Q: What do you know about this person?
A: This is a picture of Congressman Robert Smalls. He was born into slavery the son of Lydia and Robert Smalls although most historians agree his true father was their owner John K. McKee. His first 10 years were very easy years spent mostly with McKee playing with in town children. His mother knew he needed to be shown reality so she sent him to live the life of a slave with his relatives on Ashdale Plantation on Lady’s Island, SC. Instead of teaching him his “place” in the world it only fostered defiance towards slavery.
He married and had children and both of their slave owners allowed them to live together. When Robert tried to buy their freedom it was way beyond his meager income. The Civil War had erupted and he concocted a plant to steal the CSS Planter with three other enslaved men and their families. They stole the ship and handed it over to the Union. He joined the United States Navy and piloted this ship and another during the fight against the confederacy. He helped enlist over 5,000 blacks into the army. He also was made Major General of the South Carolina Militia.
After the war, he was one of the founders of the Beaufort County, South Carolina Republican Club. He also served on the Beaufort County School Board and helped to establish the first school built for black children. In 1868 he was elected to the Continental Congress. From 1869 to 1889, he served in both houses of the South Carolina Legislature and was elected to five terms in the United States Congress. He also served in South Carolina as Collector of Customs for the Port of Beaufort first appointed by President Benjamin Harrison from 1888-1993 and again appointed by President William McKinley from 1898-1912. He died in 1915 at the age of 76 in the McKee house in Beaufort, SC where he was born.