The same guards were probably a little surprised when the ship carefully waited until it was out of reach of the guns before immediately turning north and heading for the Union. You see, the man in the captain's uniform waving to the guards was in fact a slave named Robert Smalls. And he was stealing the s**t out of the Planter.
U.S. Naval Historical Center
"Ooh, hey, sorry, you guys didn't need this boat, did you?"
At the start of the war, Smalls had found himself as one of the many slaves forced to work in the Confederate Navy. Not missing the bitter irony that he was somehow expected to fight against his freedom, he immediately began planning how to escape in the most audacious manner possible. First, he took the opportunity to memorize the signals needed to get past the fort. He also made sure to remember where the mines were in the harbor, which wasn't hard because he'd laid most of them himself. And of course he also stole every single Confederate naval secret he could lay his hands on.
Amazingly, Smalls managed to keep from cackling hysterically during all this, because his white crew mates were so taken in with the deception that they decided to trust him to stay alone on the boat while they went to get drunk. Smalls immediately gathered 12 other slaves and their families and staged his famous defection to the Union, who were grateful enough to give him permanent command of the Planter, making him the only black captain of the war. He became a hero in the North and played a big part in persuading Abraham Lincoln to allow slaves to join the armed forces.
Mathew Brady/Levin Corbin Handy
"For the sake of humility, I'll concede that slave owners weren't that smart to begin with."
For more amazing escapes, check out 6 Insane Prison Escapes That Actually Happened and The 5 Most Badass Prison Escapes in the History of War.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 5 Real Baby Names That Won't Make Any Sense in a Few Years .
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn the best ways to break out of the slammer.
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Extra Credit: For more myths from a very racist era, read this article about the truth behind the Civil War. Did you think the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery? If so, you're just ignorant enough to need us. To go back further in our history of dishonesty, click this link and learn the truth about America's founding. Finish your blast from the past by discovering the American civil wars you never learned about. Utah hasn't always been as benign as they seem today.