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Emancipation Proclamation


The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."  On January 1, 1863, General Rufus Saxton assembled people at the Emancipation Oak, Beaufort , SC, on the site of the Smith Plantation, now the US Naval Hospital at Port Royal, for one of the earliest readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Oak still remains and is considered hallowed ground. The reading of the Emancipation Proclamation is celebrated on the grounds every year.




The period after the Civil War, 1865 - 1877, is called the Reconstruction Period. 

During this period, the newly freed slaves were integrated into society and more than 100 black men held public office. Beaufort, South Carolina, was instrumental in Reconstruction. In 2017, the National Park Service and President Obama honored Beaufort as a “Reconstruction Monument”.


Abraham Lincoln started planning for the reconstruction of the South during the Civil War, as Union soldiers occupied huge areas of the South.  He wanted to bring the Nation back together as quickly as possible and in December 1863, Lincoln offered his plan for Reconstruction which required that the Southern States’ new constitutions prohibit slavery. On December 18, 1865, Congress ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution formally abolishing slavery.  


The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865.  Abraham Lincoln was assassinated less than one week later. Andrew Johnson became President and announced his own plans for Reconstruction that included a vow of loyalty to the Nation and the requirement of Southern states  to abolish slavery before they could be readmitted to the Nation.


The ideals of Reconstruction were not accepted by all Americans, eventually bringing about the end of social programs benefitting former slaves. Black Codes were adopted by midwestern states to regulate or prohibit the migration of free African-Americans to the midwest. Cruel and severe Black Code laws were adopted by southern states after the Civil War to control or reimpose the old social structure. Southern legislatures passed laws that restricted the civil rights of the emancipated former slaves. Mississippi was the first state to institute laws that abolished the full civil rights of African-Americans. 


The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (or the Freedmen's Bureau) was organized to provide relief and assistance to the former slaves, including health services, educational services, and abandoned land services. Congress passed an act on March 3, 1865 to establish the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. In 1866, the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress which outlined a number of civil liberties including the right to make contracts, own and sell property and receive equal treatment under the law.  However, states kept on the books laws that continued the legacy of the Black Codes and, therefore, second-class citizenship for the newly freed slaves.


Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment in 1867. The amendment was designed to provide citizenship and civil liberties to the recently freed slaves.  Five military districts each under the leadership of a prominent military general were carved out in the south and new elections were held which gave the vote to black males.  After Reconstruction was ended, Slavery by Another Name was instituted and continued until WWII.


Robert Smalls (1839-1915)


Robert Smalls, an American hero, was important in the outcome of the Civil War.  He was born a slave in Beaufort, South Carolina, the secret son of the Plantation owner, which made him a household favorite. Because Small’s mother was afraid he would grow up without knowing the horrors of slavery, she dragged him to the fields to pick crops and had him sleep on a dirt floor. Watching slaves being whipped caused him to protest and land in jail. Concerned for his safety, his mother asked the Plantation owner to send him to Charleston to work.


By 1862, Smalls was working on the CSS Planter, a cotton Steamer, turned Confederate warship. When the opportunity arose through the white crew leaving the ship, he picked up his wife, children and 8 other enslaved people, commandeered the ship and, under a white flag, brought it to the Union forces. This was a turning point in the war in South Carolina. Smalls and his crew were awarded half the value of the Planter and Smalls used his $1500 to buy his former owners’ house in Beaufort, 511 Prince Street, now a National Historic Landmark. Smalls helped establish a local school board in Beaufort County and one of the first schools for black children in the region.


A hero, he later was elected to the South Carolina State House of Representatives and the Senate. In 1864, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During five consecutive terms, Congressman Smalls pushed to desegregate the military and restaurants. He worked to successfully open the Marine base at Parris Island, Beaufort. He is honored on Decoration Day.


Hannah Jones Smalls (1825-1883)   


Hannah Jones Smalls, first wife of Robert Smalls, sailed with him when he commandeered the ship.

Sarah Smalls Williams and Elizabeth Smalls Bampfield were the daughters of Robert Smalls and Hannah Jones Smalls.

Laura Towne (1825-1901)


Laura Towne, born in Pennsylvania, was one of the first Northern women to go south to work with freed slaves. Educated as a physician and teacher, she was an abolitionist. In 1862, during the civil war, she created the Penn School on St. Helena Island, Beaufort, the first school for "freedmen".  She and her friend Ellen Murray ran the school, serving as missionary and teacher.  At her death in 1901, she left the Penn School to the Hampton Institute and it became the Penn Normal, Industrial and Agricultural School.

Charlotte Forten (1837-1914)

Charlotte Forten, born in Pennsylvania to an abolitionist family, was the first northern African-American schoolteacher to go south to teach former slaves. As a black woman, she hoped to find kinship with the freedmen, though her own education set her apart from the former slaves who spoke only Gullah.  She stayed on St. Helena Island for two years, working with Laura Towne, then succumbed to ill health and had to return north. In 1864, she published Life on the Sea Islands in The Atlantic Monthly, bringing the work of the Port Royal Experiment to the attention of Northern readers. Dedicated to social justice, she is best known for her diaries.

Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)

Harriet Tubman was born in 1820 on a plantation in Dorchester County, Maryland. Her original name was Araminta (Minty) Ross, but she changed it to Harriet to honor her mother. When she was 12, she was hit in the head by a weight trying to save a fugitive slave. She was left with headaches, narcolepsy and hallucinations she claimed were religious visions. In 1849, she escaped to Pennsylvania with the help of the Underground Railroad. She soon returned to lead her niece and niece's children to Philadelphia.  In 1850, with the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed freed slaves to be re-enslaved, she was forced to bring people to Canada. She was an abolitionist, conductor on the Underground Railroad, a nurse and a women’s suffrage supporter. She continued to lead slaves to freedom, including her elderly parents. Her nickname was Moses.


During the Civil War, she was recruited by her friend, abolitionist Col. James Montgomery, to southern Beaufort County on Hilton Head Island.  She assisted fugitive slaves and worked as a nurse, cook and laundress, helping sick soldiers and fugitive enslaved Africans. In June of 1863, Harriet became head of espionage for the Union Army, scouting on the Combahee River that separates Beaufort and Colleton Counties, South Carolina. Some writings say she led Union ships safely through landmines to help liberate over 700 Blacks from Colleton County, without losing of one drop of blood. It was called the Combahee River Raid.


In 2016, the United States Treasury announced that Harriet’s image will replace that of former President and slave owner Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill. The Trump administration has postponed putting her face on the twenty-dollar bill.                  


Susie King Taylor (1848-1912)


Susie King Taylor, born into slavery near Savannah, Georgia, became free at the age of 14 when her uncle led her out to a federal gunboat plying the waters near Confederate-held Fort Pulaski. Despite Georgia’s laws against education of African American women, she was educated in two secret schools taught by black women.She came to Beaufort, South Carolina, after the battle of Port Royal, as the first black union army nurse.  She was a teacher who educated both white and colored Union troops.


As the author of Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers, she was the only African American woman to publish a memoir of her wartime experiences. 


Sgt. Prince Rivers (1824-1887)


Prince Rivers, although a slave in Beaufort, South Carolina, learned to read and write and had training as an artisan. He escaped and joined Union lines, becoming a sergeant in the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, a Union regiment, the 33rd U.S. Colored Troop in the American Civil War.  He spoke at the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Beaufort. Later, he served as delegate to the 1868 state constitutional convention, becoming known as an orator.


Following the war, Rivers resided in Edgefield and the new county of Aiken. He was a representative at the 1868 constitutional convention and then represented Edgefield County in the state House of Representatives from 1868 to 1872. After Aiken County had been created in 1871, Rivers served as its representative in the House until 1874. Rivers served as a trial justice in Aiken County. In this capacity he became embroiled in an incident in the town of Hamburg that would lead to the infamous Hamburg Massacre, where he tried unsuccessfully to mitigate the violence.


Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911)

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was an American Unitarian minister, author, abolitionist, and soldier. He was active in the American Abolitionism movement during the 1840s and 1850s, identifying himself with militant abolitionism. He was a member of the Secret Six who supported John Brown. During the Civil War, he served as Colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first federally authorized black regiment, from 1862–1864. Following the war, Higginson devoted much of the rest of his life to fighting for the rights of freed people, women and other disfranchised peoples. He was present at the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Beaufort, where he presented the American flag, signifying that African Americans were citizens of the United States.

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