I Don’t Know Where Robert Smalls was Born!

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This is not the house where Robert Smalls' birth happened, but will be the model I loosely base it on in the graphic novel.
The Owens-Thomas House.

I’m currently drawing a page that features Robert Smalls’ birth. I’d scripted it out, and left the details of where it happened out because I hadn’t been able to find out exactly where Robert Smalls was born. I figured I’d look into it in more detail when I came to draw it.

I knew that he was born and lived at 511 Prince Street in Beaufort, but didn’t know exactly where in the property. As a house slave, his mother Lydia and he may have lived in the main house or they could have lived in slave quarters out the back. In either case, I didn’t know what his living conditions as a house slave would be like. Today, as I started drawing this scene, I started looking more into it.

511 Prince Street, Beaufort - where Robert Smalls was born and lived for a lot of his life.
511 Prince Street, Beaufort – where Robert Smalls was born

It turns out, that quite where he was born is unknown. It is unclear whether there were slave quarters out the back or not. Clearly, this was an occasion (and in writing this, I’ve realised there will be many) where I have to invent some details in the absence of fact.

I want it to be plausible, so did a bit more research that led me to the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters. It’s a Regency-style mansion with accompanying slave quarters, now turned into a museum.

They have some photos on the website which were really useful. Of particular interest to me were photos of the slave quarters. However, I couldn’t find out exactly where the slave quarters were so I emailed them asking for any floor plans or more information and photos about the slave quarters. Mere minutes after hitting send, I found an online “virtual learning journey” of the property that was very informative.

A screenshot of the Owens-Thomas Virtual Learning Journey

A Virtual Walkaround!

By far the most exciting part to me was the virtual walkaround of the property! It’s a Google Street View-type experience with hotspots of information to explore that was everything I had been looking for! While the house and its surroundings aren’t identical to Smalls’, there are similarities so I’ll be using this house as the basis for the parts of Smalls’ life that take place at the Prince Street house.

The virtual tour is an amazing resource and I’ll be writing an email to the museum, and the creators of the tour to thank them later today. Of course, they’ll also get a mention on the Supporters page of my website.

If you’re at all interested in this sort of thing, I urge you to have a look at the virtual tour. The little icon in the bottom left when you’re on the tour pulls you up to a floor-plan view which is really helpful for getting your bearings. Here’s the link again.

So, for the background of where Robert Smalls’ was born, and details of his living conditions, you’ll have the Owens-Thompson House to thank!

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