Robert Smalls

THE LIFE OF A BLACK CIVIL WAR HERO: ROBERT SMALLS BY JIMMY K. A. CROSS 1 OCTOBER 1998 The United States of America was founded on the principles of equality and opportunity for all. In the 1800’s these principles were not strictly adhered to by all and a tremendous battle ensued. That battle was the United States Civil War in which northerners, wishing an end to slavery, found themselves at war with southerners, who wanted slavery to remain in place. The Civil War was a conflict that saw the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown, and the black and the white pitted against each other in mortal combat. During the war, it was not uncommon for someone to rise from obscurity to being recognized as a war hero. This research paper discusses the life of one of those individuals, a black man named Robert Smalls. Robert Smalls was born a slave on April 5, 1839, in a slave quarters behind a house at 501 Prince Street, in Beaufort, a coastal town in the Sea Islands of South Carolina. Smalls was known as Small during his early years and until shortly after the Civil War. His mother, Lydia, was a house servant for her owner, John McKee. Although there is great dispute as to who his father was it is generally agreed that he was white. (Miller 7) Upon McKee’s death, Smalls and his mother were inherited by his son, Henry McKee. Henry McKee, according to Smalls, was a very kindly man toward his slaves. Although he did not encourage so, he didnt aggressively prohibit his slaves from learning to read and write. McKee even made an arrangement with Smalls that gave Smalls the freedom to obtain employment. In 1861, McKee sold the Prince Street house and fled the area, fearing its occupation by Union forces. With his authorization to obtain employment in hand, Smalls moved to Charleston and hired out as a laborer, first as a waiter at the Planter hotel, then as a lamplighter for a…

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