In honor of Black History Month, we’re going to explore the lives of four Black Charlotteans who are part of the Museum’s Path of Portraits project. Path of Portraits is part of our mission to honor the history of all members of our community and provide a space that encourages visitors to connect with people from the past. Working with Charlotte Is Creative and four local artists, the Museum commissioned four portraits of historic figures in Charlotte history. Each artist painted their respective portrait live at the 2021 African American Heritage Festival, after which the paintings were installed in the Museum with biographical information. The project was funded by the Arts & Science Council.
Painter Makayla Binter presents the completed portrait of Revolutionary War veteran Ishmael Titus at African American Heritage Festival in June 2021.
Up first is Ishmael Titus, as imagined by Makayla Binter. Born somewhere in southern Virginia around 1745 or 1746, Ishmael Titus was one of many enslaved men who served in the American Revolution. At the time, military regiments were not segregated, and enslaved and free Black men often served side-by-side with white and Indigenous soldiers.
Ishmael Titus, by Makayla Binter, 2021.
Most of what we know about Titus’s service in the American Revolution comes from the pension request he submitted in September 1832. According to the records, when Titus’ enslaver Lawrence Ross was drafted around 1779, he sent Titus in his stead. Titus joined Captain James Davis’ company under General Nathanael Greene in Rowan County somewhere along the Yadkin River. He served in numerous battles of the Southern Campaign, particularly the pivotal battle of Kings Mountain which helped turn the tide of the war. In his pension request, he also mentions participating in skirmishes with Indigenous people at Fort Independence in Boston, though the name may have been used for a different location at the time. It’s clear that Titus saw combat and probably engaged in much of the hard, manual labor associated with the building and transporting of large military encampments. After his discharge at the close of the war, he was briefly taken captive by Tories before being rescued and allowed to return home to the Yadkin River.
It's not clear how Ishmael’s path led him to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he would submit his pension request in 1832 at about 89 years old. His death was briefly noted in newspapers as he was claimed to be the last surviving member of the 1755 Braddock Expedition during the Seven Year’s War (also called the French & Indian War). He was more than 100 years old at his death.
This 1855 clipping from the Detroit Free Press in Michigan describes Titus as the last survivor of General Braddock’s failed expedition to the Ohio River Valley.
Like so many enslaved people who served in the American Revolution, Titus’s pension request was denied. His service was finally officially acknowledged by the NC General Assembly in 2013. Today, his name appears on a plaque near the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture honoring and celebrating the service of African Americans in the American Revolution.
Follow along all month to learn more about the Charlotteans featured in the Path of Portraits or come see them on display at the Museum on Saturdays.
Have a great weekend!
Titus’ Pension Application (transcribed): https://revwarapps.org/r10623.pdf
Detroit Free Press News article: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/23881190/detroit-free-press/
Plaque at the Gantt Center: https://docsouth.unc.edu/commland/monument/943/
About The Charlotte Museum of History
The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass