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History Day Project A Turning Point in History: Robert Smalls’ Commandeering The Planter to Freedom

By Soren Malm and Eric Junior Division Group Website

A couple of years ago, there was an informative section of the Today Show where Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was promoting his book Robert Smalls: The Boat Thief. When we heard about the theme of History Day this year, we knew Robert Smalls would be the perfect topic. We read the book and Robert Smalls was our first choice for he had certainly proved to be a turning point in history. We were completely convinced in this person. The more we looked into the man, the more impressed we became, and even more curious about this man’s incredible feat. Eventually, we just decided that this was what our topic would have to be. One of our approaches to research was searching for Robert Smalls on the Internet and looking at the websites that would lead us to primary sources. This approach proved quite useful and successful. We also visited libraries and asked librarians where we could find books and/or if they had any with them. At first, we weren’t expecting to find many books at the libraries because Robert Smalls is famous, but in our generation barely anyone knows of him. We also looked high and low for people who knew of Robert Smalls, such as university professors and historians. We even managed to find a descendant of Robert Smalls. Most of the best sources turned out to be books, interviews, documents, or documentaries, because primary sources or copies of primary sources are the most reliable. We chose to present our findings in the form of a website because we would like to be able to present our information to others easily so that they will be able to learn about historic Robert Smalls. We started out looking at websites so that we got a broad idea of what he did. As we dug deeper, we looked at books, lots of books, watched a documentary, found a newspaper article from the time, we emailed historians, and even emailed the great-granddaughter of Robert Smalls who replied. Then, finally, we put together our Weebly website for the world to see. Our topic, Robert Smalls’ The Theft of The Planter, relates to the theme of “People, Ideas and Turning Points” because he had several turning points in his life. As a slave, he miraculously managed to steal the ship The Planter from the South and to get past several southern guard posts. He delivered the ship to the North, which was a turning point because the ship aided the North extremely with its guns. He also helped to convince Abraham Lincoln to allow Blacks to fight in the Civil War, which completely changed the tide of the war. He also was the first black congressman, which may have influenced the fact we now have a Black President, Barack Obama.

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