A CLOSER LOOK AT THE STEAMBOAT THAT ESCAPED CHARLESTON AND CARRIED ROBERT SMALLS TO DESTINY
The coastal steamboat named Planter and a slave named Robert Smalls made history together early on the morning of May 13, 1862, when Smalls commandeered the vessel that was then in the service of the Confederate government, and escaped to freedom with its eight other black crewmen and several family members.
The daring dash to freedom began at 3 a.m. at the southern wharf in Charleston Harbor after the white crew members had left the ship for the night to attend a ball.
Smalls, who was born into slavery in Beaufort, had been leased out since he was a youth for various tasks on the Charleston waterfront and was working as wheelman of the Planter when he made his bid for freedom. Before the Confederate takeover, the Planter would carry cotton and passengers from Charleston to Georgetown.
According to an account of the event put together by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program, Smalls, 23 years old at the time, had a well-thought-out plan for the escape.