Along with what is thought to be the wreck of a historic Civil War vessel, the Planter, the story of Robert Smalls who commandeered and then commanded the Confederate ammunition ship is being remembered due to a recent discovery off the coast of South Carolina.
On the 152nd anniversary, after Robert Smalls took the vessel on May 12, 1862, Archaeologists with the National Marine Sanctuary Program announced that they have found what is thought to be the wreck of the armed Confederate military transport buried under about 15 feet of sand offshore at Cape Romain, northeast of Charleston.
Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort, S.C. Although he had it somewhat easy in the beginning years of his life, his mother wanted him to understand the horrors of slavery and sent him to do work on a plantation. She also had him experience the whipping post to see what happens when slaves broke the rules. He learned, yet the lessons drove him to defiance and he began to challenge the local slave laws of the town.
Even though he was taught to obey, he knew that the rules were wrong and did everything he could to break free from the oppression.
Robert Smalls made history on the night he and seven of the eight enslaved crewmembers decided to take CSS Planter while the vessel’s three white officers spent the night ashore. Smalls was able to rescue his family and the crewmember’s relatives, sail past five confederate ports guarding the harbor and make it to the Union Vessels to turn the ship over to the United States Navy.
Following his brave act, Smalls went on to become famous providing valuable assistance to the Union Navy by persuading President Lincoln to enlist up to 5,000 African Americans in the Union. He also became the first black Captain of a vessel in service of the United States and the longest serving Republican African-American member of Congress until Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in the late 20th Century.
Robert Smalls identified with the Republican Party because not only was it the party of President Lincoln who freed four million slaves but also it gave him the opportunity to serve in Congress for so many years.
His heroism and patriotism is an example for Americans to follow today. Robert Smalls went against what was forced upon him then challenged and stood up to change what the majority believed was okay. The country that enslaved him became the same country he served and helped progress.
This is a classic American story where an individual worked hard, took risks and changed the future despite all odds against him. The apparent discovery of this significant vessel is a reminder of Robert Smalls’ story, which is an inspiration for everyone that hard work, and standing up for what is right regardless of the odds can change the future for the better.