LLG Member, Maxine Melcher knew that Island Packet Senior Editor and local raconteur, David Lauderdale would bring-to-life the local hero, Robert Smalls. On November 17, at the Nicklaus Club, he spoke before 70 Colleton members and did not disappoint.
Following Maxine’s introduction, Mr. Lauderdale demurred that while he is not a ‘real historian’, he has long admired the remarkable life of Robert Smalls – a Beaufort resident who was born into slavery in 1839 and lived to serve five terms in Congress. Lauderdale explained that Smalls life story is a part of the Era of Reconstruction that is being reexamined and reinterpreted by the National Park Service. Towns such as Beaufort are ideal historical sites for improving public understanding of the complex, poorly understood and still hotly contested period.
Mr. Smalls is most famous for the audacious act of courage on May 13, 1862 when he expertly piloted the Confederate gunboat, The Planter, past five blockade checkpoints and sailed the boat, his crew and his family to freedom. Lauderdale recounted that this event ‘went viral 1862-style’, making headlines in major US newspapers. Smalls was rewarded $1,500 and he used a portion of the sum to purchase the home in which he was born from the family of his former owner, Henry Mckee who was likely his father.