Robert Smalls

Write a paper about a person in a period of United States history from exploration to 1877, and explain a challenge the person faced, what that challenge was, and how the person did or did not overcome the challenge.

Do not write a complete biography of the person’s life.
Focus on a challenge faced by the person.
Describe the historical, social, governmental or personal circumstances of the challenge.
Explain how the person interacted with the challenge.
Did the person meet the challenge and succeed?
Did the challenge defeat the person?
Explain the resolution of the challenge. Was it resolved? Did it continue?
Does the challenge the person faced continue to challenge American society today? Explain how so or why the challenge no longer exists.
This paper must include a discussion of the following topics:

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a thorough summary of the event including the incidents that took place and the key individuals involved;
the importance of the event in the scheme of U.S. history; and
the impact of the event, person, or time in U.S. History.
Simple examples of historical figures and their challenges (do not be limited by this list):

Christopher Columbus and the challenge of exploration
Pocahontas and the challenge of Jamestown colony
Phillis Wheatley and the challenge of being a small female in colonial America
Abigail Adams and the challenge of the Revolutionary War
Thomas Jefferson and the challenge of living in a slave society
Dolly Madison and the challenge of living with a President, James Madison, during a war
Andrew Jackson and the challenge of Indian removal
William T. Johnson and the challenge of being a free black in antebellum Mississippi
James K. Polk and the challenge of the Mexican War
James Tallmadge and the challenge of the Tallmadge Amendment
Charles Finney and the challenge of being president of Oberlin College
John Brown and the challenge of the Kansas-Nebraska Act
A Civil War soldier (North or South) and the challenge of the Civil War
A freedmen (male or female) and the of Reconstruction.









Robert Smalls and the Challenge of Freedom from Slavery

Robert Smalls was an American and Civil War hero. He sailed his way through freedom from slavery and developed his lifelong career as a politician and a legislature of South Carolina in the US House of Representatives during the Reconstruction Era (Meriwether, 2018). Robert Smalls was a slavery abolitionist hero; however, the circumstances of his challenging environment and success path were different. His mother formed the basis for him to understand the comprehensive picture of slavery, characterized by whooping, brutality, and exploitation of slaves. Moreover, in his youth, as a worker and slave in fields, he displayed insubordination and was jailed several times. Overly, he overcame the challenge through his courageous and daring sail to freedom. The challenges and struggles of Robert Smalls as a slave were a foundation for his freedom, black crew, family, and the onset of his political endeavors and successes.

Robert Smalls was born in 1839 into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina. Slavery in the USA and most notably, South Carolina during this period was heightened due to the establishment and growth of rice, indigo, and cotton plantations even in his area of birth, Beaufort. In Charleston, numerous African slaves were brought during the transatlantic slave trade, which accounted for about 40% of the African slaves (Hicks, 2016). Slavery was central for the economic development of these states and the USA during this period, with increased subordination, exploitation, dictatorship, and brutality of the white against the enslaved black people. The McKee white family owned Lydia Polite (his mother) and Small’s family showing their involvement in slavery and the beginning of the struggle and challenge for freedom. Despite having the privilege, many enslaved black children and people were denied, such as interacting with white children and wearing nice clothes, due to the inclination to the McKee family, he still faced the challenge of freedom, as this white family owned his family. Small’s mother sought to educate him of the difficulties and inadequacies of the institutions concerning slavery through which Smalls learned by being hired out to work in the fields as a youth and later in the waterfront (Halfmann, 2020). This was a foundation to enlighten him on the challenges of living as a slave and preparation for freedom. He had to buy his wife and family’s freedom at $800, which he lacked. Further, he lost his first son in infancy.

Despite being owned by his master being paid a dollar weekly and the rest owned by his master, he worked tirelessly to free himself, his family, and crew. Smalls took advantage of the favoritism and privileges he acquired from the McKee family and master to acquire knowledge, skills, and abilities to fight and gain his family’s freedom. This shows Small’s interaction and maneuvers throughout his life as a slave. He viewed his life in the fields and the Charleston harbor as an opportunity to defeat his challenge rather than exploitation or brutality. Through his sea knowledge, Smalls a slave sailed himself to freedom during the Civil War via the Planter, which he captained with his crew with honor and celebration (Thomas-Lester, 2012). Smalls actions were a turning point to the black community and contribution to the American Civil war. His meeting with the then President Abraham Lincoln made it possible for African Americans to join the Union and serve their way to freedom. He worked for the Union Navy as a volunteer and later became a caption, and one of the most paid soldiers in America. This progress showed an achievement and progress in Smalls’ life while fighting his challenge and finally acquiring the freedom he solicited highly. Smalls service in the Union Army also served as another step to resolving his challenge. When he returned to his home state, he served in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and as a Major General in the South Carolina Militia.

Smalls foundation as a politician provided a base for fighting for human rights promotion and protection among African Americans. As a politician, he was accused of bribery and faced extreme racism due to white supremacist democrats while in office, however, he was cleared and acquitted. Robert Smalls succeeded over the challenge through bravery, having a clear mission and exploiting the opportunity, having a plan seen through the piloting and sea knowledge, intelligence, and timing (Prior, 2012).

Robert Smalls’ challenge of freedom from slavery connects with a significant event in the schema of the USA’s history, making it an important event and life struggle. This is because Small’s grand plan to resolve the slavery challenge he faced and the need to gain freedom for him, his crew, and family was made possible by the American Civil War, which formed the primary opportunity. Smalls led a successful black crew and party in the Civil War, which convinced President Abraham Lincoln of the viability and effectiveness of African Americans in strategic maneuvering in the military and fighting in the Civil War (Thomas-Lester, 2012). These actions resulted in increased chances of freedom among enslaved black people and acceptance of African Americans to the military and war to fight for their freedom as a chance and platform were created by Smalls (Evans, 2015). Secondly, Smalls helped found the Republican Party in South Carolina through his political life. More importantly, while in Congress and the Senate, Smalls contributed to the creation and development of the first public, compulsory and free education system in South Carolina through his authored legislations. This resulted in having the first public and free education system and a Republican Union Party in South Carolina.

Robert Smalls left a worthwhile legacy where he sailed his way to freedom the African Americans have today. Black people can freely serve in the military and are free with human rights protection. However, they still experience all levels of racism due to white supremacy and hegemony as Smalls experienced. Robert Smalls struggled to gain independence from slavery not only for him but also for his family, crew, and all black people. Robert Smalls may have contributed to the abolishment of slavery during his period in American history; however, the challenge revolutionized and adopted new forms in the modern world. For instance, modern slavery is facilitated institutionally through diverse forms such as sex slavery, human trafficking, and forced labor, which still exists, among others. Besides, modern slavery is facilitated through intersections of racism, classism, and sexism. Victims, survivors, and witnesses involved in these new forms of modern slavery live their lives struggling to find freedom. In addition to personal struggles, governmental intervention is imperative because the perpetrators are institutionally organized, and the presence of stringent policies such as in human trafficking and modern racism- slavery can help enormously.




Evans, M. (2015). The Wheelman: How the Slave Robert Smalls Stole a Warship and Became King. Land’s Ford Publishing.

Halfmann, J. (2020). The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls. Lee & Low Books.

Hicks, B. (2016, December 8). Slavery in Charleston: A chronicle of human bondage in the Holy City. Retrieved from The Post and Courier:

Meriwether, L. (2018). The Freedom Ship of Robert Smalls. University of South Carolina Press.

Prior, C. E. (2012). Humanities, Volume 33. Northwestern University Libary.

Thomas-Lester, A. (2012, March 2). Civil War hero Robert Smalls seized the opportunity to be free. Retrieved from




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