The Thrilling Tale of How Robert Smalls Seized a Confederate Ship and Sailed it to Freedom

Cate Lineberry over at Smithsonian Magazine:

Like so many enslaved people, Smalls was haunted by the idea that his family—his wife, Hannah; their four-year-old daughter, Elizabeth; and their infant son, Robert, Jr.—would be sold. And once separated, family members often never saw each other again.

The only way Smalls could ensure that his family would stay together was to escape slavery. This truth had occupied his mind for years as he searched for a plan with some chance of succeeding. But escape was hard enough for a single man; to flee with a young family in tow was nearly impossible: enslaved families often did not live or work together, and an escape party that included children would slow the journey significantly and make discovery much more likely. Traveling with an infant was especially risky; a baby’s cry could alert the slave patrols. And the punishment if caught was severe; owners could legally have runaways whipped, shackled, or sold.

Now Smalls’ chance at freedom had finally come. With a plan as dangerous as it was brilliant, he quietly alerted the other enslaved crew members on board. It was time to seize the Planter.

More here.