Robert Smalls (American National Biography)

Glenda E. Gilmore, "Smalls, Robert,” American National Biography Online, February 2000,
In 1861 Smalls began working as a deckhand on the Planter, a steamer that operated out of Charleston Harbor. By 1862 he was the craft's pilot…When he learned of the Federal occupation of Beaufort, Smalls determined with several other slave sailors to guide the Planter to Union waters. Secretly loading their families on board, the men rushed the vessel out of Charleston Harbor under cover of darkness and surrendered it to the U.S. Navy…Smalls entered politics as a delegate to South Carolina's constitutional convention of 1868 and in the same year won election as a Republican to the state's general assembly. He served in that body until 1875, first as a representative and later as a state senator. In 1874 Smalls was elected congressman from South Carolina's Fifth District, which included Beaufort…Effectively excluded from local politics by the Democrats' electoral fraud and the state's disfranchisement of African Americans in 1895, Smalls remained active in the Republican party at the national level. Those contacts gained him appointment as collector of customs for the Port of Beaufort in 1889, a post he lost with the Democratic national victory of 1892. He regained the office in 1898 with the return of a national Republican administration. He served until 1913, despite growing lily-white sentiment in the Republican party and the difficulties of discharging his duties in now-segregated Beaufort…Smalls died there, disillusioned by the reversal of the African-American political gains for which he had worked in Reconstruction.
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