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Beaufort has many historic homes, but perhaps few have a richer history than two houses in The Point neighborhood that were once owned by Robert Smalls, both of which soon will be available for buyers or renters.'
Raised as a slave in Beaufort, Smalls made a daring capture of a Confederate steam ship, the Planter, in Charleston in 1862. Smalls safely guided the ship, loaded with rebel artillery, Smalls' wife and children and 12 other slaves, past rebel forts and into Union hands.'
The Union government gave Smalls a $1,500 reward for his heroic act, and he later became a captain in the U.S. Navy, a state legislator and a five-term U.S. congressman.'
Smalls used some of his reward to purchase property throughout Beaufort, according to Historic Beaufort Foundation, including the home of his former master at 511 Prince St., where Smalls lived until he died in 1915.'
The 2,800-square-foot home, built in 1834, recently was restored by Beaufort-based Beekman Webb Construction. The current owners purchased the home as a restoration project and put the home up for sale through Lowcountry Real Estate about a year ago. The property is protected by an easement through Historic Beaufort Foundation, which prevents additions to the house or changes to its exterior. '
The nonprofit foundation is dedicated to the preservation of sites and artifacts of historic interest throughout the county.'
In the late 1800s, Smalls had a three-room cottage built toward the back of the Prince Street property. That cottage, initially used as rental property, would later become known as 508 Duke St.'
A fourth room was added in 1930, and minor upgrades were made in 1974 and 1984 after the home had been acquired by Smalls' great-granddaughter, Janet "Dolly" Davidson Nash and her husband, John "Boot" Nash.'
After Dolly Nash died in 2004 and John Nash died last year, the cottage was bequeathed to Historic Beaufort Foundation, which plans to restore the house and maintain it as a rental property. Maxine Lutz, spokeswoman for Historic Beaufort Foundation, said the Smalls-Nash Cottage is the first historic home to be maintained as a rental property by the foundation.'
"Dolly Nash's intent was for Historic Beaufort Foundation to have it, knowing that we would protect it and preserve it, making sure Robert Smalls' legacy survives," she said.'
Lutz said the organization will ensure that Smalls' name remains associated with the cottage in perpetuity, and it may be featured in the foundation's fall tour of homes. However, the property will not become a museum.'
The foundation has not determined rental details, except that the property will be used a residence, not a commercial property. '
Evan Thompson, executive director of Historic Beaufort Foundation, said the cottage, which has plaster walls, a fireplace and simple details, is "a simple house with an important story to tell as part of Beaufort's complex history."'
Largely because of Smalls, Lutz said, black people in Beaufort County were able to exert greater influence over government than blacks in other parts of the South after the Civil War.'
"When Reconstruction really had ended across the country in the 1870s, it really didn't end here until (Smalls) died in 1915," she said. "He was such an important leader from the end of the war until 1915." '
Dolly Nash's grandmother and great-uncle were among the passengers on the Planter in 1862, when Smalls led his family to freedom.'
"The greatest story told to me was about my great-grandfather, Robert Smalls," Dolly Nash told The Gazette in 2002. "My grandmother, Elizabeth Smalls Bampfield, would tell us (grandchildren) about her father, and I would always listen."