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You're listening to American Shadows, a production of I Heart Radio and Greyman miles from Aaron Manque. Virginians once loved him. That was before the Revolutionary War, though in November of 1775, he seized the state's ammunition, declared martial law and issued a proclamation freeing all enslaved and indentured people.
If they joined the British, the colonists felt betrayed and Royal Governor John Murray became a hated man. With the proclamation and enslaved 21 year old by the name of Titus, Cornelius saw a chance at freedom. He escaped and promptly enlisted with the newly formed Ethiopian regiment that worked closely with British soldiers. A new start to required a new name. And from that moment on, he was known simply as Ty. Determined to prove his worth during the battle of Monmouth in 1778, t'ai captured a patriot captain and his courage didn't go unnoticed.
The British found his services and loyalty valuable, and they sent his unit on a raid in Shrewsbury, New Jersey. The plan had been orchestrated by Benjamin Franklin son William, a British loyalist. Thai led the effort, preferring to strike at night. The regiment captured 80 cattle, 20 horses and two sought after patriots. Again, pleased with his bravery and fortitude, the British paid Thai five gold guineas. Throughout the summer of 1779, he and his crew targeted wealthy slave owners.
His continued success moved him up the ranks by winter time, I served with 24 loyalists called the Black Brigade. Together with a band of white loyalists, they defended New York City. On March 30th of 1780, the Black Brigade captured two well-known patriots and burned the home of another in retaliation for executing loyalists, attacked and killed patriot John Russell and wounded his young son. And two months later, he and his brigade swept to the home of another patriot leader, captured 12 men and destroyed their artillery.
In September, the men raided the home of Patriot Captain John Joshua Hardy. They set the homestead on fire. But how do you and a female servant held the brigade at bay until help arrived while the two sides clashed? The captain escaped. During the battle, Ty was shot in the wrist. Within days, he fell ill from infection, tetanus turned to gangrene, killing him. Though the British didn't formally recognize black soldiers upon his death, they bestowed him with the title of colonel.
During his life, Ty learned that to attain freedom, there had to be courage, a lesson that another man would take to heart and make the most of. I'm Lauren Bacall. Welcome to American Shadows. It was all about location, the climate and soil, and Buford, South Carolina, made growing indigo used to make ink and Sea Island cotton highly profitable. By 1839, the city became immensely wealthy.
Buford had good schools, a college, multiple libraries and a regular steamboat schedule. Massive plantations sat nestled among moss draped live oaks, many plantations had been handed down generation to generation. On Prince Street sat a large mansion belonging to the McKee family, Henry, the only son of a wealthy cotton grower, had inherited his father's land and fortune at the young age of 23.
He married two years later in 1836, and in 1839, his wife gave birth to their daughter, Eliza Jane. A month later, Henry's son, Robert, was born to an enslaved housemate, Lydia. Henry had known Lydia for most of his life, 20 years, his senior, she had helped raise him of all his servants, Henry favored her. And when their son was old enough, Henry took the boy on his day trips to the city of Ashtown.
The McKees thought of Robert as a smart and kind child, Robert even played with Eliza and eventually other McKie children.
He grew close to his half siblings, though, while they were at school, he worked alongside his mother as a houseboy. Lydia reminded him that while they weren't free, their life was better than those working in the fields to show him how other black people lived. She took him to a slave auction as well as the local jail to witness a whipping of an enslaved man. She intended to prepare her son for the future. Robert, however, became angry and rebellious.
Allowed to be away from the plantation on his own when labor was done, it often break curfew on more than one occasion. Patrols brought him back to the McKees. Henry never punished him the way had seen that day at the jail.
But undoubtedly, Roberts continued rebellion, played a hand in Henry, sending him to his sister in law in Charleston when he turned 12. Now away from home for the first time, Roberts slept in slave quarters and was hired out as a laborer, a practice not uncommon at the time. Known as Robert Smalls, he worked as a waiter at one of Charleston's most prestigious hotels. From there, he worked with Lamplighters, cleaning soot from the Globes. As the years passed, he turned his attention to the harbor, imagining what it would be like to captain a ship.
With Henry's permission, Robert found work on the docks, loading and unloading cargo with a strong work ethic. His employer moved him to driving the horses that made deliveries. And by the following summer, he was hired out to a schooner as a sailor. Along with the job, he earned extra pay. While still not a free man, Robert made a life for himself. At 17, he decided it was time to marry. He courted another day laborer, an enslaved girl named Hannah.
There was a problem, though. She belonged to another property owner. Henry granted Robert permission to marry and paid Hannah's owner for allowing the two to wed. Robert thought marriage was practical, in his words, he wanted someone to do for him and take care of him and Hannah fit the bill. While marriage certificates were not granted to enslaved people, the McKee family hosted a wedding at their plantation home, inviting a small number of guests, including Lydia.
When the couple had a daughter, Robert, worried that his family could be taken away from him at any time and offered to buy his wife and daughter from their owner. Although the price was too high, Robert didn't give up hope he'd save his money. Besides, times had begun to change. Lincoln's push to end slavery didn't go over well with wealthy plantation owners, Southern political leaders in favor of keeping slavery part of the South declared that they would secede from the Union if Lincoln won the 1860 election when their fears came to pass.
South Carolina became the first state to leave the Union in December of 1860. In January of 1861, Union Major Robert Anderson in Charleston withdrew his troops to the island fortress at Fort Sumter. Seeing the fort is a stronghold and unwilling to allow union forces to control a key point in the harbor. The South Carolina militia fired upon a U.S. ship delivering supplies to the fort, forcing the ship named the star of the West to retreat. On April 12th of 1861, the first shots were fired on the fort, starting the Civil War.
South Carolina rejoiced when Fort Sumter filled Confederate bombardment. The Charleston Mercury called it a splendid pyrotechnic exhibition. Robert had hoped that the new administration might make him and his family free instead, little had changed. Adding to his fears, he now had a son raising the price to buy his family when the chance to join the crew of a Confederate ship named the planter presented itself along with a raise in salary he eagerly accepted. As the war intensified, the union authorized the Confiscation Act, which allowed federal forces to confiscate any Confederate property, including enslaved people.
The union argued that any young black man thus confiscated was able to fight against the Confederacy. Within days of the news, dozens of escaped men, women and children arrived at the union stronghold Fort Monroe, seeking refuge. By June, the number increased to nearly 500. In the fall of 1861, Roberts had been promoted to Wheelmen, the planter's wartime job had changed to transporting Confederate soldiers and supplies. South Carolina remained a battleground. Every day, Robert longed for freedom when the union had taken over the harbor at Port Royal and freed the enslaved there, including his mother, Lydia, he rejoiced but ached for the day that he and his family could live free to.
In the meantime, he transported more Confederate soldiers and more ammunition destined to be used against the very people trying to free him. When the planter returned to Charleston, southern Wharfe, all seemed quiet aboard, the captain and crew trusted him. He had worked hard and had never given them a reason to doubt him. Below deck, the ship was laden with ammunition destined for Confederate troops under the starlit sky and soft breeze. Robert stood alone on the deck.
Escape, he realized, was now or never. His plan was both brilliant and dangerous to steal a Confederate general ship loaded with ammunition and make it to Union lines. If he got caught, he and everyone aboard the ship would be killed, pull it off, though, and everyone would be free. Playing it through in his head was one thing, pulling it off was another, the planter wasn't stealthy. It produced a lot of smoke and was rather noisy.
Getting out of the harbor unnoticed would be near impossible. So he'd have to impersonate a white general. Robert had a plan for that to let go in the dead of night and he'd wear long sleeves and the general's wide brimmed hat. First, he and the others needed to gather up the families of the enslaved men on board and hope that none of them talked or backed out. Next, he would have to steer the ship through the heavily guarded harbor if they made it into union territory, they'd have to convince the North that they weren't attacking, that they were surrendering.
The plan had a lot of potential pitfalls. There would be no second chances and no room for error. He broached the subject with Hannah first, if the plan failed, the men faced execution and their wives and children would be separated and sold off. Hannah's reply was simple. Where he died, she died. His fellow enslaved crew members agreed to the plan as well. Freedom was worth the risk. Robert knew that the more people involved, the more likely they'd get caught.
But he couldn't operate the planter alone. He had to trust that his crew members wouldn't get cold feet. When three of the original six lost their nerve and backed out, he scrambled to find three more men and hoped the others would keep quiet. Every night, the general and the ship's officers left the planter, preferring to sleep in their own homes. And thankfully, on the night of the heist, they left the ship as usual. Hanna rounded up the other men's families who had been left out on the plan until the last minute that have to be quiet.
When they arrived the ship. Although the women gathered their children and followed Hanna when they heard Robert's plan, some became frightened and began to cry. The men hustled them on board and locked them in a state room, threatening to kill the first person who made another sound the entire trip a bit drastic. Sure, the threat worked, though, and none of the women or children made a single noise. After that. At 3:00 in the morning, the men stoked up the steamships fires as plumes of smoke filled the air.
There was no turning back. The men gathered hands and vowed that if they were captured, that all jump overboard and drown themselves at four. They raised the Confederate flag and headed north. Robert kept the ship steady and at a normal pace as the heavily guarded Fort Johnson came into view once past, he rang for more steam. But the danger was far from over and the men held their breath. The most guarded and heavily armed checkpoint of all came next Fort Sumter, as the planter cruised past a century, called out from the Fort Blow.
The damn Yankees to hell. Robert remained calm, tipping the general's wide brimmed hat and replied I. Once Fort Sumter was safely behind them, the men began to weep, they'd made it through the worst now in union territory. The men scrambled to take down the Confederate flag and hoist the white flags, signaling their surrender before nearby union ships fired at them. Just as they finished a union ship approached wary of the planters white flags. Captain John Nichols of the Onward ordered all cannons pointed at the planter.
The white flags could be a trick. Once the ships were side by side, Robert hailed them, removing his hat, Nichols was intrigued and somehow a black man had managed to commandeer a Confederate ship out of Charleston Harbor and past two checkpoints unnoticed. The two men stared at each other, unsure what to do next. Robert broke the silence between them. Good morning, sir. He said as cheerfully as possible, I've brought you some of the old United States guns, sir.
Not only had the enslaved man stolen a ship, had stolen one full of weapons, astounded nickels, boarded the ship. Right away, crew members asked if his ship had a spare and proper United States flag for the planter, he did. The men hoisted the new flag, making the planter a union vessel. At the port, Nichols wrote to his commanding officer praising Robert's heroics. Congress agreed and awarded each of the planters crew 1500 dollars in reward money, about thirty eight thousand each today.
Finally, the crew and family aboard the ship were free. By November of 1863, Hannah was pregnant with the couple's third child, Robert continued his work as a crewman aboard the planter. Now a union ship carrying supplies from Folley Island to Morris Island. During one delivery, the crew found themselves caught in the crossfire between warring ships. The captain abandoned his post and ran for cover, leaving the rest of the men on deck to fend for themselves. Robert quickly took charge.
Without anyone to steer, the planter would have undoubtedly been sunk. Confederate soldiers would have hung him and the other black crew members. He knew the ship well and he commanded the other deckhands while safely navigating the ship and crew out of harm's way, once out of danger. The captain took control once more. The crew finished their journey without another incident and returned to home port. When the chief quartermaster learned of Roberts bravery, he promoted him to the captain of the planter, the very ship he'd worked on as a deckhand wheelman and had stolen along with the promotion hame extra money.
He and Hannah welcomed their new son soon after that, making the boy the first in the family, not born into slavery. An extra mouth to feed was no longer a worry. His new salary afforded him and his family a very comfortable living. Life was good, but he couldn't have predicted the changes and challenges to come. By 1864, the war was almost over. The union had taken over much of Charleston and the surrounding area, including any plantations abandoned for unpaid taxes.
When the large White House on Prince Street in Buford became available, Robert bought the property, had been born on and served in as a houseboy and later married Hanna and the couple made the mansion their own, sleeping in the master bedroom while their children each had their own rooms, rooms that had belonged to generations of McKie children. That may Robert took his family to Philadelphia while the aging planter underwent repairs during his absence. The people in Buford voted for him to serve as a South Carolina delegate to the National Union Party's convention in Baltimore.
He declined the honor, keeping his word to serve the union. During their stay in Philadelphia, the Smalls worked on fundraisers that drew attention to the needs of freedmen across the country. Robert had become quite the celebrity, often appearing in newspapers over the years. Not every freed person had it so easy, though segregation remained an issue even in northern cities like Philadelphia.
In June, Robert and a white boat pilot boarded a streetcar, the conductor refused to allow Robert to sit inside, insisting all people of color ride the platform. Instead, in a show of solidarity, the white pilot rode the front of the streetcar with him. The news spread quickly, sparking outrage that a union hero had been disrespected. Robert's treatment sparked change. A month later, a Pennsylvania state senator argued for legislation to end segregation on streetcars. After months in Philadelphia, the family returned home to Buford's for Christmas with their homecoming game, the news of Sherman's March to the Sea and the fall of Savannah.
Robert in the planter, immediately set to work transporting Sherman's forces from Georgia. In February of 1865, the Confederates abandoned Charleston with the city now in union hands. Robert, his family and a group of union officers made the short trip there from Buford on the planter. The city had taken a beating during the war and barely resembled the place it had been that starlit night long ago. Though he'd been gone for a few years, many of the townsfolk remembered him and were happy that had returned.
He didn't stay in the city long, although he and the planter made several humanitarian aid trips there in the months to come. With each trip he watched as the people in Charleston undertook the slow and painful process of rebuilding. He hoped that the worst was behind them. That wasn't to be, however, the news of President Lincoln's assassination emboldened bitter Southerners looking to return to their old ways. Henry McKees widow sued Robert in an attempt to reclaim the mansion on Prince Street.
Fortunately, the judge ruled against her and Robert retained his home, seeking peace between his family in the McKees. He allowed the ailing widow and a few of the McKie children to stay at the mansion until their mother's death when the family moved out. He learned that one of the McKie daughters needed financial assistance as a continued gesture of goodwill. He gave her a small sum to help her get by and recommended her six year old son for a position at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Robert continued his work as the captain aboard the planter for 17 more missions, one May during his final mission. He was transporting two union generals, a colonel and a major from Savannah, to investigate islands off the Georgia and Florida coast as they made their way back to South Carolina. They noticed another ship closing in on them. The other boat pulled alongside the planter, giving the men a chance to read the ship's name and see the men aboard, the Fannie was a newer steamship owned by one John Ferguson on stood a man Robert knew simply as McNulty.
Within minutes, the other ship pulled away, leaving the officers wondering what had just happened, what they didn't know was that Ferguson had owned the planter the night Robert commandeered it into union territory where it was confiscated. And McNulty was not only the prior owner's employee, he was a loyal follower. Seeing the planter flying an American flag with Robert as the captain had likely sent him into a rage. Robert kept watch on the other steamship as it pulled ahead, his uneasy feeling panned out when the FANNI suddenly veered sideways, blocking the planter's path.
Instead of veering off, Robert plowed into the other ship's port side, pushing it half a mile up the Savannah River. Furious that his boat had just been rammed, McNulty emerged from the cabin brandishing a pistol. In turn, Robert grabbed his shotgun. Both men leveled their guns at one another while the general repeatedly ordered McNulty to put away his gun. After a few tense moments, the general talked both men into lowering their weapons. The captain of the FANNI steered the steamboat around and both ships headed back to port in Savannah.
Once there, the general ordered McNulty's arrest. Ferguson never gave up trying to regain his former ship when the planter went to auction back in Charleston. He managed to buy it from the winning bidder. Ferguson didn't have it back for long, though, on March 25th of 1876, the planters sprung a leak in the bow while attempting to tow a schooner. The captain wanted to beach the steamer, but rough seas caused extensive damage and the ship took on too much water.
The crew abandoned the planter and it sank offshore. Upon hearing the news, Robert said he felt as though he had lost a family member, his life as a captain might have ended, but he wasn't quite done making history. No longer a captain or serving the union, Robert moved on to other things, namely being a father, having never learned to read as a boy, he made sure his children went to the best schools, wanting other children of color to have a solid education.
He started a school for African-American children in 1867. The school wasn't his only venture. Robert also opened the general store and started a small newspaper there. He found an audience and wanting to implement more changes. He became interested in politics. In 1868, he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he lobbied for a compulsory free schooling for all children in South Carolina. Later, he was elected to the South Carolina Senate. Robert continued to grow as well.
He bought several properties in his hometown and heavily invested in its economic development. In 1870, he and other representatives formed the Enterprise Railroad, this horsedrawn railway covered 18 miles and carried cargo and passengers between Charleston and Inland Depots. The railway venture was predominantly black owned, prompting author Bernard E. Powers to describe it as the most impressive commercial venture by members of Charleston's black elite. Robert continued to move up in politics, becoming a member of Congress in 1874, where he fought for black voter rights across the South.
He was a proud Republican and said the party of Lincoln had unshackled the next a four million human beings.
While serving in the state Senate in 1877, he was charged and arrested for reportedly taking a five thousand dollar bribe and that's about a hundred and fourteen thousand. Today, he was convicted and served time in prison before the governor pardoned him in 1879. Hannah died unexpectedly in 1883, saddened by the loss, Robert threw himself deeper into his political work. In 1890, he met and married Annie, a teacher, 16 years his junior. That same year, President Benjamin Harrison appointed him as the U.S. Customs collector in Buford.
Robert and Annie had a son together, and sadly, though he became widowed once again just five years later. Robert remained customs collector until his retirement in 1911. The military tried to lure him back into service twice in the early nineteen hundreds, he turned down the opportunity to rejoin the military as a U.S. Army colonel, and he declined another offer of the post of minister to Liberia. Content with retirement, Robert stayed at the mansion on Prince Street, though his children were grown and had moved away and he never married again, it was his home and where he felt comfortable.
He developed diabetes and after a bout of malaria, Robert Smalls passed away in the home had been born into. On February twenty third, 1915, at the age of 75, his children returned to bury their father in the family plot at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Buford. After a life full of enormous accomplishments, it was time for Robert to rest. There's more to this story. Stick around after this brief sponsor break to hear all about it. This episode is brought to you by the Great Coarsest plus who we always love partnering with because they believe, like we do, that the world is endlessly fascinating and that learning about it with purpose from experts who are passionate isn't just fulfilling its self-improvement.
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It may or may not wind up being for you, but it's worth looking into. This podcast is sponsored by Better Health and American Châteaux listeners get 10 percent off their first month at better help dotcom slash American châteaux. That's better l.p dotcom slash American chateaux. In 1863, 24 year old union officer Robert Gould Shaw led his men into battle. Some thought the men were subpar, risky, but Shaw couldn't disagree more. It didn't matter to him that his entire unit was black.
In fact, he was honored to lead them. It started when Massachusetts Governor Jon Andrew called for black citizens to enlist during the Civil War, many union officials thought that African American troops might lack discipline and be hard to train or run during combat.
And seeing potential where others did not. Governor Andrew went to Washington to plead his case to the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton. Stanton wholeheartedly agreed and issued the order allowing Andrew to proceed with the creation of the 54 Massachusetts volunteer infantry, he asked Shah to lead the regiment, but the young officer hesitated. He'd have to leave behind his men, and he felt unsure that the union would allow black soldiers to fight on the front lines. Eventually, he agreed, and the process of enlistment began.
It proved difficult at first, but Andrew promised recruits thirteen dollars a month, that's about three thousand seven hundred dollars today, and assured them that if they were captured, the United States would do everything within their power to guarantee that they were treated no differently than their white counterparts. While some had once been enslaved, others were citizens from all over the north. Two recruits were the sons of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. And on February 15, Shaw began training his men.
They impressed him greatly, learning quickly and paying attention to detail. Before long, he dispelled the naysayers. Machar boasted that the men were as fine as any had ever served with. Shortly after training the new regiment, he was promoted to major. The regiment's first mission landed them in Georgia, where they joined up with another group for a raid. The other regiment looted and burned buildings, but Shaw and his men refused, appalled. He believed burning buildings serve no purpose and that the practice of leaving women and children without food and shelter was barbaric.
After completing their first mission. He was promoted to colonel. Their next assignment was in Charleston and the battle there would be a tough one. They needed to capture Fort Wagner, a heavily guarded and exceptionally well armed garrison. Despite being outnumbered on July 18, Schatzman followed him into battle, yelling Forward fifty four. The regiment crossed the moat and scrambled up a muddy hill outside the forts outer wall there. They came under heavy fire, yet not one man backed down.
They surged forward even after Shah had been shot three times to the chest. The fifty fourth fought valiantly until driven back around 10:00 that night. The losses were heavy. Though Frederick Douglass, his sons, both survived. After the battle, Confederate forces returned the bodies of white soldiers, with one exception, Shar. Confederate General Charles Douglass said that Shaw had been buried in a mass grave alongside his black soldiers and that had the colonel commanded white men, he would have been returned.
General Douglas meant his remarks to be the highest insult he could give. However, Shah's family and friends knew exactly how it felt about his men and considered his burial with them an honor. The slain colonel's father stood before the public and told them how proud he was of his son and his troops. He added that his son had not been just a soldier. He had been a crusader for emancipation and could not have died in better company. Massachusetts legislators could think of no better expression of gratitude for Shaar and the heroic black soldiers of the 54 Benta Commission, world famous artist Augustus S.
Gardens to erect a memorial to the black citizens of Buford, South Carolina, began raising funds immediately after the battle.
But due to unstable soil and some white resentment, funds were redirected to Boston. The bronze memorial dedicated to shore and the 50 Fourth Regiment was unveiled on May 31st, 1897, on the Boston Common, Augustus recaptured the moment that Shaw rode horseback alongside his beloved men as they marched out of Boston toward war. Rain fell the day of the unveiling, but it didn't stop Boston from turning out in droves, a band struck up the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The local artillery battery fired a 17 gun salute offshore. Three warships each fired 21 gun salute. Sixty five black men stood in the streets, most wearing their union uniforms forward. Fifty four, they shouted. And the men still is fine and still is courageous, and Shah had ever seen led a parade down the streets of Boston and the crowd couldn't help but cheer. American Chateaux is hosted by Lauren Vogel Bomb. This episode was written by Michelle Muto, researched by Ali Steed and produced by Miranda Hawkins and Trevor Young with executive producers Aaron Manque, Alex Williams and Matt Frederick.
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