South Carolina Department of Archives and History
National Register Properties in South Carolina

Robert Smalls House, Beaufort County (511 Prince St., Beaufort)
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Facade Main Entrance Left Oblique Left Elevation Left Rear
Rear Elevation

Built in 1843, the Robert Smalls House is a good example of a large frame house with a two-story portico. Robert Smalls, the hero of the Civil War, state legislator, U.S. Congressman from South Carolina during Reconstruction, and customs collector for the Port of Beaufort, was born into slavery in 1839 in Beaufort. He lived in the John McKee household until 1851, when he was hired out by his master to Charleston, where he lived until the outbreak of the Civil War. During the war, he distinguished himself first as the “abductor” of the boat Planter, an incident which catapulted him to national fame and attention, and as a guide for the Union ships attacking the sea islands. He became a folk hero and natural candidate for public office during the years of black political influence that followed the war. He was elected first to the state Constitutional Convention of 1868, the state assembly (1868-1870), and then the state senate (1870-1874). He continued his fight here to use legislation to buttress the rights recently gained by the freedmen. He made himself a sort of watchdog for his constituents and race, in the face of mounting opposition and increasing hostility of white South Carolinians. In 1874, Smalls was elected to the U.S. Congress. He served as customs collector for Beaufort from 1889 to 1913, and died in 1915. Smalls purchased the house in which he had lived as a slave at a tax sale in 1863. He and his descendants occupied the property for approximately ninety years. The original structure has been considerably altered. Listed in the National Register May 30, 1974; Designated a National Historic Landmark May 30, 1974.

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