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[SC] The Planter - Slave Ship

Slaves take confederate ship "The Planter!"

*May 12,1862, Black slaves commandeered the Confederate ship “the Planter.”

It has just gotten dark on that evening in 1862, General Roswell Ripley and the other White confederate officers of the Steamer had gone ashore to attend a party in Charleston, leaving the Black crew alone. Slave Robert Smalls and the Black crew's families came aboard the Planter. Smalls was the quartermaster, or wheelman of the ship and knew all the routing channels in Charleston harbor and the gun and troop positions of the confederate armies guarding the harbor.

He and the other slaves got the ship underway, headed for the mouth of the harbor and the blockading Union fleet; soon passing under the guns of Fort Sumter. To boost their odds of success, Smalls dress himself in the clothing of Planter's confederate captain. The strategy worked because they weren’t fired upon until after they were out of range. The Planter eventually came up to the Union ship, U.S.S. Onward to surrender.

The Planter was equipped with a 24-pound howitzer, a 32-pound pivot gun, a 7-inch rifle and 4 smoothbore cannons. It had served as headquarters for General Ripley and was a valuable because it could carry up to one thousand troops. Smalls who was from the Sea Islands area knew the waters well. The ship was an important trophy for the Union. Generally, any enemy ship taken in this way is treated as honor for the men who performed the brave accomplishment.

Commander Du Pont submitted the claims for Smalls and the others to Washington though he had reservations that they would be honored. Since the Blacks had been slaves and with the lingering impact of the Dred Scott Decision; the nations capital said they were merely contraband. It took a special act of congress to award the ship as a reward and it was valued at only $9,168 dollars or 1/3 it's true value.

The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York
ISBN 0-8160-3289-0

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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