Robert Smalls Civil War Hero Commandeered Confederate Vessel! Robert Smalls began life enslaved in Beaufort, S.C. 1839. By the time Robert Smalls made his daring bid for freedom, he had already taught himself to read. Occasionally, an enslaved African was allowed to separate his day into "Master's time" and "Slave's time" and accumulate monies for himself. He bought a house 511 Prince Street, Beaufort in a tax auction in 1863. Smalls married and paid $800 for the freedom of both his wife and child. Smalls' keen navigational skills earned him a job as the pilot of the Confederate gunboat The Planter in March 1861.
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