« Stuff You Missed in History Class

SYMHC Classics: The Incredible Escape of Robert Smalls

2020-06-27 | 🔗

This 2016 episode covers Robert Smalls, who was born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1839. He escaped from enslavement during the U.S. Civil War, in a particularly dramatic fashion.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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and what really happened was that I shot path liquid peanut butter all over the kitchen. Bouncy helped me fix that mistake. Bounty is more absurd than the store brands and select size lets you use just what you need bounty the quicker picker upper happy Saturday. Everyone for the next to Saturday is. We are sharing our classic episodes on Robert Smiles, a man whose life included enslavement, the civil war reconstruction and the rise of the racist caste system, known as, I'm crew in Berlin, we talk about Robert Small, his early life and his dramatic escape from enslavement in South Carolina. This episode finally came out on February fifteenth two thousand. Sixteen welcome this, Few missed in history, class of production of I radio,
hello and welcome to the podcast I'm free Tv Wilson, I'm Holly, for I have a story that spans a lot of United States history. We're going to talk about Robert Smalls. He was, laid in South Carolina and then escaped firm and slave met during Lena taped civil war in a particularly dramatic fashion. His escape is really only the beginning of the story, though, from it there he went on to serve in both houses of the South Carolina Legislature, as well as in the United States House of representatives on top and having carried out this heroic.
And then gone on to serve and both the South Carolina and federal government's. You can look at Robert Smiles and his life, a sort of a microcosm of the world that he lived in because of when and how he lived. His story is like an overview of slavery and the American South and the civil war and reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow. This enormous arc of american history that plays out through one person's life. So for that reason we're going to look at this story in two parts: the first covering Robert smiles childhood, I his young adulthood and his escape, and then part too will get into his civil war service. Tits, post war years and political
and his legacy. Today, Robert Smalls was born on April fifth, one thousand, eight hundred and thirty nine in Beaufort South Carolina. His mother was named Lydia Polite and she was enslaved in the household of the Mckee family, where she worked as a nanny. She had been owned by the Mickey family since birth and had worked in the Mckee home since she was about ten years old. Prior to that she had been working as a field and she was in her forties when Robert was born. He had one older brother, who was more than twenty years. His senior I'm gonna take a brief moment to say that if you are from virtually anywhere besides South Carolina- and you know the place spelled Ba, you F, o Archie, probably you say Beaufort, please do not write to us. She said that we said it wrong in South Carolina. For some reason, it is Beaufort, even though most of these places that most other people say Beaufort are named after the same person who pronounced it Beaufort I have,
oh explanation, for why does it related to in South Carolina is different. So unknown. Actually is the identity of Roberts, Father historians and biographers have suggested several different candidates, but there's no real evidence to support any of them. The most commonly suggested potential father is Henry Marquis, the patriarch of the Marquis family. At the time, much of this speculation is because Lydia and Henry lived on the same property for many years, including the years that surrounded Roberts, birth but Lydia actually helped raise Henry and none of the other women that Henry owned are supposed to have had a child by him. So, even though he sort of the most popular
theorized father, we don't actually now and regardless Henry Mickey and the rest of the Marquis household treated Lydia and her son with a degree of leniency and benevolence, including Lydia, being able to keep and raise him herself. Robert grew up playing with Henry Mickey's own children he and his mother worked in the house rather than in the fields. Their positions also came with. Certain privileges, mother and son were allowed to attend church. and to visit Lydia's family who were enslaved. The nearby ash, Dale Plantation, a sea, island, cotton plantation and now where Lydia herself had worked before being moved to the house. Now even though, by all accounts Robert and his mother were treated with some kindness inflexibility. Robert and his mother were still enslaved. They had no prospects work,
in free. By this point, slavery and the United States had evolved into an institution that was both hereditary and tied to race. Unless enslaved people were set free by their owners, managed to purchase themselves or manage to escape, they were held in bondage for life and any children who were born to any and slave person were enslaved as well. Henry Mickey had inherited Lydia from his father and then Robert had been enslaved from birth, so we're not talking about how they were treated relatively kindly as a way to excuse. The fact that that in slave meant was going on, like that, the thing that people bring up on the internet alight a lot like not all slaveowners were awful. That doesn't excuse the fact that they were enslaved for life with no potential to be free, because the institution of slavery in the United States had become tied to raise a collection of law.
and social attitudes developed. There were also based on race and they affected virtually all black people. Whether or not they were, or ever had been enslaved. For example, a number a fugitive slave was laws allowed for the capture and return of escaped slaves to their owners, and since slavery was tied to race, all black people in the United States were at risk of being targeted by these laws regardless whether they had ever been enslaved. Overwhelmingly free people of african descent were also explicitly denied a number of legal rights and protection, including the right to vote so because his owners treated him comparatively gently in his childhood and because his mother's work in the house met that they were both afforded more privileges than many other slaves, the young, Robert smiles was not really conscious of lot of these a lot of these realities. His mother, on the other hand, absolutely was. She was afraid that Robert would grow
go into manhood when white society would view him as being inherently threatening now, understanding the realities of enslavement and the risks that were inherent in having black skin, especially in slaves date. She knew that if he sold to another family, one that might not be as flexible or treat him as kindly without understand these realities his well being and even his life could be in danger so as part of his education, she would take him to Ash deal plantation where her family was when slaved to see and experience What the lives of field hands were like the Marquis fan. He had long allowed Libya to visit her family at the plantation and pray
ably unaware of her motive here they allowed her to take robber with her when she visited. She would also take him to the auction site to see children. Sometimes much younger than set himself being bought and sold should also take him to the whipping post in Buford, where enslaved people were publicly whipped as a punishment to witness what happened to them there in one case and enslave woman who was being publicly whipped, turned out, unknown to him to be his friends Susan. While this did certainly educate smells about the reality of slavery, it also understandably made him really angry. The number of writers and historians describe his middle childhood, as quote defiant, the curfew. Slaves was at sundown, and a bell would ring every night to signal that it was time for the enslaved people to all be at home. Smaller resented this car, you, especially when he was out playing with white children who didn't have to go home, so he started breaking curfew
along with many of the other rules that govern the minutiae of the slaves lives by the time his aged reach double digits. He was winding up in Buford jail We often with his owner having to bail him out smiles mother once again feared for his safety. So in eighteen, fifty one she asked that he be sent away from Buford and instead rented out in Charleston, renting out and enslaved persons. Labor was a pretty common practice, since it allowed owners to continue to profit from their slaves labour, even if they person we didn't, have any work for them to do right, then so, but he agreed and going to Charleston was a huge change in smalls life and a huge opportunity and we're going to talk about the. How and why of that after we pause for a brief word from a sponsor. This episode is brought to you by apartments dot com,
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is available at Walmart Target Walgreens right aid see vs an splat hair color dot com going to Charles then gave Robert smiled a lot more freedom of movement. Then he'd had him give her as well as a lot more opportunity to learn and to work. The black population of Charleston, which included both free and enslaved people, often out numbered its white population and its economy, supported a lot of different types of work. There were schools for free black children, which smiles couldn't personally attend, but he could learn from people who went there. He was also able to attend church and to participate in common the organizations he also join several secret charities that were meant to help Charleston enslaved population work towards freedom. His first jobs were suited to his youth. He lit lamps, he waited in tables in a restaurant and he did odd jobs.
one. The waterfront yells the little extra money by buying cheap tobacco and candy and reselling them for a higher price. Eventually, he went to work with a man named John Simmons, where he started getting extremely valuable experience in all sorts of jobs and trades related to the water. He learned to be a Steve it or assail maker rigour and a sailor. He became an expert at navigating the complex waterways around the South Carolina in Georgia coasts. Eventually, he was making sixteen dollars a month, a dollar of which he was allowed to keep when he turned the rest of his pay back over to Henry Marquis. Once, balls was sixteen, he met Hannah Jones, who was aged thirty, who worked as a hotel made in Charleston. She was being hired out to the hotel by her owners, the king, my family. She had two daughters
Zira and Charlotte, whose father is unknown and they all live together. Behind the kingdom family home soon, Robert enhance our spending most of their free hours together, which was mostly Saturday night and then on son is when they went to church within a couple of years, robber and Hannah I wanted to get married and they also wanted to live together as white couples and free black couples were allowed to do in slaved B.
On the other hand, were generally required to living quarters provided by their owners, which we usually separate, regardless of their marital status. So before getting married, they first got permission from the king means and the MC keys to live together. As a couple I was actually the easy part and both sets of owners agreed at the harder pirate is that Robert and Hannah didn't just want to live together and slave quarters behind somebody's house. They wanted to live together in their own home so that each also had to get their owners to agree to allow them to the extra work beyond what they were hired out to do and then keep some of the profits so that they could afford rent and living expenses that would come with their own place. Eventually, both owners agreed. The couple was married at the Mckee home on December 24th, one thousand eight hundred and fifty six with Henry Mickey pronouncing the married. When they return to Charleston, they lived over some stables
and Robert arranged to pay the rent in exchange for keeping the stables clean, meaning they got to keep the money they had negotiated with my keys in the king means as needed for their rent, even though living above the stables gave them a greater amount of independence and autonomy than most enslaved couples. Their marriage did not offer them any personal or legal protections. Marriages between enslaved people basically had no legal standing. Smiles knew that if they chose the king means sell Hannah somewhere else or they can hire her labour away from Charleston the possibility of her being sold or otherwise moved away from him became increasingly threatening, as they had children together over the next few years. So Robert first asked his owner if he might have permission to by his wife and children, and once that was secured, in spite of the fact that it as illegal four slaves to own other slaves. He asked the king means if he could buy Hannah and their children and Mister King and said yes,
for eight hundred dollars, smiles had one hundred dollars which Kingman agreed to accept as a downpayment. From that point, on smalls and his wife put all their resources into saving up the additional seven hundred dollars and never actually had to pay it there. On April 22nd, one thousand eight hundred and sixty two hundred and fifteen enslaved persons commandeered a barge that belongs to the Confederate Quartermaster Department and they managed to sail that barge to a unionship, it's possible, but I'm certain that smells had heard about this and it inspired him to take his own action. It's also possible that he had heard about major General David Hunter of the Union Army who, in addition to making several attempts to just free all enslaved persons in the territory that he commanded also ordered that any black person who could reach the union line, be
it, free and accepted into military service, regardless smiles soon made a similar escape himself. Robber, smaller escape from slavery, took place during the United States civil war. This war had been brewing for decades before it actually began. As tied turned against slavery in the northern states, northern states began abolishing slavery, passing laws to prevent the return of escaped slaves to the states where they are held in bondage and otherwise trying to pressure the remaining slave states into abolishing the practice as well. The slave states dissatisfaction with all this increase dramatically in eighteen. Fifty when California, a free state was admitted into the union without a corresponding slave state to preserve the balance of power in Congress. This slave state free state pairing is something we talked about recently and her episode on the honey war. Every state admitted after one thousand eight hundred and fifty was also free and each new free statement that the slave states had less and less power,
faced greater and greater risk of Congress. Taking action to abolish slavery entirely slaveholding states had been threatening to secede from the union for decades. A number of compromises including the Missouri compromise. We also discussed when we talked about the honey war, had kept the union together temporarily, but as the eighteen sixty presidential election approached Prevailing wisdom was that the election of a republican president would guarantee that slaveholding states would begin to break away from the United States that republican President was Abraham, Lincoln elected on November sixth, one thousand eight hundred and sixty on December 20th of that year, South Carolina became the first state to secede, in its declaration of causes of secession, South Carolina outlined its reasons for leaving the union After signing the declaration of independence and stressing repeatedly that the revolution
he wore led to each former colony becoming a quote: free, sovereign and independent state. The declaration of causes went onto Red Cross, An increasing hostility on the part of the non slaveholding states to the institution of slavery has led to a day regard of their obligations in the laws of the general government have ceased to effect. The objects of the constitution. South Carolina declaration of causes, then raises objections to several other states. Passing laws that fugitive slaves would not be returned from there to their slaveholding states
by the time Lincoln was inaugurated on February. First, one thousand eight hundred and sixty one six more states had seceded three of them issued their own declarations of causes, all of which makes extensive references to the issue of slavery. The refusal of non slaveholding states to return escaped slaves to their former owners and efforts to curtail or abolish slavery, the first shots of the United States, civil war were fired on April 12th. One thousand eight hundred and sixty one at Fort Sumter then, Federal Fort in Charleston Harbor, where Confederate General P g T Beauregard opened fire on the fort. The forts commander me You Robert Anderson, surrendered after two days with the nation. Now ITALY, a war, more states, seceded from the union and joined the confederacy later that year, the confederacy least a wooden steamer named the planter from its owner John Ferguson, who had been using it the carry cotton along the pity river and south
A line of the Confederate Navy also conscripted its enslaved crew. One of them was its wheelman Robert smiles once under the control of the confederate military. The planter shifted from hauling cotton to carrying supplies between areas fortifications around Charleston, as well as laying minds than referred to as torpedoes in the water. is often these supplies consisted of munitions and ordnance. The planter itself was also armed with a cannon and a howitzer on May thirteenth of eighteen sixty two in addition to its own armaments, the planter was carrying for gun, an begun carriage. The guns were bound for Charleston Middle Ground battery at Fort Ripley, in the carriage for Fort Sumter, while working aboard the planter smaller than twenty three had proven himself to be
strongly reliable, untrustworthy so much there that, on the night of the thirteenth, the three white officers who were if he were assigned to the planter, Captaincy J Arabia, Pilot Samuel, H, Smith, an engineer, Zurich, pitcher left it with no white officer aboard. They went into Charleston for the night, probably to socialize or to visit family actually grounds for court martial. For a couple of weeks, a small said in putting together a plan that would allow him to take advantage of just such an opportunity. This was not the first time that the officers had gone ashore overnight, so it about three a m: he DAWN the captain's jacket and his big straw hat adopted his usual posture set a prayer and move the planter out of the wharf, which lay directly across from the headquarters of Confederate Brow
Dear general, Roswell Ripley from there they proceeded to the North Atlantic Wharf, where his wife and children, along with several other enslaved people, were concealed aboard another boat called the Ottawa once everyone hidden in the Ottawa was aboard the After their number totalled nine men, five women and three children, their goal, to reach the union blockade. Ten if arranged off the coast, to prevent the confederacy from using the Atlantic Ocean for things like trade or troop movements to do so they had. Run up the South Carolina flag and confederate colors then successfully make their way past five different, Confederate sentry stations. This required sounding the red signals and responding correctly to signals from the outposts plus nobody could notice that there were no white people on this boat. You'll see a lot of like me
floating around the internet, about Robert smiles and how awesome he was a lot of them claim that he read code book in order to do this. But at this point he was not actually literate, so it's more likely that he had observed what the officers were doing and memorized what they were doing and then recalled all of that flawlessly during this escape This episode is brought you by best fiends. Ok, like we are very, very lucky. We get to work from home and we can keep our jobs going through out being maybe stuck in isolation for a while. But the thing is sometimes. I need a break even though I'm here at home and are you would think everything is cool and relax, I'm workin alive and the occasional break I absolutely I'm in love with right now is best fiends. It's a really fun
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record high level, so they are really really working to get it back on the shelf, so you can use it bounty. The quicker picker upper the last outpost that they had to get past was Fort Sumter itself. In theory, they could have given the for a wide berth and may be avoided this one last exchange of coded signals, but smells really wanted it to look like they were just the normal ship doing something completely routine I'll, be at an extremely early hour for as long as possible. Exchanging that last set of signals with Fort Sumter was not the most dangerous part of this though, once they receive the ok to continue, they had to get out of range of the forts guns before striking their confederate colors. If they struck the colors too soon, they would be shot and sunk by the confederacy, but if they waited too late,
Ships in the blockade would probably think they were on a ramming course, so they would be shot and sunk by the union instead. they had actually made no plans for what to do if they wound up being capture. If it came down to it, they were ready to fight back against the confederacy, with the arguments that were aboard the ship and to blow up the ship's boiler, if necessary, even though that would mean the deaths of everyone on board. Basically, the only things that they considered to be acceptable. Outcomes in this escape were escaping or death enslaved again not on the list at sunrise as they approach the union ship onward, Robert smiles and his men took down their confessed, flag and they ran up a white sheet. It was possible stolen from the hotel where his wife worked and the union
we accepted their surrender and took possession of the planter. This meant that Robert smiles, his family and their friends who had escaped with them were now free and we're going to talk about what happened after that is like we said this is really the beginning of a much longer story. I will not talk about that in our next episode, yet he basically just stole a confederate ship out from under the nose of the confederacy and handed over to, he's like how guys I brought you this boat well, and we might get emails about the word ship vs boat, that just we know so, don't bother. Well, I might just I love this story because Just the whole thing took such ingenuity and lake craftiness at every turn that you,
You jack Hannah help but be wowed by it. It also shows how difficult and dangerous and rare it actually was foreign slaved people to escape. I mean at this point this was during the civil war. There were perhaps more opportunities for people to escape, just because there was so much more chaos going on and there were union troops who were actively interested in helping people to escape to freedom. But one of the things that that people sort of miss believe about enslavement and about the civil war is that there was just an enormous, enormous influx of having of enslaved people who were successfully escaping all the time when one of the reasons for that is that most of the first person- knowledge that we have about enslavement and especially like in the United States, the institution of slavery, as from people who did successfully escape and then went on to write a slave narrative
and this is like a tiny- if not it's not an accurate sample ray of all enslaved people. It's like that. The slave narratives that we have came from the people who were able to escape and then were able, either able to learn, to read and write or were able to find someone to help them right right down their story and it's not and actually representative sample of all of the enslaved people in the United States. So some awesome story- and it's it's very intriguing to me- how I because he was from South Carolina and because of when he was born and where you live in what you did so much of his life. Parallel.
the arc of United States history that ran through these decades. Thank you so much for joining us today for this Saturday classic. If you will have heard any kind of e mail address there the Facebook url during the course of the episode that might be obsolete. It might be doubly obsolete because we have changed our Emil address again. You can now reach us at history, podcast that I heart radio, dot com and we're all over social media at missed in history, and you can subscribe to our shadow on Apple pod cast who, who podcast the eye heart radio app and wherever else to us in the pod gas documents than history classes of production up. I heart radio for more Pat Cox,
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