Henry Theodore Titus was born in Trenton, New Jersey on February 13, 1823. His family moved to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in the 1830s, where he later joined the state militia. In 1845 he served as a postal inspector in Philadelphia and then wound up involved in a failed attempted invasion of Cuba in 1849. In 1850 he participated with a Kentucky regiment in another failed Narcisco Lopez filibuster attempt on Cuba.
Titus returned to the United States and in 1852 met and married Mary Evelina Hopkins, whose father owned a 1200-acre cotton plantation in Jacksonville, Florida. After learning about the opening of the Kansas Territory Titus joined fellow emigrant Jefferson Buford (see previous post) in the effort to make it a slave state. Along with Buford he arrived in Kansas in May 1856. He settled on a claim near Lecompton, built a fortified log cabin that he called Fort Titus, and immediately began to make a name for himself as a pro-slavery ruffian of the worst sort. The New York Tribune described him as "a two-legged specimen of savage tigerhood."
Titus was a leader of the party of men that sacked Lawrence, Kansas on May 21, 1856. During the raid he ordered the printing presses of the local newspaper, the Herald of Freedom, destroyed and captured a free-state artillery piece, which he took back to Fort Titus.
A dispute with free-state neighbor Samuel Walker led Titus to label Walker a "robber, incendiary and horse thief," and offered $500 for Walker's head "on or off his shoulders." The hatred the Titus held for Walker was returned in full when on August 16, 1856, he and band of about 50 Lawrence men attacked Titus and about 30 defenders at Fort Titus. In a brief but sharp fight that was watched by U.S. Army forces under future Civil War Union general John Sedgwick, Titus and his men finally surrendered. The fight left two pro-slavery defenders dead and one free-state man mortally wounded. When Titus, who had been hit in the hand and shoulder during the fight, emerged from the cabin the free-state men leveled their rifles at him.
Walker later wrote that Titus, "was all covered with blood, having received severe wounds...he shook like a leaf. Seeing me on my horse he cried, 'For God's sake, Walker save my life! You have a wife and children; so have I. Think of them and save me.' He was a pitiable object and his appeal touched me...I took Titus into the stable. The men were intent on his life, and I had to knock one fellow down to keep him from shooting the poor wretch on the spot." Titus's slaves were freed and sent to Topeka. One was remembered as saying, "Massa Titus wanted six abolitionists for breakfast! Yah! Yah! Glory massa! guess he get his belly full dis mornin."
Titus and his men were kept incarcerated in Lawrence until the territorial leaders on both sides negotiated a prisoner exchange. The picture above shows Titus on the far left while a prisoner of the free state men. By the end of 1856 Titus was convinced that the free state forces would eventually prevail in Kansas and sought out other fields of adventure. When he learned of William Walker's filibuster effort in Nicaragua he quickly left Kansas with 100 men to join in that affair.
After the unsuccessful Nicaragua invasion Titus went to Arizona and joined in a failed mining venture with his brother. Finally, before the Civil War, he relocated to Florida. During the war he served as a quartermaster to the Florida militia. After the Civil War he moved his family briefly to New York and then back to Florida in 1867. After becoming a successful business owner and town leader he changed the name of the town from Sand Point to Titusville. After rheumatic gout kept him confined to a wheelchair a number of years, he died on August 7, 1881.