Wednesday, January 5, 2011

African American slave secures Confederate ship for Union in 1862

"The Slave Robert Smalls Steals the Planter," Sons of the South website.
In First African American soldiers strike a blow for freedom as early as 1862, we began to review the book Army Life in a Black Regiment, written by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, commander of The First South Carolina Volunteers.  On his way to Beaufort to take command of his regiment in November of 1862, he passed the shores of Hilton Head where lay gun boats, schooners, and steamers.  One of the steamers was the famous Planter. See page 9.
Robert Smalls "keen navigational skills earned him a job as the pilot of the Confederate gunboat The Planter in March 1861.
Smalls' employer, John Ferguson, paid him $16 a month. Although $15 went to Henry McKee,Smalls was able to earn extra money, "moonlighting" by moving goods for merchants. He was known as an expert pilot, and had studied the maps and sea charts of South Carolina and Georgia. Meanwhile, the fellow slaves aboard The Planter planned their escape to freedom. They chose the able seaman Robert Smalls as their leader." 
See "Robert Smalls, War Hero and Legislator (1839-1915)by Dennis Adams, Information Services Coordinator and Grace Morris Cordial, Historical Resources Coordinator
On May 13, 1863,  Charleston-born slave, Robert Smalls, the captain of the crew and nine other men  including the pilot and engineers took charge of The Planter and navigated past the batteries and forts in the Charleston Harbor, raised the white flag, placing themselves "under the protection of The Stars and Stripes instead of The Stars and Bars." See The Slave Robert Smalls Steals the Planter.

"The following are the names of the black men who performed this gallant and perilous service:  Robert Smalls, pilot, John Smalls and Alfred Gradine, engineers; Abraham Jackson, Gabriel Turno, William Morrison, Samuel Chisholm, Abraham Allston, and David Jones. They brought with them the wife and three children of the pilot, and the wife and sister of the first engineer, John Small. The balance of the party were without families." You can read the entire article at Sons of the South:  The Slave Robert Smalls Steals the Planter.
The article in Harper's Weekly on June 14 of 1862 stated that it was recommended that crew be compensated $20,000 with Robert Small receiving $5000 from the Federal Government.
"Beaufort County Library , SC -- About Robert Smalls (1839-1915)." Beaufort County Library | For Learning. For Leisure. For Life. Web. 05 Jan. 2011. <>.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Army Life in a Black Regiment;. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1900. Google Books.
"The Slave Robert Smalls Steals the Planter."  The Civil War. Son of the South, 2003. Web. 05 Jan. 2011. <>.

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