Robert Smalls (Notable Americans)

Rossiter Johnson, ed., “Smalls, Robert,” The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, vol. 9 (Boston: The Biographical Society, 1904).
SMALLS, Robert, representative, was born in Beaufort, S.C., April 5, 1839; son of Robert and Lydia Smalls. He was a slave until May, 1862, when he procured his freedom, began the rigger's trade in Charleston, and soon drifted into a seafaring life, sailing about the coasts of South Carolina and Florida and acquiring a knowledge of the various inlets and harbors which he used to the advantage of the Federal army and navy in 1862-65. In 1861 he entered service on the Confederate steamboat Planter of Charleston Harbor, and May 13, 1862, while the officers were absent in the city, Smalls, in charge of the crew of eight colored men, ran the vessel down the bay and delivered her to the Federal authorities. He was pilot of the U.S. monitor Keokuk in the famous attack on Fort Sumter in April, 1863, when she was struck by Confederate balls 96 times. 19 shots passing through her; she sank next morning off Light House inlet. Smalls, with her commander, Ryan, after a narrow escape, was taken aboard the Ironsides. He was pilot of the U.S. navy until July, 1863, when General Gilmore took charge of the department of the south and Smalls was taken into the quartermaster's department and made pilot in charge of Light House and Stono inlets. On Dec. 1, 1863, when the steamer Planter, Captain Nickerson, loaded with supplies for the troops on Morris Inland, was coming through Folly Inland creek the Confederates from Secessionville opened fire upon her. Captain Nickerson deserted his post, and Smalls, who was on board as pilot, taking her through the creek, assumed command and carried her safely out of reach of the guns. For this act he was promoted to the rank of captain by order of General Gilmore, who had witnessed the attack from Morris Island, and placed in command of the Planter, which was used as a supply boat along the coast until September, 1866, when she was taken to Baltimore, put out of commission and sold. He was a member of the state constitutional conventions of 1868 and 1895; a member of the South Carolina house of representatives, 1868-70; of the state senate, 1870-75, and a Republican representative from South Carolina in the 44th, 45th, 47th, 48th and 49th congresses, 1875-79 and 1881-87. He was a Republican delegate to several Republican national conventions; was in the South Carolina state militia, 1865-77, rising from lieutenant-colonel to major-general, and he organized, 1879, and was captain of the Beaufort light infantry. He was appointed collector of the port of Beaufort in 1889 by President Harrison, in 1898 by President McKinley, and in 1903 by President Roosevelt.
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