Today, the little known story of an amazing man, Robert Smalls. Smalls was a slave in South Carolina in the years leading up to the Civil War, but became a skilled mariner handling ships in Charleston Harbor for his “master.” He evntuallty used those skills to commandeer a ship and sail his family, and the families of other slaves, to freedom through a Confederate blockade. His life was filled with many “firsts.” He became a decorated war veteran, a member of the U.S. Congress, and eventually purchased the plantation where he had once been a slave and lived there until his death in 1915.

Photo credit: Photo of Robert Smalls from the U.S Library of Congress photo collection. Photo attributed to famed Civil War photographers Matthew Brady and Levin C. Handy.