Story of escaped slave who rose to U.S. Congressman focus of talk at Fort Negley on Monday, January 16th at 7pm

One of my favorite subjects to speak on is the incredible true story of escaped slave Robert Smalls who would rise to the height of a United States Congressman immediately after the Civil War. It’s a story in which truth is stranger than fiction and it will be the focus of my talk at the Nashville Civil War Roundtable on Monday the 16th at 7pm. Join us at Fort Negley in Nashville.

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!

Here is a photo gallery of various images I have taken related to Smalls and Beaufort.

Corner of Carteret and Craven Streets in Beaufort. Site of former slave mart.

Corner of Carteret and Craven Streets in Beaufort. Site of former slave mart.

Model of The Planter; the ship Robert Smalls escaped upon.

Desk belonging to Smalls as a Congressman.

Images of Robert Smalls.

Bust of Robert Smalls; Tabernacle Baptist Church in background.

Robert’s master was John and Henry (s0n) McKee. They are buried in nearby St. Helena Parish in Beaufort.

2 thoughts on “Story of escaped slave who rose to U.S. Congressman focus of talk at Fort Negley on Monday, January 16th at 7pm

  1. Pingback: Faces of Black History – Robert Smalls | Merc Xue

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