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Friday book signing kicks off Robert Smalls weekend
Posted: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 5:56 p.m.
Two National Park Service historians who wrote a history of Robert Smalls will sign copies of the book on Friday. Lu Ann Jones and Robert K. Sutton will sign copies of “The Life and Legacy of Robert Smalls of South Carolina’s Sea Islands” at 2:15 p.m. on Friday at Liberty Square, 340 Concord St. Smalls led a daring slave escape from Charleston during the Civil War and went on to become a South Carolina congressman. This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of Smalls’ commandeering a Confederate boat and sailing to freedom. The National Park Service will host events Saturday and Sunday.
05/08/12 at 07:58 AM The Planter was turned over to Union forces on the northern end of FOLLY BEACH. And it plied the Folly River, lighthouse cut between Morris Island and Folly and the Folly Creek during the Civil war. While serving on Planter for the Union, Smalls was promoted to Captain, when while sailing through Folly Island creek, Confederate batteries opened fire upon her. Her Captain fled the pilot house and secured himself into the coal bunker. Smalls was on the deck, and finding the captain had deserted his post, entered the pilot house, took command of the boat, and carried her and her crew safely out of the reach of the confederate guns.
The Wall Street Journal
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT May 9, 2012, 7:42 p.m. ET
From Slave to Statesman
By MARK YOST
Charleston, S.C. One of the benefits of an anniversary—such as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War—is that some of the smaller but nonetheless important stories get retold. That is certainly the case with the new Robert Smalls exhibit at the Charleston Museum. To Civil War buffs, the story of Robert Smalls (1839-1915) is certainly known. Born into slavery in Beaufort, S.C., he was sent to work in Charleston as a boy, became a river pilot and, on May 13, 1862, stole the CSS Planter, an armed Confederate military transport, steered it past Confederate gunboats, and surrendered the ship to the Union naval blockade. Smalls took eight men, five women and three children, all slaves, with him. Even if the Smalls story had ended there, it would be remarkable. But it didn't. Smalls went on to distinguish himself as a soldier, statesman and civil-rights leader in the Reconstruction South. As the traveling exhibit "The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls," curated by the South Carolina State Museum, explains in an opening panel: "His story represents the experience of the first generation of African Americans who emerged from their enslavement to live full and productive lives." Courtesy of the Charleston Museum Robert Smalls fought in the Civil War and for equality in the Reconstruction South. This small but informative display of 56 maps, photos, artifacts and examples of legislative correspondence is divided into four major themes: "Enslavement," "The Escape Route," "Robert Smalls and the Civil War" and "Reconstruction and Political Career." "Enslavement" focuses on Smalls's early life. He was born into the home of slaveholders Henry and Jane Bold McKee. Later in life, Smalls moved back and bought the home, now the McKee-Smalls House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It's widely believed that Henry McKee was Smalls's father. According to the exhibit, Smalls's enslavement was "mild." When he was 12, McKee sent him to work in Charleston, where Smalls was "almost free." "Almost" is perhaps a bit too kind. Yes, he was allowed to live alone, find a job and marry, but he could keep only a small stipend. Most of his wages went back to McKee. If Smalls wasn't exactly free, the move to Charleston was at least fortuitous. It was there that he trained to be a river pilot. Among the items on display are portraits of the McKees, on loan from the Robert Smalls family, and replicas of the slave badges that blacks like Smalls would have worn around Charleston.
"The Escape Route" focuses on the capture and surrender of the Planter. There's a historic map of Charleston Harbor that plots Smalls's course to freedom. Most important, the exhibit explains that it was because Smalls knew the Confederate signal codes that he was able to pull off his escape. In addition to the map of the harbor, there is a National Archives photo of Smalls commanding the Planter when it was converted to a Union ship; an article from the June 14, 1862, Harper's Weekly describing the Smalls mission; and a framed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. In the "Civil War" section visitors learn that Smalls was an overnight hero among Abolitionists. He met with Lincoln and then toured Northern cities advocating for black troops in the Union Army. Smalls was also a war hero. As captain, he led the Planter into 17 battles. In April 1863, he piloted the experimental ironclad USS Keokuk, which received so many direct hits from Confederate batteries that it sank in Charleston Harbor. On display here is an 1862 tintype photo of Capt. Smalls in uniform, on loan from the Samuel F. Dupont collection. There are also scale models of the Planter and Keokuk made by Smalls scholar Dennis Cannady of Beaufort. The last half of the exhibit makes clear that Smalls's battles in the Reconstruction South were no less fierce than those during the war. Smalls founded the Beaufort County Republican Club and once famously said that it was "the party of Lincoln which unshackled the necks of four million human beings." Smalls served in the South Carolina House and Senate from 1865 to 1874, was a delegate to the South Carolina Constitutional Convention in 1868, and served in Congress off and on from 1875 to 1887. Part of the gap in his congressional service was due to false accusations in 1877 that he took a $5,000 bribe. Smalls was framed by socalled Redeemers, Democrats who wanted to see the South go back to the days of slavery and the plantation. Smalls was convicted in November 1877 but pardoned in 1879. Despite these smears, Smalls was a power broker in local and national politics for more than 40 years. One of his signature achievements was working with former planter William Elliott, who owned a large plantation on Parris Island. Smalls secured the funding for what would become the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Unfortunately, the Redeemers eventually regained the upper hand, mostly through fear and violent intimidation. To that end, the exhibit relays two important statistics. At the 1868 South Carolina Constitutional Convention, 76 of the 124 delegates were black. By 1895, when Redeemer Benjamin Tillman organized a convention that basically disenfranchised all blacks, the number had dwindled to six, including Smalls. Similarly, there were an estimated 81,000 registered black voters in 1868. By 1895, the number had dwindled to just 10,000. The exhibit closes with photos and video of the September 2007 commissioning of the USAV MG Robert Smalls (LSV-8), an Army logistics support vessel. Nice to know that someone other than historians remembers Robert Smalls. We all should. Mr. Yost is a writer in Chicago. A version of this article appeared May 10, 2012, on page D4 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: From Slave to Statesman.
Thursday, May 10, 2012 - 12:20
Charleston begins to address black history with Robert Smalls memorial
SOURCE: Charleston City Paper (5-9-12) This weekend we begin to make amends for a century of lost history. A two-day observance of Robert Smalls' life and work will be held in Charleston, marking the 150th anniversary of his heroic feat aboard the Planter. A historic marker will be placed on the Battery near the spot where Smalls seized the boat. It will be one of the few historical markers in the Holy City dedicated to an African American. There is no final draft of history. Each generation must come to grips with its past in its own way. It must determine for itself what is important, what is real, and what is bogus.... Today, a new generation of historians is not content to challenge the old narrative of race and conflict, but is intent on a new and more inclusive narrative that will better define who we are and where we have been. Perhaps the individual most responsible for the way Charleston is telling its story today is Michael Allen, community partnership specialist for Fort Sumter National Monument, the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, and the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor....
Robert Smalls, for Beaufort, more than an inspiring slice of history
By DAVID LAUDERDALE email@example.com 843-706-8115 Published Thursday, May 10, 2012 5 Comments
Robert Smalls is one Beaufort's greatest native sons. His story is made more remarkable because he rose, as a headline in The Wall Street Journal noted this week, "from slave to statesman." Smalls is best known for the great escape 150 years ago this Sunday. Early on May 13, 1862, Smalls piloted a Confederate gunboat away from a Charleston dock, easing past Confederate fortifications in the harbor and on into the teeth of a federal blockade beyond. He risked being blown to bits along with his wife and two children and 13 other enslaved people aboard the CSS Planter. Almost instantly, a 23-year-old man born in a slave cabin in downtown Beaufort was a national media sensation. "There was a lot of doubt in the North: Will the enslaved person fight for freedom?" said state historian Walter Edgar. "That was proven at Battery Wagner, but it was first proven by Robert Smalls." Smalls was one of the greatest Civil War heroes Beaufort produced, said Beaufort County historian Larry Rowland. Beyond the great escape, Smalls fought in 17 battles under fire in Lowcountry waters, at one time coming face-to-face with a 10-inch Confederate cannon. "He was afraid of nobody," Rowland said. On Wednesday night, the Lowcountry Civil War Roundtable in Bluffton heard about Smalls and the Planter from Dennis Cannady of Beaufort, who pours his knowledge into precise models of the 147-foot steamship. Charleston will host a Robert Smalls Commemorative Weekend on Saturday and Sunday. A new interpretive sign will be dedicated in the Waterfront Park and a historical marker will go up on Bay Street. Cannady will do his show, and Stephen Wise of Beaufort, curator of history at the Parris Island Museum, will be on a panel discussing the Smalls legacy.
Charleston is right to celebrate the life of Smalls. But Smalls is quintessentially Beaufort. We should never let the world forget it. Smalls was born here and died here. He served his county in the state legislature and in Congress. Through the state Constitutional Convention of 1868 and later in Congress, Smalls became the father of public education in South Carolina. He raised money in Philadelphia for the first public school for blacks in Beaufort. In 1919, four years after his death, the first African-American high school in Beaufort was named for him. It was Smalls who pushed through the first federal acquisition of land on Parris Island so it could become today's Marine Corps Recruit Depot. He pushed for the U.S. Army to enlist black troops in the Civil War, which took place first on Hilton Head Island. That gave blacks income to buy land. And it left behind service records important to African-American families tracing their lineage today. One of Beaufort's greatest native sons remains more than an inspiring piece of history. Robert Smalls' legacy is as real as a paycheck and as promising as this spring's diplomas. Read more here: http://www.islandpacket.com/2012/05/10/2065815/robert-smalls-for-beaufortmore.html#storylink=cpy
Robert Smalls: Charleston Hero
BY ROBERT N. ROSEN Posted: Friday, May 11, 2012 12:16 a.m. The Post & Courier Without any doubt the most famous African-American Charlestonian of the Civil War, Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, in April, 1839. His parents were slaves of the McKees, and Robert ,as a favorite of the family, was given opportunities other slaves were not. When he was 12, he was taken to Charleston, where he could be hired out. He excelled in various jobs, working ultimately as a sailor. Smalls married Hannah, a slave, in the 1850s and worked to buy her freedom. He was allowed to keep a portion of his wages, with the greater part going to his master. When the war started, Smalls was the pilot of the Planter, a small dispatch and transportation side-wheel steamer which plied the waters of Charleston harbor. It had the capacity to carry 1,400 bales of cotton. The Confederate army pressed the boat into military service along with its civilian crew, including Smalls. The Planter became the dispatch boat and flagship for General Roswell Ripley, the commanding officer in charge of Charleston’s defenses, who used it inspecting forts, transporting officers and troops, and charting the whereabouts of the enemy. Smalls led a group of slaves to freedom aboard the Planter when he made his famous escape in the early hours of May 13, 1862. He left the dock on the Cooper River, picked up his and other slave families and made it past the Confederate defenses. After delivering the Planter to the Union navy, Smalls and his crew were taken to Port Royal and presented to Commodore Dupont, who called Small’s act “one of the coolest and most gallant naval acts of the war.” Smalls and his crew were awarded prize money for having commandeered an enemy vessel. But Small’s career had only begun. He volunteered to serve the remainder of the war on board the Planter and other vessels, although he never actually joined the army or navy. He was of great value to the Union navy because he knew Charleston harbor well and knew where many of the obstacles, mines and torpedoes were located, as he had helped to place many of them. He aided the Union by providing information about the Stono River area and participated in 17 engagements. In the April 1863 siege of Charleston he piloted the ironclad Keokuk. The Dictionary of American Biography recounts Smalls’ greatest moment under fire: “In 1863, while the Planter was sailing through Folly Island creek, the Confederate batteries at Seccessionville opened such a hot fire on her that the captain deserted his post and took shelter in the coal bunker. Smalls entered the pilot house, took command of the boat, and carried her safely out of reach of the enemy’s guns.” For this act of courage he was made captain of the Planter. Surrender of the vessel would, of course, have meant likely death for Smalls and the other black crew members. (The Confederates said they would execute escaped slaves fighting for the Union.) He therefore defied his superior and saved his ship — and himself.
Smalls became a political symbol early in the war. In August, 1862, he was sent to Washington by Gen. Rufus Saxton to meet with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton to seek permission to arm African Americans and allow them to join the arms. Smalls traveled to New York to raise funds to aid the freed slaves in the Port Royal area. A New York Times headline called him “The Hero of the Planter.” The African Americans of New York City cheered him and presented him with a medal picturing the Planter sailing out to the blockade past Fort Sumter. Smalls continued to pilot the Planter until 1866. He assisted in the support of Sherman’s army and transported Saxton to Charleston after the fall of the city in 1865. He took part in the April 14, 1865, ceremony at Fort Sumter when Gen. Anderson raised the old flag over the fort. “Almost central in interest,” one Northerner wrote, “the Planter, crowded almost to suffocation,” with former slaves, was piloted by Smalls, “a prince among them, self-possessed, prompt and proud.” At the end of the war Smalls returned to Beaufort, where he was active in Republican party politics. His moderate views made him popular with both races. He served in the state House of Representatives from 1868 to 1870 and in the Senate from 1870 to 1874. From 1875 to 1887 (except 1880-1881) he served in Congress. In 1889 he was appointed collector of the Port of Beaufort, in which capacity he served until 1913 (except during Grover Cleveland’s second term). He purchased his former master’s home in Beaufort in 1865 and lived there the rest of his life. He died in 1915. There are several monuments to him, but the most eloquent is at Robert Smalls Junior High School in Beaufort. In May 1862, Smalls had been a 23-year-old slave who could not read. Robert N. Rosen is a lawyer and past president of the Fort Sumter/ Fort Moultrie Historical Trust.
No Headline | May 11, 2012
BY ROBERT N. ROSEN Smalls' career began with heroic flight to freedom Without any doubt the most famous African-American Charlestonian of the Civil War, Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, in April, 1839. His parents were slaves of the McKees, and Robert ,as a favorite of the family, was given opportunities other slaves were not. When he was 12, he was taken to Charleston, where he could be hired out. He excelled in various jobs, working ultimately as a sailor. Smalls married Hannah, a slave, in the 1850s and worked to buy her freedom. He was allowed to keep a portion of his wages, with the greater part going to his master. When the war started, Smalls was the pilot of the Planter, a small dispatch and transportation side-wheel steamer which plied the waters of Charleston harbor. It had the capacity to carry 1,400 bales of cotton. The Confederate army pressed the boat into military service along with its civilian crew, including Smalls. The Planter became the dispatch boat and flagship for General Roswell Ripley, the commanding officer in charge of Charleston's defenses, who used it inspecting forts, transporting officers and troops, and charting the whereabouts of the enemy. Smalls led a group of slaves to freedom aboard the Planter when he made his famous escape in the early hours of May 13, 1862. He left the dock on the Cooper River, picked up his and other slave families and made it past the Confederate defenses. After delivering the Planter to the Union navy, Smalls and his crew were taken to Port Royal and presented to Commodore Dupont, who called Small's act "one of the coolest and most gallant naval acts of the war." Smalls and his crew were awarded prize money for having commandeered an enemy vessel. But Small's career had only begun. He volunteered to serve the remainder of the war on board the Planter and other vessels, although he never actually joined the army or navy. He was of great value to the Union navy because he knew Charleston harbor well and knew where many of the obstacles, mines and torpedoes were located, as he had helped to place many of them. He aided the Union by providing information about the Stono River area and participated in 17 engagements. In the April 1863 siege of Charleston he piloted the ironclad Keokuk. The Dictionary of American Biography recounts Smalls' greatest moment under fire: "In 1863, while the Planter was sailing through Folly Island creek, the Confederate batteries at Seccessionville opened such a hot fire on her that the captain deserted his post and took shelter in the coal bunker. Smalls entered the pilot house, took command of the boat, and carried her safely out of reach of the enemy's guns." For this act of courage he was made captain of the Planter. Surrender of the vessel would, of course, have meant likely death for Smalls and the other black crew members. (The Confederates said they would execute escaped slaves fighting for the Union.) He therefore defied his superior and saved his ship - and himself. Smalls became a political symbol early in the war. In August, 1862, he was sent to Washington by Gen. Rufus Saxton to meet with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton to seek permission to arm African Americans and allow them to join the arms. Smalls traveled to New York to raise funds to aid the freed slaves in the Port Royal area. A New York Times headline called him "The Hero of the Planter." The African Americans of New York City cheered him and presented him with a medal picturing the Planter sailing out to the blockade past Fort Sumter. Smalls continued to pilot the Planter until 1866. He assisted in the support of Sherman's army and transported Saxton to Charleston after the fall of the city in 1865. He took part in the April 14, 1865, ceremony at Fort Sumter when Gen. Anderson raised the old flag over the fort. "Almost central in interest," one Northerner wrote, "the Planter, crowded almost to suffocation," with former slaves, was piloted by Smalls, "a prince among them, self-possessed, prompt and proud."
At the end of the war Smalls returned to Beaufort, where he was active in Republican party politics. His moderate views made him popular with both races. He served in the state House of Representatives from 1868 to 1870 and in the Senate from 1870 to 1874. From 1875 to 1887 (except 1880-1881) he served in Congress. In 1889 he was appointed collector of the Port of Beaufort, in which capacity he served until 1913 (except during Grover Cleveland's second term). He purchased his former master's home in Beaufort in 1865 and lived there the rest of his life. He died in 1915. There are several monuments to him, but the most eloquent is at Robert Smalls Junior High School in Beaufort. In May 1862, Smalls had been a 23-year-old slave who could not read. Robert N. Rosen is a lawyer and past president of the Fort Sumter/ Fort Moultrie Historical Trust.
Copyright, 2012, The Post and Courier. All Rights Reserved.
MAY 12, 2012, 5:45 PM
Robert Smalls’s Great Escape
By BLAIN ROBERTS and ETHAN J. KYTLE
Disunion follows the Civil War as it unfolded.
Blacks, Charleston, Slavery, The Civil War
As elite Charlestonians slept unaware in the lavish mansions of the Confederacy’s spiritual capital, a slave — a mulatto man trusted by both his owners and employers — executed a daring plot that struck at the core of the white Southern imagination. In the early morning of Tuesday, May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls, the wheelman of the Planter, commandeered the former cotton steamer turned Confederate supply boat. His plan: to sail through the harbor, beyond Confederate fortifications, to the Union blockade — to freedom. On board were the rest of the enslaved crew and nearly a dozen other bondspeople, including Smalls’s wife and two children. He and his co-conspirators had certainly planned their mission well. As Smalls had predicted, the Planter’s white officers, tired from a week’s absence from the city, ignored Confederate naval policy requiring that one officer stay with the ship and went ashore for the evening. Smalls also took to heart a remark made by one of his fellow crewman — “Boy, you look jes like de captain” — and donned the white skipper’s naval jacket and trademark straw hat. Aided by the disguise and the dusky light of the early morning, Smalls gambled that he could pass for the officer once the Planter reached Fort Sumter, which would have to grant the boat permission to leave the harbor. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, was Smalls’s knowledge of his trade and the waters of Charleston Harbor. A skilled sailor since childhood, Smalls had spent the past few years working on boats that served the city’s bustling port, passing on a portion of his pay to his permissive master. In the summer of 1861, he had accepted a job aboard the Planter, which had been commissioned by the Confederacy to help defend Charleston. He thus knew the signals the boat would have to use to pass Fort Sumter, and he knew where the mines were, since he himself had laid them. Still, it was an audacious undertaking. Should they be caught, Smalls acknowledged to his wife, the outcome was assured. “I shall be shot,” he stated matter-of-factly. Library of CongressRobert Smalls and the Planter, from Harper’s Weekly
But the plan worked. The sentinel at Fort Sumter answered the ship’s signal with the cry, “Pass the Planter,” and Smalls and his crew barreled ahead toward the Union blockade. The ship announced its friendly intentions by removing the Confederate flag for a white bed sheet. Realizing they had made it, the slaves on board, according to the captain of the Union ship Onward, flocked to the deck, “some dancing, some singing, whistling, jumping; and others stood looking toward Fort Sumter, and muttering all sorts of maledictions against it.” Upon meeting the captain, Smalls revealed that freedom had not been his only goal. “I thought the Planter,” he wryly offered, “might be of some use to Uncle Abe.” Smalls’s feat caught Northerners and Southerners off guard. In the North, Smalls was hailed as a hero, and his courageous scheme spoke to one of the most pressing policy debates of the war, persuading some reluctant Northerners that blacks would indeed don a blue uniform and fight for their liberty. A Pennsylvania Congressman argued that the incident proved that blacks had “enterprise, energy, and capacity, and may be trusted to go it alone.” It was no surprise, then, that Union General David Hunter, who advocated arming former slaves, sent Smalls as part of a delegation to convince President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton of the wisdom of this course later that summer. But in the Confederacy, the story was a bitter pill to swallow. “Our community was intensely agitated Tuesday morning,” reported the Charleston Daily Courier on May 14. Smalls had deprived the upstart nation of precious commodities — 17 former bondspeople and a gunboat that Smalls claimed was worth $30,000 — while providing the Union Navy with essential intelligence about the waterways surrounding Charleston. More generally, the Planter incident offered an unsettling answer to a question that Southern slaveholders had been wrestling with for much of the 19th century: Were slaves faithful servants or enemies in their midst? Many Old South planters labored under the delusion that slavery was a domestic institution governed by familial rather than market values. Positing themselves as benevolent patriarchs, they claimed to provide for the material and spiritual needs of their “black family” just as they did for their “white family.” “God in his good Providence has brought these heathen to our very doors,” insisted a writer in the Southern Quarterly Review in 1848. “In our dwellings … devolve upon us obligations and duties as solemn and responsible as those we owe to our children.” A curious admixture of Christian stewardship, white supremacy and self-interest, this paternalist ethos promised to pay moral and practical dividends for Southern society. Since humanely treated slaves were healthier, lived longer and thus produced far more rice, cotton, sugar and tobacco, planters could attend to the Christian responsibility to guide their uncivilized charges as they lined their pockets. Related Disunion Highlights
Explore multimedia from the series and navigate through past posts, as well as photos and articles from the Times archive.
See the Highlights » And as the abolitionist chorus grew louder in the 1830s, paternalism also made for good sectional propaganda. Southern politicians and theorists like James Henry Hammond and George Fitzhugh contrasted the cold calculus of the free-market North with the tender bonds that knit together the plantation South. Although few paternalists practiced what they preached — slave families, for instance, were regularly broken up at the auction block — many nonetheless held fast to the notion that their slaves were loyal members of their plantation family. Yet to a second group of slaveholders, this was utter nonsense. Paternalism, they argued, was a poor substitute for a firm hand when it came to managing the enslaved. When slaves disobeyed, ran away or threatened rebellion, these anti-paternalists pointed the finger at indulgent masters, who gave their slaves too many liberties and privileges, and evangelical missionaries, who sought to nurture Christian faith by teaching the enslaved to read and write. In Charleston, for example, free black and enslaved members of the city’s African Methodist Episcopal congregation had plotted a slave uprising in 1822. James Hamilton Jr., the city attendant and future governor of South Carolina, blamed the “misguided benevolence” of local slaveholders for the thwarted uprising, led by Denmark Vesey. He noted that its “ringleaders” were among “the most humanely treated negroes in the city.” In response to the Vesey scare, the state cracked down on the few liberties afforded free blacks and slaves. In the meantime, Charleston shored up its defenses against insurrection, beginning work on the Citadel, a formidable arsenal in the center of the city, which would eventually become the home of the South Carolina Military Academy. Nevertheless, paternalism remained a powerful influence in Charleston and across the South through the Civil War. Southerners ruled their slaveholding society through force and coercion on the one hand, and indulgence and negotiation on the other. A paternalist faith in slave loyalty was nowhere more evident than in the white crew’s decision to leave Smalls and his enslaved colleagues on the Planter while they went ashore for the evening. Smalls’s escape, like countless less famous episodes over the course of the war, undoubtedly dispelled many masters’ illusions about the devotion of their human chattel. Yet even after thousands of slaves ran away behind Union lines, and thousands more followed Smalls into armed service against the Confederacy, some slaveholders remained blinded by the paternalist ethos. In May 1865, just months after black Charlestonians had paraded through the streets of the city celebrating their liberation, a local planter named Henry William Ravenel wrote of his slaves, “As they always been faithful and attached to us, and have been raised as family servants,
and have all of them been in our family for several generations, there is a feeling towards them somewhat like that of a father.” Robert Smalls, for his part, remained an enemy in the midst of the planter class. A Union pilot and captain for the duration of the war, he helped found the Republican Party in South Carolina in 1867 and served as a state senator and United States congressman. In the process, he became a key player in Reconstruction, the short-lived experiment in bi-racial democracy that former planters across the South viewed as an abomination second only to emancipation. And in a twist that must have made even the most die-hard paternalist take notice, Smalls bought the home of his former master, moving his real family into the very place where his so-called white family had once resided. Follow Disunion at twitter.com/NYTcivilwar or join us on Facebook. Sources: Charleston Daily Courier, May 14, 1862; Edward A. Miller, Jr., “Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls from Slavery to Congress, 1839-1915”; Philip Dray, “Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen”; Andrew Billingsley, “Yearning to Breathe Free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and His Families”; Okon E. Uya, “From Slavery to Public Service: Robert Smalls, 1839-1915”; Lacy Ford, “Deliver Us from Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South”; Kenneth M. Stampp, “The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South”; Norrece T. Jones Jr., “Born a Child of Freedom, Yet a Slave: Mechanisms of Control and Strategies of Resistance in Antebellum South Carolina”; Douglas R. Egerton, “He Shall Go Out Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey”; “Religious Instruction of Slaves: Twelfth Annual Report of the Liberty County Association for the Instruction of Slaves, 1847,” Southern Quarterly Review 14 (July 1848); Liberator, Sept. 12, 1862. Blain Roberts, left, and Ethan J. Kytle are assistant professors of history at California State University, Fresno and the authors of the forthcoming “Searching for Slavery in the Cradle of the Confederacy.”
South Carolina marks exslave's daring sail to freedom
By Harriet McLeod
updated 5/12/2012 7:54:05 PM ET
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - Descendants of Civil War hero Robert Smalls are celebrating the ex-slave who 150 years ago this weekend commandeered a Confederate steamship and evaded batteries overlooking Charleston harbor to reach a Union blockade and freedom.
Calling themselves the "family of cousins" and ranging in age from 3 months to 94 years old, Smalls' descendants came to the Charleston Museum on Saturday for weekend events that included dedicating historical markers at harborside and retracing the route of the steamship "Planter" through the harbor.
They have known the story since childhood, Smalls' great-granddaugher Helen Moore said.
"My grandmother was on the Planter. She was Robert Smalls' oldest daughter. She was 2 years old at the time," Moore, a psychologist who lives in Sarasota, Florida, said at the museum.
Smalls was born a slave in 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina - a town where his name now adorns schools, parkways and military facilities.
When he was 12, his owner sent him 60 miles up the coast to Charleston to enter the "hired slave" system. He trained as a boat deckhand and earned a small wage. In 1861, the year the Civil War began, he was hired aboard the Planter, a cotton transport.
SAIL TO FREEDOM
On May 12, 1862, while the captain and crew were off the ship, Smalls sailed from a Charleston wharf and picked up his wife and children and other African-American slaves and their families.
Early the next morning, he donned the captain's broad straw hat as a disguise and turned his face away from Confederate soldiers manning forts overlooking the harbor as he made his escape.
Once outside the harbor, Smalls lowered the ship's Confederate flag, hoisted a white bedsheet to signal surrender, and delivered the boat to the Union blockade at sea.
"This is a day that I have always noted as our personal independence day," Smalls' great-great-grandson, Michael Moore, chairman of Glory Foods Inc, told an audience at the museum.
"It's 150 years that our family has been free."
The man known as "Grampa" by his family would have been put to death, along with everyone on board, had he been captured, Moore said.
"He made the decision to stick his neck out," Moore said. "He was going to be free or he was going to be dead."
The exhibit that Moore helped put together at the South Carolina State Museum has traveled to a dozen East Coast cities and will be on tour through 2017, said program manager Jeff Powley.
"History is as much a tool of culture as it is an articulation of events," Moore said. "Stories like Robert Smalls' can be so valuable to the African-American community because he achieved enormous things at astronomical odds."
After his exploit, Smalls went to Philadelphia, hired tutors to teach him to read and write, and joined the Union navy. Before the Civil War was over, he fought in 17 sea battles, piloted a Union ironclad warship, and was named captain of the Planter.
Smalls lobbied President Abraham Lincoln to allow African-Americans to fight for the Union. After the war, he bought his former owner's house in Beaufort and served as a state lawmaker and one of a handful of black delegates to the state's constitutional conventions.
He was elected to Congress five times from South Carolina and wrote the legislation that created the Parris Island Marine base near Beaufort. In 1900, he was awarded $5,000 by Congress for the capture of the Planter. Smalls died in 1915 at age 75.
Charleston, where the Civil War began with the 1861 Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, is in the second year of Civil War sesquicentennial events.
"The tragedy that was the Civil War was the crucible that really made our country," Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley said at the museum. "The history of African-Americans is the history of America. It helps us understand who we are as a people and who built this country."
Fundraising will start this year to build an International Museum of African-American History in Charleston, the port that received a large percentage of slaves imported during the 18th and 19th century Atlantic slave trade, Riley said.
(Editing by Andrew Stern and Peter Cooney)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012.
Robert Smalls lauded as civil rights pioneer
by brian hicks firstname.lastname@example.org On a day when Robert Smalls was remembered in Charleston for his daring escape from slavery during the Civil War, historians said he also was an important and early visionary of civil rights. And they said his name should be better known than it is. Because Smalls, who eventually served five terms as a South Carolina congressman during Reconstruction, was ahead of his time. At a panel discussion hosted by Morris Brown AME Church on Saturday night, a group of historians discussed Smalls' considerable legacy before, during and after the Civil War. University of Texas history professor W. Marvin Dulaney, former executive director of the Avery Research Center, noted that Smalls fought in Congress for the rights of blacks to be served in restaurants, for voting rights, equal opportunity and a desegregated Army - progressive movements that largely would not come until the next century. "Smalls gives us an example of how the civil rights movements and the goals of the movement extend backward past 1954," Dulaney said. Earlier in the day, Smalls' descendants joined with the National Park Service, Charleston Museum, city and Historic Charleston Foundation to dedicate two monuments to Smalls, who commandeered the Confederate boat he piloted on May 13, 1862, and sailed to freedom with his family and a half-dozen other slaves. Bernard Powers, history professor at the College of Charleston, noted that Smalls made the most of opportunities he gained from living a "blessed life" as a largely autonomous slave living in Charleston as a young man. After Smalls commandeered the Planter, and later was named the first captain of a ship for the U.S. government, he served in South Carolina's Legislature, then represented the state in Congress. Elaine Nichols, senior curator of culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, said Smalls' success during and after the war represented a "symbolic victory for millions of African-Americans," and noted that he will be prominently featured in the museum, scheduled to open in 2015. That will certainly raise Smalls' profile beyond Charleston, but audience members asked why he isn't already well-known as a historical figure. Stephen Wise, director of the Parris Island Museum, said Smalls focused most of his efforts on the local level. And when South Carolina leaders rewrote the state's history to expunge the achievements of blacks, Smalls was in some part forgotten. Two days of events this weekend, a traveling museum exhibit and a prominent spot in the Smithsonian is aimed at changing all that. Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or follow him on Twitter at@BriHicks_PandC. Copyright, 2012, The Post and Courier. All Rights Reserved.
Robert Smalls escaped aboard the CSS Planter exactly 150 years ago today
May 13, 2012
Robert Smalls (1839 – 1915) was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on April 5th, 1839, in a slave cabin behind his mother’s master’s house on 511 Prince Street. In 1862 he escaped from Charleston harbor aboard a steamer called the Planter with his family and several friends too. The boat had to pass by five Confederate check-points and then surrender its contents to the northern Naval fleet out in the harbor where it was blockading the important southern port. His escape succeeded and Robert would meet Abraham Lincoln personally a couple weeks later. Lincoln was quite impressed with a black man (slave) who had learned how to pilot and navigate the coastal waterways around Charleston. Lincoln rewarded Smalls handsomely with bounty-money and a commission into the Union Navy as a captain of a vessel – the Planter! He was the first black Captain of a U.S. Naval vessel. Three months later Smalls would visit Abraham Lincoln in the Whitehouse to plead the opportunity for blacks to fight for the Union. Just days afterwards Lincoln approved the raising of the first black troops in the Blue uniform and Robert Smalls was instrumental in helping to start the 1st South Carolina Infantry of U.S. Colored Troops. Smalls would go on to pilot the Planter for the Union cause and take pace in several important engagements around Charleston and the Sea Islands. After the Civil War he was elected among a few other blacks as they became the freshman class of blacks to serve as U.S. Congressmen. Robert Smalls’s story is an amazing one of courage, determination, sacrifice, risk and reward – from slavery to Congressman! Charleston is celebrating the amazing feat with several community engagements this weekend. Read these articles:
Robert Smalls’ legacy will be remembered this weekend Smalls important to Civil War, and Civil rights Little-known Civil War escape remembered South Carolina mark ex-slave’s daring sail to freedom Robert Smalls’s Great Escape Charleston begins to address Black history with Robert Smalls memorial
See my visual guide to Robert Smalls and Beaufort
On Michael Boulware Moore’s Facebook page 5.13.12
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