Robert Smalls was born into slavery on April 5, 1839, in Beaufort, South Carolina. In 1851, he was sent to work in Charleston to earn money for his owner. At the age of 23, he was a crewman on the steamer Planter, an armed transport in service to the Confederate defenders of Charleston. On May 13, 1862, Smalls, with a crew of other enslaved men, embarked on a daring dash for freedom. Before dawn, without alerting the guards, he piloted the Planter from Southern Wharf to North Atlantic Wharf, near this spot, picked up his family and guided the vessel past the harbor defenses to the Union ships blockading Charleston harbor. This heroic act of bravery made him a national hero and contributed to the Union war effort. Following the Civil War, Smalls was elected to both houses of the South Carolina Legislature and then served five terms in the United States House of Representatives. He ended his long life of public service as Collector of Customs at Beaufort, where he died on February 23, 1915, and where he is buried.