Robert Smalls

American businessman, publisher, and politician, US Navy and Army boat pilot, escaped slave (1839-1915)

Robert Smalls(April 5, 1839 – February 23, 1915) was an American politician, publisher, businessman, and maritime pilot. Born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina. He freed himself, his friends, and their families during the American Civil War. He did this by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor, on May 13, 1862. He then sailed it from Confederate-controlled waters of the harbor to the U.S. blockade that surrounded it. He then piloted the ship to the Union-controlled enclave in Beaufort–Port Royal–Hilton Head area, where it became a Union warship. His example and persuasion helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to allow African-American soldiers into the Union Army.

Robert Smalls
Robert Smalls - Brady-Handy.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 7th district
In office
March 18, 1884 – March 3, 1887
Preceded byEdmund W. M. Mackey
Succeeded byWilliam Elliott
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 5th district
In office
July 19, 1882 – March 3, 1883
Preceded byGeorge D. Tillman
Succeeded byJohn J. Hemphill
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1879
Preceded byDistrict re-established
John D. Ashmore before district eliminated after 1860
Succeeded byGeorge D. Tillman
Member of the South Carolina Senate
from Beaufort County
In office
November 22, 1870 – March 4, 1875
Preceded byJonathan Jasper Wright
Succeeded bySamuel Greene
Member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from Beaufort County
In office
November 24, 1868 – November 22, 1870
Personal details
Born(1839-04-05)April 5, 1839
Beaufort, South Carolina
DiedFebruary 23, 1915(1915-02-23) (aged 75)
Beaufort, South Carolina
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)
  • Hannah Jones
    (m. 1856; died 1883)
  • Annie Wigg
    (m. 1890; died 1895)
Children4
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/service United States Navy
 United States Army
Years of service1862–1868
RankNone (civilian pilot and armed transport captain)
Battles/warsBlockade of Charleston

17 battles including

Sherman's March to the Sea

Early lifeEdit

Robert Smalls was born in 1839 to Lydia Polite, a slave owned by Henry McKee.[1] She gave birth to him in a cabin behind McKee's house, at 511 Prince Street in Beaufort, South Carolina.[2] He grew up in the city under the influence of the Lowcountry Gullah culture of his mother. His mother lived as a servant in the house, but she grew up in the fields. Robert was liked more than other slaves, so his mother worried that he might grow up not understanding the troubles of field slaves. She asked for him to be made to work in the fields and to see whipping.[3]

ReferencesEdit

  1. "Robert Smalls :: A Traveling Exhibition". October 23, 2017. Archived from the original on October 23, 2017. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  2. Westwood, Howard (1991). Black Troops, White Commanders and Freedmen During the Civil War. SIU Press. pp. 74–85.
  3. Gates, Henry Louis Jr. "Which Slave Sailed Himself to Freedom?". pbs.org. PBS. Retrieved August 19, 2018.

Other websitesEdit

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
District re-established
John D. Ashmore before district eliminated after 1860
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 5th congressional district

1875–79
Succeeded by
George D. Tillman
Preceded by
George D. Tillman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 5th congressional district

1882–83
Succeeded by
John J. Hemphill
Preceded by
Edmund W. M. Mackey
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 7th congressional district

1884–87
Succeeded by
William Elliott