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  • Writer's pictureF. Haywood Glenn

Through My Literary Lens

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

The Queen of Historical Fiction

On January 22, 2021 the world lost a literary treasure, Sharon Kay Penman, one of the greatest historical fiction authors of our time passed away.

The first Penman book I ever read was, Hear Be Dragons and I immediately became a fan. Subsequently, I read nine more Penman books, eagerly awaiting their publications. Her last book, Land Beyond the Sea, was gifted to me by my son in March 2020.

Penman’s gift for blending real history with the emotional drama in the lives of real people will be missed. Sharon Kay Penman opened the world of medieval history to me and others. She will be missed. I will miss her.

I offer my sincere condolences to her family, friends, and fans.

An African American Civil War Hero

I believe that because I grew up with such negative images of black people and black history, I am always drawn to stories of black people who were strong and courageous in our fight for freedom and our continued fight for equality. These are stories that we should have been taught in grade school but I know that it is never too late to meet a hero.

In my research for my third novel in the Legacy series, The Bowman Legacy, Not For Sale, I came across several articles on Robert Smalls.

Robert Smalls was born into slavery in April 1839 to the McKee family in Beaufort, South Carolina. Beaufort is a costal region, part of the Sea Islands and it is not surprising that Robert developed a love for the sea. When he grew older, his master began to hire him out and, of course, his master took his wages. Robert eventually found a job working at Port of Charleston. He became a wheelman, learning how to steer a ship.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, as an experienced wheelman, the Confederate Army assigned Robert to the Planter, a military transport ship. His experience in navigating the ship impressed the white officers and Robert was given the title Pilot, a title not usually given to black seamen. The Planter transported ammunition, messages, and troops up and down the coastline and rivers.

On May 13, 1862, after the ship had been loaded with munitions, including cannons, the white officers went on shore leave for the night, leaving the ship in the hands of Small and the other slave crewmen. Robert had meticulously planned his escape and his family and the families of the slave crewmen were waiting on another ship, not far from the Planter. Dressed as the Captain, Robert guided the ship out. He knew the if his plan were to fail, he would be killed. He also knew the proper signals to give at the various checkpoints.

After picking up his family and the families of the slave crewmen, he took the ship out and headed for the Union blockade. Once they were far enough away, he exchanged the Confederate flag with the white flag of surrender. Robert Smalls had successfully freed his family and the families of his crew. He joined the Union Army.

Because the Planter was filled with munitions, Smalls was given a reward. After the war he returned to Beaufort, South Carolina. With his reward money, he was allowed to buy his former master’s house. Later, Robert Smalls owned several businesses, a school, a newspaper and eventually became a State Representative.

For more information:

Terrorized African-Americans Found Their Champion in Civil War Hero Robert Smalls

by Douglas Egerton

Smithsonian Magazine

September 2018

ducksters education site

Biography - Robert Smalls

Overview and Early Life

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