#BlackHistoryMonth Moment: Civil War hero and politician, #RobertSmalls! [details]

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 crew, and their families during the American Civil War by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor, on May 13, 1862, and sailing it from Confederate-controlled waters of the harbor to the U.S. blockade that surrounded it.

Smalls was only in his early 20s when he risked his life as a Black, enslaved man in the U.S. South to sail his family to freedom.

Haunted by the idea that his family, which included his wife, Hannah, and two children, could be sold and separated, a common practice during slavery, Smalls devised a plan.

On a moonlit night in the spring of 1862 during the Civil War, Smalls, an enslaved Black man, and a crew of fellow enslaved people, stole one of the Confederacy’s most crucial gunships from its wharf in the South Carolina port of Charleston.

Smalls, a maritime pilot, and his crew hijacked the U.S.S. Planter, a well-stocked ammunitions ship, after the three white officers left overnight.

Smalls and the crew sailed the vessel, carrying 16 passengers, into free waters, and handed it over to the Union Navy.

This intricately coordinated escape astonished the world.

His example and persuasion helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army.

After the American Civil War he returned to Beaufort and became a politician, winning election as a Republican to the South Carolina Legislature and the United States House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era. Smalls authored state legislation providing for South Carolina to have the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States. He founded the Republican Party of South Carolina. Smalls was the last Republican to represent South Carolina’s 5th congressional district until the election of Mick Mulvaney in 2011.


Leave a Reply