Robert Smalls

Robert Smalls – A Hero of the Civil War

Robert Smalls was an African American born into slavery in 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina. Despite being enslaved, he became a skilled sailor and captain, and in 1862, he made a daring escape from slavery by commandeering a Confederate ship and sailing it to freedom. He went on to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War and became a successful businessman and politician during Reconstruction.

Early Life

Robert Smalls was born on April 5, 1839, in Beaufort, South Carolina. His mother was a slave, and his father was likely the plantation owner. Smalls grew up working as a house slave and then as a sailor, becoming an expert navigator and ship pilot.

Escape from Slavery

In 1862, during the Civil War, Smalls made a daring escape from slavery by commandeering a Confederate ship, the CSS Planter. Smalls and a small crew of slaves managed to sneak past Confederate guards and sailed the ship out of Charleston Harbor, risking their lives in the process. Smalls flew a white flag and managed to bluff his way past Confederate gunboats before reaching the Union blockade. The Planter was taken as a prize of war, and Smalls and his crew were hailed as heroes.

Service in the Union Army

Smalls joined the Union Army and became the first black captain of a vessel in the U.S. Navy. He served in several naval battles and helped lead the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, the site of the first shots of the Civil War. After the war, he continued to serve in the military as a civilian employee.

Business and Politics

After the war, Smalls returned to Beaufort and became a successful businessman and politician. He served in the South Carolina state legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, where he fought for civil rights and the rights of African Americans. He also became a successful businessman, investing in real estate and founding a newspaper.


Robert Smalls died on February 23, 1915, in Beaufort, South Carolina. He left behind a legacy of bravery, leadership, and entrepreneurship. He overcame incredible odds to achieve freedom and success, and he dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of others.

Jackie Robinson

Elizabeth Cady Stanton