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Robert Smalls
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U.S. Congressman
    (April 5, 1839-February 23, 1915)
    Born in Beaufort, South Carolina
    Slave
    Ship's pilot
    Escaped with seven enslaved crewmen and their families by piloting the Confederate transport Planter out of Charleston harbor to the Union fleet blockading the port (May 12, 1862)
    Served in the South Carolina State House of Representatives (1865-70) and Senate (1871-74)
    Congressman from South Carolina (1875-79,1882-83,1884-87)
    Republican
    Technically, he was a thief.
    He so surprised by the Union ships, that one was preparing to fire on the Planter until he ran up the white flag.
    He was unsuccessful in proposing an amendment to a military funding bill that would have desegregated the army.
    He was convicted of taking a bribe in awarding printing contracts (1877).
    Records of his Civil War service were lost, so he did not receive a Naval pension until Congress passed a relief bill on his behalf in 1897.
    In addition to the Planter itself, he provided the Union with its cargo of artillery and powder and information about the harbor defenses.
    He met with President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to persuade them to allow black men to volunteer for the Union army.
    When the Planter, converted to a Union raider, came under fire and the captain abandoned his post to take cover, he took charge and brought the ship to safety (December 1, 1863).
    In recognition of his courage, he was given command of the ship, becoming the first black captain of a vessel in the service of the US.
    He helped draft the post-Civil War constitution of South Carolina.
    He authored state legislation to establish free public schools in South Carolina.
    Most historians agree that the bribery charges against him were politically motivated; he was later pardoned as part of an agreement in which charges were simultaneously dropped against Democrats accused of election fraud.

Credit: C. Fishel


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