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Robert Smalls

Born: 5-Apr-1839
Birthplace: Beaufort, SC
Died: 23-Feb-1915
Location of death: Beaufort, SC
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Tabernacle Baptist Church Cemetery, Beaufort, SC

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian
Race or Ethnicity: Multiracial
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Politician
Party Affiliation: Republican

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Slave elected to Congress from South Carolina

Military service: US Navy (1862-65)

Born a slave, Robert Smalls taught himself to read, and was later briefly allowed to attend school. In his early 20s he was assigned to work as a deckhand on a small cargo ship, and within two years he was the ship's pilot. As the American Civil War raged, he led a plot that stowed his family and several other slaves aboard the vessel, and steered the ship into Union waters. Surrendering to Union authorities, Smalls and the other slaves were freed, the ship was used to transport Union troops and supplies, and Smalls enlisted in the Union Navy, serving as a pilot. After the war, Smalls was granted a small fortune by Congress for his heroics, and purchased his former owner's home in Beaufort, South Carolina, where he opened a general store. He was elected to the South Carolina House, then the State Senate, and to the US House of Representatives in 1874.

After that, however, Smalls' story grows a little more ambiguous. He was convicted of bribery in 1877, for taking kickbacks while he was in the State Senate. Smalls appealed his conviction all the way to the US Supreme Court, and ran for re-election under this cloud, losing his seat in Congress in 1878. The following year, with his appeal still pending, he was pardoned by South Carolina Governor William Simpson, and in 1880 he ran again, winning his seat back in an election tainted by fraud and controversy. In 1882 his own Republican Party did not nominate Smalls for re-election, choosing instead a white candidate, Edmund William McGregor Mackey. In early 1884 Mackey died in office, and Smalls ran unopposed a special election, and held his seat until 1887, when Democrats succeeded in disenfranchising vast numbers of black voters in South Carolina. He spent his remaining years as a Customs Agent and shopkeeper.

Father: John McKee (owner of Smalls' mother, paternity presumed)
Mother: Lydia Smalls (slave)
Wife: Hannah Jones Smalls (slave, m. 24-Dec-1856, d. 1883)
Son: Robert, Jr. (b. 1861, d. 1864, smallpox)
Daughter: Elizabeth Lydia (b. 12-Feb-1858)
Daughter: Sarah Voorhees (b. 1-Dec-1863)
Wife: Annie Elizabeth Wiggins (m. 1890, d. 1895)
Son: William Robert (b. 1892)

    US Customs Service Customs Agent (1889-92, 1898-1913)
    US Congressman, South Carolina 7th (1884-87)
    US Congressman, South Carolina 5th (1875-79, 1881-83)
    South Carolina State Senate (1871-74)
    South Carolina State House of Representatives (1865-71)
    Freemasonry
    Born into Slavery
    Manumission by the Emancipation Proclamation
    Bribery convicted (1877)
    Pardoned (23-Apr-1879)
    Risk Factors: Malaria, Diabetes


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