Robert Smalls is not a familiar name to many, but it should be. Growing up a slave in Beaufort, SC, and being hired out to work in Charleston (with most of his wages collected by his master), he resented slavery and tried to buy freedom for himself and his wife. Unable to save enough to free his family and seeing an opportunity to fight against slavery, Robert organized several other blacks to hijack a Confederate ship and sail to the North with their families. When they reached the Union blockade, Robert surrendered the ship, joined the Union navy, and became a free man.
Eventually, he returned to Beaufort and actively dove into community reform and development to turn around the lives of the newly freed blacks. In 1868, he was elected to the SC Constitutional Convention to revise the state constitution and worked to create the state public school system and protect the rights of African Americans. He served in the SC Legislature for 20 years and then five terms in the US Congress before moving full-time back to Beaufort to stay involved in civil rights at home.
Robert’s life and achievements offer a powerful lesson about our past and our present. They teach about persevering, taking risks for what you believe in, and returning to your community to improve it and the lives of others. In Fragments of the Ark, Louise Meriwether takes the adventures and morals from Robert’s life and reshapes them into the fictional account of Peter Mango, a man going through much of the same circumstances and actions as Robert. The novel paints an accurate history of the South during and after the Civil War, and Mango is an inspiring hero bringing the people of the Civil War and Reconstruction to life for young adults.
We’re honored here at Young Palmetto Books to have the opportunity to publish the reprint of Fragments of the Ark and expand its reach across the state and beyond. Among other praise the book has received, Maya Angelou lauds the novel:
“Incredibly moving…. Fragments of the Ark explains why the Civil War remains positioned in the American psyche as bitter race memory. In Louise Meriwether’s capable writing hands, the conflict becomes as real as the odor of freshly spilled blood, and the suffocating presence of gunpowder in the air.”—Maya Angelou
We’re also excited to announce that coming soon from YPB is a children’s picture-book, The Freedom Ship of Robert Smalls, in which Louise Meriwether returns to the subject of Robert Smalls but with a younger audience in mind. The book will feature illustrations by South Carolina’s beloved Jonathan Green, whose work has garnered national and international acclaim.