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Explore the African American history and genealogy of Coastal South Carolina, Georgia and Florida; home of the Gullah-Geechee cultural heritage.
Watch this page for Footnote.com records of African Americans who migrated from SC, GA and FL to Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, West Africa.
3 March 1873 — Georgetown, South Carolina
Name: Anderson, Martha H.; Born: Born free in Georgetown County; Father: Robert Collins, born free Married: Andrew J. Anderson (died March 1782) Children: James W. Anderson (died before claim was field); Joel Anderson; Richard L. Anderson; Harriet Ann Anderson (married Albert Aspinal); Andrew J. Anderson, Jr.
Martha H. Anderson was born free in Georgetown, SC. Her father Robert Collins was born free. He died about ten years before her marriage and left her his farm.
She married Andrew J. Anderson, a free man, seven years before the Civil War. After she married she went and lived with her husband at his farm of 500 acres, (40 acres of which were cleared) located in St. Thomas Parish, seven miles from the village of Cainhoy on the Halfway Creek Road. At the time of the claim, Martha lived on land owned by her sister-in-law.
Martha's husband Andrew died in March 1872. That same year, Martha sold her 118 acre farm (left to her by her father) for .50 per acre. Upon Andrew's death, sons Joel and Richard inherited the farm where Martha had lived with her husband. At the time of the claim, in 1973, Martha lived on land owned by her sister-in-law.
Andrew had four children; two sons and a daughter from a previous marriage and one daughter with Martha. Oldest son James W. died three years before claim date. Joel, then about 25, lived with her in Georgetown and made turpentine for a living. Richard L . Anderson, then about 23 years old, also made turpentine for a living. Daughter Harriet Ann, then 28 or 29, married Albert Aspinal and lived with him in Charleston. Joel joined a regiment of USCT in Charleston and served for about a year.
Martha's son Andrew J Anderson, Jr., was then about 8 years old and lived with her.
Martha Anderson's claim is for $5,918.30 for livestock, food and clothing taken from her farm to supply Union troops.
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1783 — Charleston, SC
Portion of the Muster Roll of Negroes (also known as the Book of Negroes), which recorded the names of African Americans sailing for Nova Scotia at the evacuation of British troops from New York following the American Revolution. Select "Enlarge in Viewer" to see our annotations.
9 April 1875 — Blountsville, SC, Beaufort County
Name: Smith, Rebecca; Born: Born free in Beaufort County; Parents: Father was enslaved, mother was free; Children: Sarah Jane Smith, 39 years old, Eliza married to Barney Primus, 38 years old, Maria married to Thomas Jackson, 36 years old, Frances Willcox, 32 years old and John Willcox, 30 years old.
Rebecca Smith, a free African American, was 59 years old when she filed a claim for livestock and food taken from her farm in Blountsville, a community of free African Americans in Beaufort County. Her farm, containing 65 acres (45 of which were cultivated), was located at the junction of the Port Royal and the Savannah and Charleston Railroad in Beaufort County, S.C.
At the time she filed her claim, she had lived at Blountsville for 6 years. Before then she lived on her farm on the Cooosawhatchie Swamp, three miles above McPhersonville. She moved to Blountsville after the Union army broke them up on the farm. She was free born and never married. The father of her children, a Mr. Willcox, was a northern white man. By the laws of the state a white man could not marry a colored woman.
At the time of her filing she had 5 children alive: Sarah Jane Smith, 39 years old, Eliza married to Barney Primus colored, 38 years old, Maria married to Thomas Jackson, colored, 36 years old, Frances Willcox, 32 years old and John Willcox, 30 years old.
Rebecca Smith's father was a slave and her mother was born free. Her mother owned property in her own right and left some property to Rebecca. Rebecca carried on the farm with her children and increased the property while Mr. Willcox contributed to their support, consequently the property claimed in this petition was her own sole property.
Aleck Newton, 60 years old, a free born African American living in Early Branch Station Port Royal Rail Road, about 4 miles from Blountsville. He had lived there for 30 years.
Walley Smith, 49 years old, born free. Brother of the petitioner, living at Blountsville near Yemassee. Before and during the war he lived with his sister Mrs. Rebecca Smith on her farm at Coosawhatchie Swamp.
John Willcox, 30 years old, Rebecca's son and born free. He lived with his mother Rebecca Smith on her farm at Blountsville. Before and during the war he lived with his mother on her farm on the Coosawhatchie Swamp, 3 miles above McPhersonville.
Thomas Jackson, a free born African American. He worked his own farm and lived at Blountsville near Yemassee.
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1897 — Beaufort, SC
Robert Smalls (April 5, 1839 - February 23, 1915) was a slave who became a national hero when he freed himself and his family from slavery on May 13, 1862 by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, The Planter, to freedom in Charleston harbor.
He was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, and eventually became a politician - serving in both the SC State legislature and the United States House of Representatives. During his political career, Smalls authored legislation that created the first public school system in America in South Carolina, founded the Republican Party of South Carolina, and successfully convinced President Lincoln to accept African American soldiers into the Union army - a feat which some say infused the additional manpower that helped the Union win the Civil War.
Early Life (1839 - 1861)
Robert was born in 1839 in a slave cabin behind his master's house on 511 Prince Street in Beaufort, SC. He would grow up in Beaufort as a house slave - also known as Swonga - under the influence of the Lowcountry Gullah Culture that his mother was raised in. Smalls' mother, Lydia, was a slave owned by John McKee .
Robert was sent to Charleston in 1851 to work for his master (now Henry McKee) where he held several jobs. He started out in a hotel, then became a lamplighter on the streets of Charleston. His love of the water, evidenced in his childhood at Beaufort, led him to work down on the docks and wharfs of Charleston in his teen years. He became a stevedore (i.e., dockworker), a rigger, a sail maker, and eventually worked his way up to a wheelman (i.e., essentially a pilot though blacks were not called pilots). He became very knowledgeable of the Charleston harbor .
Marriage and Family (1858 - 1863)
Robert met a hotel maid, Hannah Jones, and married her on December 24, 1856. Hannah was fourteen years his senior and had an adolescent daughter when she met Robert. Hannah and Robert had their first child, Elizabeth Lydia, in February 1858. In 1861 they had another child, Robert Jr., who would die in 1863.
Escape from the Confederacy (May 1862)
In the fall of 1861, Smalls was made helmsman of the Planter, an armed Confederate military transport. On May 12, 1862, the Planter's three white officers were spending the night ashore. In the early morning hours of the 13th, Smalls and several other black crewmen decided to make a run for the Union vessels which formed the blockade, in accordance with a plan which Smalls had previously discussed with them. Robert was dressed in the captain's uniform and even had a hat similar to the white captain's. The Planter backed out of what was then known as Southern Wharf around 3 a.m. The Planter stopped at a nearby wharf to pick up Smalls' family and other crewmen's relatives, who had been concealed there for some time.
Now with his wife and children and a small group of other African Americans now aboard, Smalls made his daring escape. The Planter not only had the blacks on board but it also had four valuable artillery pieces aboard, besides its own two guns. Perhaps most valuable was the code book in Robert's possession that would reveal the Confederate's secret signals and placement of mines and torpedoes in and around Charleston harbor.
Smalls piloted the ship past the five Confederate forts which guarded the harbor, including Fort Sumter. The renegade ship passed by Sumter approximately 4:30 a.m. He then headed straight for the Federal fleet, which was part of the Union blockade of Confederate ports, making sure to hoist a white flag. The first ship he encountered was USS Onward, which prepared to fire until a sailor noticed the white flag. When the Onward's captain boarded the Planter, Smalls requested to raise the US flag immediately. Smalls turned the Planter over to the United States Navy, along with its onboard cargo of artillery and explosives intended for a Confederate fort .
Service to the Union (1862 - 1865)
Because of his extensive knowledge of the shipyards and Confederate defenses, Smalls was able to provide valuable assistance to the Union Navy. He gave detailed information about the harbor's defenses to Admiral Samuel Dupont, commander of the blockading fleet.
Smalls became famous throughout the North. Numerous newspapers ran articles describing his actions. Congress passed a bill, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, rewarding Smalls and his crewmen with the prize money for the captured Planter. Smalls' own share was $1,500 ($34,000 adjusted for inflation in 2007 dollars), a huge sum for the time. Robert personally met Abraham Lincoln in late May 1862 (two weeks later) upon which he heralded his personal account to the President. Lincoln was quite impressed with Smalls' intelligence.
His deeds became a major argument for allowing African Americans to serve in the Union Army. Smalls served under the Navy until March 1863, when he was transferred to the Army. However, he remained a civilian and was never actually enrolled in either branch of service. By his personal account, Robert served in 17 different engagements during the Civil War.
With the encouragement of Major-General Daid Hunter, Union commander at Port Royal, Smalls went to Washington, DC., with Mansfield French in August 1862, to persuade President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to permit black men to fight for the Union. He was successful and received an order signed by Stanton permitting up to 5,000 African Americans to enlist in the Union forces at Port Royal. These men were organized as the 1st and 2ns South Carolina Volunteers.
Smalls served as a pilot for the Union Navy. In the fall of 1862, Planter had been transferred to the Union Army for service near Fort Pulaski. Smalls then returned to the Planter, now a Union transport.
On April 7, 1863 he piloted ironclad USS Keokuk in a major Union attack on Fort Sumter. The attack failed, and Keokuk was badly damaged. Her crew was rescued shortly before the ship sank.
In December 1863, Smalls became the first black captain of a vessel in the service of the United States. On December 1, 1863, the Planter had been caught in a crossfire between Union and Confederate forces. The ship's commander, Captain Nickerson, decided to surrender. Smalls refused, fearing that the black crewmen would not be treated as prisoners of war and might even be shot. Smalls took command and piloted the ship out of range of the Confederate guns. For his bravery, Smalls was named to replace Nickerson as the Planter's captain .
Robert returned with the Planter to Charleston harbor in April 1865 for the re-raising of the National flag upon Ft. Sumter.
After the War
Immediately following the war, Robert returned to his native Beaufort, SC, where he purchased his former master's estate on 511 Prince St. His mother Lydia lived with him for the remainder of her life. He even allowed his former master's wife - elderly and confused - to move back in the home just prior to her death as a token of graciousness.
In 1866 Smalls went into business in Beaufort with Richard Howell Gleaves, opening a store for freedmen (freed slaves). That same year in April, the "radical" Republicans that controlled Congress over rode President Andrew Johnson's vetoes and passed a Civil Rights Act, along with ratifying the 14th Amendment, extending citizenship to all Americans regardless of their color.
Smalls identified with the Republican Party, saying it was "The party of Lincoln which unshackled the necks of four million human beings." In his campaign speeches he said " every colored man who has a vote to cast, would cast that vote for the regular Republican Party and thus bury the Democratic Party so deep that there will not be seen even a bubble coming from the spot where the burial took place." Later in life he recalled "I can never loose [sic] sight of the fact that had it not been for the Republican Party, I would have never been an office-holder of any kind- from 1862- to present." He was a delegate at several Republican National Conventions and as participant in South Carolina Republican State Conventions.
During Recontruction, Smalls was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1865 and 1870 and the South Carolina Senate between 1871 and 1874. He was then elected to the United States House of Representatives and served from 1875-1879 and 1882-1883 in South Carolina's 5th Congressional district, and from 1884-1887 in South Carolina's 7th Congressional district. He was a member of the 44th, 45th, and 47th through 49th U.S. Congresses. During consideration of a bill to reduce and restructure the United States Army, Smalls introduced an amendment that “Hereafter in the enlistment of men in the Army . . . no distinction whatsoever shall be made on account of race or color.” The amendment was not even considered by Congress.
After the Compromise of 1877, and as a part of wide ranging white efforts to reduce African American political power, Smalls was charged and convicted of taking a bribe five years earlier in connection with the awarding of a printing contract. He was pardoned as part of an agreement in which charges were also dropped against Democrats who had been accused of election fraud .
Smalls remained a political figure into the twentieth century and was a delegate to the 1895 constitutional convention. He spoke out against the disenfranchisement of black voters. With one break in service, Smalls was U.S. Collector of Customs 1889–1911 in Beaufort, where he lived as owner of the house in which he had been a slave. The Robert Smalls House is now a National Historic Landmark. The desk that Smalls used as Collector of Customs is on display at the Beaufort Arsenal Museum in Beaufort.
Smalls died in 1915 at the age of 75. He was buried in his family's plot in downtown Beaufort. A monument and statue are dedicated to his memory.
 Robert Smalls: Commander of the Planter During the American Civil War, article by Howard Westwood
 Foner, Eric ed., Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction Revised Edition. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996). ISBN 0-8071-2082-0. Between 1865 and 1876, about two thousand blacks held elective and appointive offices in the South. A few are relatively well-known, but most have languished in obscurity, omitted from official state histories. Foner profiles more than 1,500 black legislators, state officials, sheriffs, justices of the peace, and constables in this volume.
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