Robert Smalls

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War Hero
Date of Birth April 5, 1839
Place of Birth South Carolina
Date of Death Feb 23, 1915 (75)
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Robert Smalls was an American businessman, publisher, and politician. 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. He then piloted the ship to the Union-controlled enclave in Beaufort-Port Royal-Hilton Head area, where it became a Union warship. 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 State legislature and the United States House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era.

Born: April 5, 1839, Beaufort, South Carolina
Died: February 23, 1915, Beaufort, South Carolina
Political party: Republican
Children: 4

About Robert Smalls

Remembered for an American Civil War-era act of bravery in which he took over a Confederate vessel (the CSS Planter) and sailed himself and several other enslaved people to freedom in the North, he is also notable for his post-war political career.

Before Fame

During his late childhood and early teenage years, Smalls (who was, at the time, still in slavery) learned the rigging and sail-making trades. It was through his dockside and sailing work that he eventually managed to commandeer the CSS Planter.


During the 1880s, he represented South Carolina's fifth and seventh districts in the United States House of Representatives.

Family Life

The son of Lydia Polite, he spent his youth as a slave of Beaufort, South Carolina plantation owner Henry McKee. Smalls' marriage to Hannah Jones began in 1856 and produced a daughter named Elizabeth and a son named Robert, Jr.


During the Civil War, he provided important intelligence to the Union Navy and received a prize of over $1,000 from President Abraham Lincoln for his successful takeover of the CSS Planter.

Information related to Robert Smalls

  • South Carolina politicians convicted of crimes
  • United States Customs Service personnel
  • African-American state legislators in South Carolina
  • Gullah
  • Recipients of American gubernatorial pardons
  • People of South Carolina in the American Civil War
  • African-American history of South Carolina
  • African-American members of the United States House of Representatives
  • Union Navy officers
  • Members of the United States House of Representatives from South Carolina
  • South Carolina Republicans
  • American slaves
  • Members of the South Carolina House of Representatives
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Latest information about Robert Smalls updated on March 02, 2021.

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