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African American Naval Hero and Politician Robert Smalls

Discussion in 'Civil War History - The Naval War' started by tmh10, Jan 22, 2013.

  1. tmh10

    tmh10 Major

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    This date marks the birth of Robert Smalls in 1839. He was an black slave who became a naval hero for the Union in the American Civil War (1861-65) and went on to serve as a congressman from South Carolina during Reconstruction (1865-77).

    The son of plantation slaves, born in Beaufort, S.C., his master took Smalls in 1851 to Charleston, S.C., where he worked as a hotel waiter, hack driver, and rigger. He was forced into the Confederate Navy at the outbreak of the war, and made to serve as wheelman aboard the armed frigate "Planter." On May 13, 1862, he and 12 other slaves seized control of the ship in Charleston harbor and succeeded in turning it over to a Union naval squadron blockading the city. This exploit brought Smalls great fame throughout the North. He continued to serve as a pilot on the "Planter" and became the ship's captain in 1863.

    After the war, Smalls rose rapidly in politics, despite his limited education. From 1868 to 1870 he served in the South Carolina House of Representatives and from 1871 to 1874 in the state senate. He was elected to the U.S. Congress (1875-79, 1881-87), where his outstanding political action was support of a bill that would have required equal accommodations for both races on interstate conveyances.

    After the Compromise of 1877, and as a part of white efforts to silence African American political power and rights, Smalls was wrongfully charged and convicted of taking a 5,000 bribe five years earlier in connection with the awarding of a printing contract. He was pardoned as part of a deal in which charges were also dropped against Democrats accused of election fraud.
    In 1895 he delivered a moving speech before the South Carolina constitutional convention in a gallant but futile attempt to prevent the virtual disenfranchisement of Blacks. A political moderate, Smalls spent his last years in Beaufort, where he served as port collector (1889-93, 1897-1913); he died on Feb. 22, 1915.

    Reference:
    Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History
    Volume 1, ISBN #0-02-897345-3, Pg 175
    Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith, Cornel West
    Black Americans In Congress 1870-1989.
    Bruce A. Ragsdale & Joel D. Treese
    U.S. Government Printing Office
    Raymond W. Smock, historian and director 1990
    E185.96.R25
     

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  3. reading48

    reading48 1st Lieutenant

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    I had read about that before....Good Post
     
  4. Red Harvest

    Red Harvest 2nd Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    Smalls is one of the true heroes of the war and Reconstruction. South Carolina could have used more good men like him, rather than the dreck that regularly came from the state.
     
  5. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Major Forum Host

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  6. tmh10

    tmh10 Major

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  7. Bonny Blue Flag

    Bonny Blue Flag 2nd Lieutenant

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    Pic of Robert Smalls:
    [​IMG]

    --BBF
     
  8. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    Smalls seems to be a pretty good guy; kind to his financially broken former master, whose house Smalls bought. I guess he was just reciprocating since his fomer master allowed him to live on his own with his wife away from the master's home.

    However it appears Smalls became a tool of the Radical Republicans. Who did nothing but exacerbate the tensions in South Carolina in order to continue their conquer and divide strategy to stay in power.

    Smalls was tried and convicted by a jury of about equal blacks and whites for accepting a bribe. He was later pardoned by the Democratic governor.

    Since South Carolina was a majority black state, at times with a majority of black politicians, I can only believe you include them as "the dreck that regularly came from that state." I offer some advice, don't paint with such a wide brush, you need to single out the individual drecks by name.

    Here's a few to get you started:

    Benjamin F. Whittemore - What's the proper terminology for this Massachusett's native that served in the war as chaplain, then moved down here after the war to be a politician, only to resign before being censured for accepting bribes? He'd fit as one that "came from the state", as his butt ran back home to Massachusetts.

    Joseph Rainey - Now be careful with this guy; born into slavery, his father bought his family's freedom in the 1840's, then soon after he was able to purchase his own slaves. Joseph, after a stint with the CSA moved to the Bahamas but returned in 1866. He eventually was the first black to serve in the US HOR, where his moderate policies were favored by black and white voters alike.

    James Pike - Abolitionist sent to South Carolina to report on the state of reconstruction. His book, The Prostrate State, created an uproar in the North to bring back white rule in the state. Now he was only here a little while but he "came from the state" and reported what he witnessed up North. When Pike's book was read before Congress, Robert Smalls spoke out, "Have you the book there of the city of New York?"
     
  9. Mark F. Jenkins

    Mark F. Jenkins Major Forum Host

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    (putting my Host hat on) Belay those personal comments and general slams on states; thank you! (removing hat)
     
  10. Red Harvest

    Red Harvest 2nd Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    I was speaking of the historical nature of South Carolina's politicians, nullification, secession and all that. I stand by the characterization.
     

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