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During Black History Month, we honor African Americans who made significant contributions to American society and impacted the course of American history. One such figure is罗伯特·斯莫斯, who was born a slave in South Carolina, made a dramatic escape from slavery, and was later elected to Congress. Withprimary sources, Smalls’ remarkable life, achievements, and impact can be considered and understood through contemporary accounts.

Life as a Slave


Because of this favoritism, Lydia took action to ensure that her son understood the true nature of slavery arranging for him to labor in the fields and watch slaves at “the whipping post.” Working in the fields himself as a young boy, Smalls became insubordinate and was jailed several times. To keep her son safe, Lydia convinced the McKees to let him be hired out for work in Charleston.

目前,小商品在他的少年岁月举行了一系列的工作,并允许保留他的周薪一美元。他还认识了一个叫汉娜的奴隶,谁成为他的妻子和两个孩子的母亲。虽然生活在查尔斯顿,小商品成为对所用的同盟战争船Planter, which was anchored in the Charleston harbor.


Because Smalls could not afford the $700 needed to buy his wife and children from their owner, he began formulating a plan to win freedom for all of them. After the start of the Civil War in April 1861, Union ships blocked all harbors in Southern seaports, including Charleston. By September of that year, Union policy for Navy commanders was to accept runaway slaves as contraband. Smalls prepared to take advantage of this practice, and was ready when the opportunity presented itself on the evening of May 12, 1862.


之后,白人军官离开Planter在晚上,大多数从站搭乘加入小商品和他计划用船逃往自由。穿上由船舶的白司令,Rylea队长所穿的独特草帽,小商品放Planterin motion. He made it seem like the ship was sailing on official duty by giving the correct signals at Confederate checkpoints. After picking up Smalls’ wife and children, and family members of other slaves taking part in the plot, thePlanterheaded to the ships in the Union blockade.

在航行中,内衣裤Confederate flags replaced with a white sheet. As Confederate forces realized that thePlanter去了联盟方,美国海军还认识到,播种机是不存在于他们攻击,而是屈从于美国标准Onward。除了收购200发子弹和六枪构建良好的舰艇,美国上涨了约查尔斯顿,南部邦联,其船从斯莫斯知识。

Newspaper accounts from the North lauded Smalls’ actions on thePlanter。In a1862年11月帐户圣达菲共和党, the author praised Smalls in two ways: “first, for his fidelity to his domestic relationships, and secondly, for the foresight, ingenuity, comprehensiveness, and energy which he displayed in making his escape.”

Served in Union Navy

In the Union, Smalls became an instant hero. By the end of May, Congress passed a bill that gave Smalls and his crew half of the proceeds for the ship they brought to the Union. This resulted in $1500 for Smalls alone. Smalls used his newly acquired prestige to ask Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, to allow black soldiers to enlist in the Union army. Within a few months, such enlistment became Union policy.

However, there were rumors that Smalls had applied for passage to Central America. In Primary Sources, a从小商品信的编辑器Lowell Daily Citizendispels this notion. Smalls writes, “I wish it understood that I have made no such application; but, at the same time, I would express my cordial approval of every kind and wise effort for the liberation and elevation of my oppressed race.” his note concludes, “we wish to serve till the rebellion and slavery alike are crushed out forever.”

By October 1862, Smalls had returned to thePlanter作为试点。在过去的几年内战,他在至少17项军事行动,包括企图夺回萨姆特堡就因为他的英勇领导的1863年4月7日,参加了小商品被提升为上尉。到战争结束时,他在接受工资每月$ 150,在联盟军中服役的黑人士兵中薪金最高的一个。

Elected to State and Federal Office

After the war, Smalls bought his former owners’ home in Beaufort and continued to challenge the status quo. A successful businessman who owned a general store and a newspaper, he also began a political career in South Carolina. After stints in the state assembly and senate, Smalls served in the U.S. House of Representatives for five nonconsecutive terms between 1874 and 1886.

Smalls took legal action when he felt black voters were intimidated and subjected to violence, and when their votes were not counted or other fraudulent activities were evident.与在南卡罗来纳州的第五区有竞逐的选举法律简短可以在这里找到。小商品在这种情况下,这是有投票于1876年关心的第四十五届会员代表大会的文件包括有关的情况和受影响的选民及其他关联方的证词,许多细节的contestee。


Smalls personally experienced legal action that was intended to terrorize him and bring him harm. In 1877, he was convicted of taking a $5000 bribe while serving in the South Carolina senate despite the accusation having a partisan taint and proof of illegal evidence being used at trial. According to aNovember 1877 newspaper article in the Chicago-based Daily Inter Ocean, Smalls was sentenced to three years in prison. A jury of black and white men convicted him, but the black jurors reported that the white jurors threatened their lives unless they found Smalls and his co-defendant guilty. During his appeal, Smalls was released and the governor pardoned him in 1879.

Less than a decade after Smalls’ Congressional career came to an end, Reconstruction was rolled back in South Carolina when a new constitution was ratified in 1895. At that time, the voting rights of African Americans were eliminated. By then, Smalls was working as a U.S. Customs collector in Beaufort, a position he held until 1911. He died in February 1915 in the same Beaufort home where he had been born.


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