The Seizure of the Planter
Early on May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls, an enslaved harbor pilot about the Planter, seized the 149-foot Confederate transport from a wharf just east of here [along the eastern face of the Battery, Charleston’s harborfront area. – cm]. He and six enslaved crewmen took the vessel before dawn when its captain, pilot, and engineer were ashore. Smalls guided the ship through the channel, past Fort Sumter, and out to sea, delivering it to the Federal fleet, which was blockading the harbor.
Northern and Southern newspapers call this feat “bold” and “daring.” Smalls and his crew, a crewman on another ship, and eight other enslaved persons, including Smalls’s wife, Hannah, and three children, won their freedom by it. Smalls (1839-1915) was appointed captain of the Planter by a U.S. Army contract in 1863. A native of Beaufort, he was later a state legislator and then a five-term U.S. Congressman.