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Smalls, Robert

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(1839-1915)

Robert Smalls (1839-1915)


Robert Smalls was born a slave at Beaufort, South Carolina, on 5 April 1839. He was able to obtain an education and was pilot of the Confederate Army steamer Planter at Charleston, S.C., in 1862. In the early morning of May 13 of that year, Smalls executed a daring escape, navigating the Planter out of heavily fortified Charleston harbor. The ship brought out members of his family and other slaves as well as a valuable military cargo.


In Federal service, Robert Smalls continued as pilot of his ship, and ultimately became its captain. As a politically active advocate for his race, he served in the South Carolina Legislature and Militia. During the 1870s and 1880s, Smalls was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was appointed collector of the port of Beaufort, S.C. in 1889 and occupied this position for many years. Robert Smalls died at Beaufort on 22 February 1915.