Robert Smalls, 1839 – 1915: A Selective List of Links & Materials

Robert Smalls Captain of the Gun-boat "Planter" (From Harper's Weekly, June 14, 1862, Beaufort District Collection, Beaufort County Library, SC)
Robert Smalls Captain of the Gun-boat “Planter” (From Harper’s Weekly, June 14, 1862, Beaufort District Collection, Beaufort County Library, SC)

Beaufort’s native son, Robert Smalls, was born into slavery in 1839. On the night of May 12,1862, he made a daring dash across Charleston Harbor piloting The Planter, a steamship contracted to the Confederate government. He surrendered it to Union forces thereby becoming the first African-American hero of the Civil War. When peace returned, he came home to Beaufort County, SC, embracing the rough-and-tumble daily life of the Reconstruction era. He actively participated in politics at local, state, and federal levels until the end of his life. Some called him the “King of Beaufort.”

This selective list of materials about the life and legacy of Robert Smalls was prepared by Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA, Manager of the Beaufort County Library’s (SC) special local history collection and archives, the Beaufort District Collection.

Original Post: 3 October 2012; Latest update 29 October 2016; All links verified as of 29 October 2016

Additional web-based research resources are available through subscription databases (DISCUS, EBSCO etc.) of the Beaufort County Library (SC).  Anyone can use these resources inside our buildings. Subscription database users must have a valid Beaufort County Library card, current user name and password codes to access these databases away from our facilities.  Ask at any of our branch libraries for a library card application, current user name and password codes, and for a demonstration of how to use to these (and other) subscription databases.

You can check out these materials from one of the SCLENDS consortium libraries:

“General Robert Smalls,” in The Blacks in These Sea Islands by Carline S. Robinson and William R. Dortch, Vantage Press, 1985,  pp. 33-36.

Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls by Dorothy Sterling, Doubleday, 1958.

Congressman Robert Smalls: A Patriot’s Journey from Slavery to Capitol Hill [DVD: 56 min.] by Adrena Ifill, Doubleback Productions, 2005.

Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls from Slavery to Congress, 1839-1915 by Edward A. Miller, Jr., University of South Carolina Press, 1995.

The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 3: Bridging the Sea Islands’ past and present: 1893-2006 by Lawrence S. Rowland and Stephen R. Wise, University of South Carolina Press, 2015.

The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina: Volume 2: Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893 by Stephen R. Wise and Lawrence S. Rowland, with Gerhard Spieler,  University of South Carolina Press, 2015.

Mary Long’s Yesteryear: Robert Smalls: Gullah Statesman [DVD:56 min.] by SCETV, 1990, 2004.

“Robert Smalls,” in African-Americans and the Palmetto State by Carol Sears Botsch et al., South Carolina State Department of Education,1994, pp. 64-65.

South Carolina Hall of Fame: Robert Smalls, State Representative, Senator, U.S. Congressman [DVD: 11 min.] by South Carolina Educational Television, [2012].

Yearning to Breathe Free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and his Families by Andrew Billingsley, University of South Carolina Press, 2007.

For Young Readers:

Freedom Ship by Doreen Rappaport, Hyperion Books for Children, 2006.

The Freedom Ship of Robert Smalls by Louise Meriwether, Prentice-Hall, 1971.

From Slave to Civil War Hero: The Life and Times of Robert Smalls by Michael L. Cooper, Lodestart Books, 1994.

Robert Smalls: The Boat Thief by [Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.] Hyperion Books for Children, 2008.

Robert Smalls Sails to Freedom by Susan Taylor Brown, Millbrook Press, 2006.

Seven Miles to Freedom:  The Robert Smalls Story by Janet Halfmann, Lee & Low Books, 2008.

Come to the Beaufort District Collection Research Room to see these items:

SC 975.799 ROW v. 3 The history of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 3: Bridging the Sea Islands’ past and present: 1893-2006 by Lawrence S. Rowland and Stephen R. Wise, University of South Carolina Press, 2015.

SC 975.799 ROW v. 2 The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina: Volume 2: Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893 by Stephen R. Wise and Lawrence S. Rowland, with Gerhard Spieler,  University of South Carolina Press, 2015.

SC B SMALLS  Seven Miles to Freedom:  The Robert Smalls Story by Janet Halfmann, Lee & Low Books, 2008.

SC B SMALLS Yearning to Breathe Free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and his Families by Andrew Billingsley, University of South Carolina Press, 2007.

SC B SMALLS Congressman Robert Smalls: A Patriot’s Journey from Slavery to Capitol Hill [DVD: 56 min.] by Adrena Ifill, Doubleback Productions, 2005.

SC B SMALLS Mary Long’s Yesteryear: Robert Smalls: Gullah Statesman [DVD: 56 min.] by SCETV, 1990, 2004.

SC 975.704 BEA 2003 Beaufort during the Reconstruction Era, USCB Forum: [February 25, 2003] convened by the Sea Islands Reconstruction Heritage Partnership, [VHS], [2003]. Note: Panelists include Dr. Marge Yanker, facilitator (USCB), Dr. Page Miller (USC-Columbia), Dr. Larry Rowland (USC-Beaufort), Emory Campbell (Penn Center), Curt Cottle (Director of Heritage Tourism Dev. for the State of SC), and Dr. Roger Stroup (SC Director of Dept. of Archives & History & State Preservation Officer). Former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, approached committee members about making Beaufort County a cultural heritage site, due to the historical significance the county played during the Reconstruction years. The committee received a planning grant to identify sites in Beaufort County and came up with 60 sites.

SC B SMALLS Robert Smalls and His Environs, 1839-1914: Slave, Hero, Statesman by the Humanities School of Beaufort, 1999.

SC B SMALLS Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls from Slavery to Congress, 1839-1915 by Edward A. Miller, Jr., University of South Carolina Press, 1995.

SC 975.7 AFR “Robert Smalls,” in African-Americans and the Palmetto State by Carol Sears Botsch et al., South Carolina State Department of Education,1994, pp. 64-65.

SC B SMALLS From Slave to Civil War Hero: The Life and Times of Robert Smalls by Michael L. Cooper, Lodestart Books, 1994.

SC B SMALLS Robert Smalls: Sail Away to Freedom (Mary Long’s Yesteryear series) [VHS] by SCETV, 1990.

SC B SMALLS  “Robert Smalls: From Runaway Slave to Congressman,” by John Hall from The State (Columbia, SC), 1987.

SC B SMALLS “A Portfolio: The Port Royal Experiment: the first taste of freedom: South Carolina leaves slavery behind” by Janet E. Kaufman, Civil War Times Illustrated, May, 1986.

SC B SMALLS “Mr. Smalls: A personal adventure: He did it for his family; it made him a Union hero” by Howard Westwood, Civil War Times Illustrated, May, 1986.

SC 975.799 ROB “General Robert Smalls,” in The Blacks in These Sea Islands by Carline S. Robinson and William R. Dortch, Vantage Press, 1985,  pp. 33-36.

SC B SMALLS From Slavery to Public Service: Robert Smalls, 1839-1915 by Okon Edet Uya, Oxford University Press, 1971.

SC B SMALLS  “The Life of Robert Smalls” from Golden Legacy Illustrated History Magazine, vol. 9,  Fitzgerald Publishing, 1970.

SC B SMALLS Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls by Dorothy Sterling, Doubleday, 1958.

SC 975.799 ROB  Robert Smalls vs. William Elliot, United States House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.:  House of Representatives, 1888. 50th Congress, 2nd session, H.R. 3536.

SC B SMALLS  Arrest and Imprisonment of Hon. Robert Smalls: January 25, 1878 [pamphlet] by  Mr. Knott. Washington, D.C.: House of Representatives, 1878. 45th Congress, 1st session, no. 100.

SC 306.3621 NOR The Freedmen of South Carolina: Some Account of Their Appearance, Character, Condition, and Peculiar Customs by Charles Nordhoff, C.T. Evans, 1863.

planterornaviesser1vol12
Confederate Steamer Planter (Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, Series 1, Volume 12)

https://www.army.mil/e2/c/-images/2007/09/16/7960/army.mil-2007-09-17-065810.jpg
The USAV (U.S. Army Vessel) Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls was commissioned yesterday at a ceremony in Baltimore, Md. The first Army vessel to be named after an African American, the ship is operated by the Army Reserve’s 203rd Transportation Detachment, and is intended to transport vehicles, equipment and personnel over long distances. (Photo Credit: Don Wagner)

The Beaufort District Collection Research Room has a number of relevant permanent historical vertical files relating to the life and times of Robert Smalls. A vertical file is a created collection of loose clippings from newspapers and magazines, brochures, pamphlets, and other ephemera about a particular topic.

  • Planter (ship)
  • Robert Smalls Legacy Foundation
  • Smalls, Robert (1839-1915) – Biographical and Genealogical Data
  • Smalls, Robert (1839-1915) – Media
  • Smalls, Robert (1839-1915) – Military and Militia Service
  • Smalls, Robert (1839-1915) – Political Career, 1865-1915
  • Smalls, Robert (1839-1915) – Real Estate Holdings
  • Smalls, Robert (1839-1915) – Resources
  • Smalls, Robert (1839-1915) – Tributes and Recognitions
  • USS Major General Robert Smalls (ship)

Please contact the Beaufort District Collection at (843) 255-6468 or e-mail gracec@bcgov.net for additional information about local history and archives relating to the people, places, and themes of the history, culture, and natural environment of Beaufort County, Jasper County, and Hampton County, South Carolina. Current hours of operation are posted on the Beaufort County Library’s (SC) website.

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