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Contact: Bill Martin, (843) 883-3123 x 41
At 10:00 AM on Monday, May 14, a ceremony will be held at Fort Moultrie to commemorate the 145th anniversary of Robert Smalls’ daring escape from Charleston harbor.
On May 13, 1862, Smalls, a 23-year-old slave pilot, commandeered Planter, a Confederate transport steamer, from Charleston. With his wife, children, and 12 other slaves aboard, he passed the Confederate forts in the harbor, sailed to the nearest Union blockading vessel and surrendered. Union newspapers nationwide lauded Smalls' gallantry.
Smalls became the first black captain of a United States vessel, a South Carolina legislator and a militia general. He also served five terms in the U.S. Congress. For nearly 20 years he was U.S. Collector of Customs in Beaufort, South Carolina, where he lived as owner in the house in which he had been a slave.
Dr. Andrew Billingsley, Senior Scholar-in-Residence at the Institute for Families in Society and author of the recently published Yearning to Breathe Free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and His Families, will deliver the keynote address. A book-signing will be held after the program.
Writer/photographer Kitt Haley Alexander, founder of the Robert Smalls Legacy Foundation, conducted a 7-year campaign to have a naval vessel named for Smalls. The Army’s newest Logistics Support Vessel is the USAV Major General Robert Smalls (LSV-8). The $25 million Army Reserve vessel is 314’ long, with a beam of 60’ and a payload of 2000 tons. It is the Army’s largest powered watercraft and will be used to re-supply troops worldwide. It is the first Army vessel to bear the name of an African American and the first named for a Civil War hero.
The Major General Robert Smalls will be commissioned September 15th in Baltimore. Legacy ~ Robert Smalls ~ Slave, Soldier, Statesman, Alexander’s traveling photographic exhibition on Smalls and his great-granddaughter Dolly, will be displayed aboard the ship during the festivities.
Although the MG Robert Smalls is unable to attend this event, her Vessel Master, CW4 Steven C. Brown, Sr., and Maintenance Officer/Assistant Engineer, CW3 John J. MacKinney III, will display photographs and a presentation about the ship after the program.
To honor Robert Smalls, the Army Reserve vessel USAV Matamoros, Landing Craft Utility [LCU-2026] will arrive May 13 from Morehead City, North Carolina. The Matamoros, named for a Mexican American War battle, is 174’ long with a 42’ beam and a 350-ton payload. The vessel is used for Joint Logistics Over The Shore missions (JLOTS) and can travel 9000 miles at 10 knots. It transports ammunition from larger offshore Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships to ports and beaches.
After the program, Matamoros’s Vessel Master CW3 Mia Perdue and crew will conduct tours at Sullivan’s Island.
The event is being co-hosted by the Robert Smalls Legacy Foundation and the National Park Service, Fort Sumter National Monument. Sponsors of this event include the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, the African American Heritage Alliance, and the U.S. Army’s 824th Transportation Detachment, Morehead, N.C.
Fort Moultrie is located at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. The park is open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. While this event is free, there is an entrance fee to tour Fort Moultrie of $3 for adults (16-61), $1 for seniors (62+) and $5 for families with two or more adults. Children under 16 are free. For additional information about Fort Moultrie please call (843) 883-3123.