In 1839, Robert Smalls was born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina. As a slave, he worked in the Charleston shipyards. After learning the local harbor and surrounding waters, 23-year-old Robert Smalls began piloting a steam-powered supply ship called the Planter. Though Robert Smalls had many responsibilities, as a slave he did not have his freedom. During the Civil War, Robert Smalls, his family, and his friends made a daring escape from slavery by cruising the Planter out of Charleston Harbor to Union territory.