For Mr. Philbrick and the other Gideonite leaders, however, Small’s actions meant much more than a grand nose-thumbing gesture at the Confederates. Here was proof positive that the Negroes were clever, quick learners, full of initiative, capable of great heroism, and willing to fight for their own freedom. The Abolitionists had been making that claim for years. Robert Smalls embodied their wildest dreams.
The Reverend Mansfield French wasted no time in exploiting the advantage his cause had gained. He hustled Robert Smalls onto the first ship that could be found headed north, and he personally accompanied him to Washington, D. C. and into the office of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, where Smalls spent a hour regaling Chase with the story. The Treasury Secretary was so impressed that he set in motion a resolution giving General Saxon permission to recruit Negroes into the United States Army, and, after the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22nd, 1862, to create the First South Carolina Volunteers. This regiment would be the first to be manned almost entirely by former slaves, most of whom could neither read nor write, but now stood ready to fight for their own country.
Robert Smalls, himself, followed up his triumph in a singularly middle-class sort of fashion. He had been awarded a prize of $1500 for capturing the Planter and turning it over into Union hands. He used the money to purchase the McKee House on Prince Street in Beaufort, where he had grown up as a slave. He also opened a store on Bay Street and set himself up in business as a grocer. In time he became a United States Congressman.