Robert Smalls, Little Known Self Emancipated Sailor and Hero

Robert Smalls (April 5, 1839 – February 23, 1915) was an American politician, publisher, businessman and maritime pilot. 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 the 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, delivering it and it’s four large guns and other cargo to Union forces.  In doing so, he also transported the entire enslaved crew and their families to

His wife, Hannah, demonstrated equal courage.  Aware of his interest in freedom but unaware the plan was to imminent, when faced with the last minute notice the attempt was to take place she replied, “It is a risk, dear, but you and I, and our little ones must be free. I will go, for where you die, I will die.[11]: 11

His example and persuasion helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army.

After the Civil War, Smalls returned to Beaufort and became a politician, winning election as a Republican to the South Carolina Legislature and the United States House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era. He authored state legislation providing for South Carolina to have the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States. He founded the Republican Party of South Carolina.

Information (abridged) and photograph by Mathew B. Brady, from Wikipedia