Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story


Growing up a slave in South Carolina, Robert Smalls always dreamed of the moment freedom would be within his grasp. Now that moment was here.

Robert stood proudly at the Planter's wheel. Only seven miles of water lay between the ship and the chance of freedom in Union territory. With precision and amazing courage, he navigated past the Confederate forts in the harbor and steered the ship toward the safety of the Union fleet. Just one ...

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Growing up a slave in South Carolina, Robert Smalls always dreamed of the moment freedom would be within his grasp. Now that moment was here.

Robert stood proudly at the Planter's wheel. Only seven miles of water lay between the ship and the chance of freedom in Union territory. With precision and amazing courage, he navigated past the Confederate forts in the harbor and steered the ship toward the safety of the Union fleet. Just one miscalculation would be deadly, but for Robert, his family, and his crewmates, the risk was worth taking.

Seven Miles to Freedom is the compelling account of the daring escape of Robert Smalls, a slave steamboat wheelman who became one of the Civil War’s greatest heroes. His steadfast courage in the face of adversity is an inspiring model for all who attempt to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Charles E. Kreinbucher
This is a book about Robert Smalls' heroic and daring escape from slavery. It serves a strong account of history, slavery, and freedom. Janet Halfmann's "Afterword" provides an extended biography, and readers will learn that Robert Smalls reached the level of Major General and became the first African American to have a ship named after him. The story begins when Robert is a young boy. His faithful service of his master led Robert to earn the man's respect and become his favorite. As a result, Robert was given more opportunities and spared many of the abuses of slavery. Still, witnessing the evils of that system motivated him. As a teenager, he became very interested in sailing; he was given the opportunity to work on ships and in shipyards. Finally, he was promoted to the job of wheelman. Robert quickly learned the ins and outs of the rivers and channels. His newfound knowledge was an important part of his escape from slavery. After briefing his crew and their families, Robert stole his ship in order to go north to the Union fort. It turned out that Robert had a load of Confederate cannons to transport that day. As a smart and prepared sailor, he knew the secret signals and procedures to use when navigating so as not to call attention and cause alarm. As a result, he was able to slowly creep out to sea. There, he was met by a Union ship. They were pleased to offer freedom and honor in exchange for the cannons. Reviewer: Charles E. Kreinbucher
School Library Journal

Gr 3-7- Born and raised a slave in coastal South Carolina, Smalls worked on the docks, then learned shipbuilding and piloting. In an amazing feat of daring in 1862, he stole a Confederate ship by impersonating the captain, sent a rowboat to pick up waiting family members, sailed past five Confederate forts, and turned the ship over to Union troops blockading the area. Smalls became the first African-American captain of a United States vessel; he later served in the South Carolina legislature and the United States Congress. He was featured in Eloise Greenfield's collective biography How They Got Over (Amistad, 2003), but this book is an excellent vehicle to bring his story to a wider audience. Although presented in picture-book format, the text is detailed and there is a lot of it; the artistically beautiful but impressionistic images require some visual maturity from the audience. The oil paintings employ thick, bold strokes and deep saturated colors to convey Smalls's strength and determination in successfully delivering his and his crew's family members to freedom.-Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA

Kirkus Reviews
The daring Civil War escape of a slave, his crew and their families in a stolen Confederate supply boat receives appropriately inspirational treatment in this new picture book. Robert Smalls grew up in Beaufort, S.C., distinguishing himself to his owners as a bright, likely young man. Working on the docks, he quickly learned seamanship, a skill he put to the test when, as wheelman of the Planter, he used his knowledge of the Confederate's whistle signals and the opportunity presented by the onshore carousing of the white members of the crew to slip through the harbor to freedom. Halfmann tells the story slowly at first, laying out both Smalls's abilities and the yearning for freedom that only increased with his marriage and subsequent fatherhood. Smith, a newcomer to picture books, sketches out scenes and characters with broad daubs of oil, creating a sculptural effect that heightens the monumental nature of Smalls's deed. Page turns and textual pacing combine to relate the actual escape with pulse-pounding excitement; readers' relief at Smalls's success is almost physical. A triumph. (author's note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 6-11)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781600609862
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 691,417
  • Age range: 8 years
  • Lexile: AD870L (what's this?)

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2008

    Excellent way to learn history

    This is a true story about Robert Smalls, a slave born in 1839, who lived in South Carolina. While his master was kind to him, he grew to hate slavery because he saw the terrible treatment of other slaves. Working in Charleston, where he married and had children, he learned how to pilot steamboats along the coast. Following the attack on Ft. Sumter and the beginning of the American Civil War, Robert, his family, and his crew made plans for a daring escape to the Union forces. You will want to read this book to see how they tried to get away and if their plan succeeded. Biographical accounts, such as this one, which tell about interesting and exciting events in the lives of important people, whether famous or not, are an excellent way to learn more about the history of our nation. The author concludes with an Afterword which relates further information about the life of Robert Smalls and his role as a true hero in the story of African-American advancement, along with a list of sources in case anyone would like to do further study. This book is both fun and educational, and I think that children will like reading it immensely, as I did.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Review title: Lit Up With Hope. *Unusual color illustrations, u

    Review title: Lit Up With Hope. *Unusual color illustrations, unlike any seen in other books. At age twelve what was Robert's employment position? And what was his monthly "salary"? Do you know what a "wheelman" is? During the Spring of 1861 South Carolina and several other states left being a part of the U.S.A. and became known as the Confederate States of America and the northern states remained as the U.S.A. or "the Union." This was the beginning of the American Civil War. How do you think this impacted Robert's life? What happened in the Spring of 1862? As you read this biography you'll learn these and other facts.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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