Project Description

Ishmael Titus was an African American Revolutionary War Veteran who was born into slavery, yet was self-emancipated by serving  in the Revolutionary War in place of his enslaver, Lawrence Ross. After earning his freedom, Titus re-enlisted and served on the front lines of the Southern Campaigns in the Carolinas for two more years. He then moved North, eventually settling in the White Oaks neighborhood in the town of Williamstown, Massachusetts. In 1832 the United States Congress passed the Pension Act which allegedly granted a pension of full pay for life to every surviving officer who had served at least two years in the Continental Army. However, Ishmael Titus’ pension application was denied on the grounds that he had no written documentation of his service, likely due to the fact that at the time of his service he, like the vast majority of enslaved African Americans, was illiterate. Likewise, other African Americans who had served in the Revolutionary War faced similar pension denials. Following his death the story of Ishmael’s life and service was forgotten by nature of biased histories that sought to only honor the stories of white Veterans. Not until recently in 2015 was Ishmael’s service finally honored through a plaque located in Charlotte, North Carolina where he fought, risking his life for the future of this country. However, in Williamstown where Ishmael lived out most of his life he still had received no recognition. Thus our work during the fall of 2022 has aimed to change that. We started by carrying out original archival research, visiting the Williams College Archives and Special Collections as well as the Williamstown Historical Museum in search of any references to Ishmael or his family.  Using the minimal information we were able to gather, we then worked to share Ishmael’s story with the Williamstown community, aiming to overturn Ishmael’s erasure from Williamstown’s history. This took various forms including two op-eds that have been published in the Williams Record, a podcast featuring an interview with one of Ishmael’s descendants, Solomon Titus, and a Wikipedia article, with future efforts to establish a permanent marker or plaque at his burial site or at the location of his home, and to institute a  professorship or scholarship at Williams College in Ishmael’s name.