst and best of battles, not as a mere spectator, but as an honorable participant in the struggle. Ishmael Titus was a man who valiantly did his part for the hope of freedom…. his and ours.
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