In reading my “American History Magazine,” I came across the name of a man I am ashamed to say I never heard of before. Robert Smalls was born a slave on April 5, 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina, although his father was likely the owner of the plantation. While we do not have his birth time, it is a small miracle that we even have the correct date and location, as such things were not bothered with much when dealing with a slave birth.
In May of 1862, Smalls commandeered the CSS Planter when the white crew went on shore. Using his skills as a seaman, he steered the boat past Confederate guards and toward the Union ships blockading Charleston harbor to freedom. He would be the first African American appointed captain of a military ship and would go on to lobby President Lincoln to allow black soldiers into the army.
With the Civil War over, Smalls served first in the South Carolina legislature where he was instrumental in establishing the first free and compulsory public school system in the United States in South Carolina and help found the Republican Party of South Carolina. In 1874, South Carolina elected him to the United States House of Representatives. (Note that was when the Republican Party was for universal suffrage and freedom.)
A personal moment of great satisfaction came in 1863 he purchased the home of his former owner and father Henry McKee for his mother. Members of the Smalls family would live there for 90 years and the house is now part of the National Historic Trust.
Even without his birth time there is a lot we can learn astrologically about Robert Smalls. He was born with the Sun in Aries, of course; however, his Sun also makes a strong conjunction to Pluto. Pluto Sun conjunctions in birth charts are indicators that person must undergo change in their lifetime. This doesn’t mean everyone will – we have to take into account that pesky idea of free will – however, if one is attuned to that energy the possibilities for growth and change are endless.
I find his retrograded Mars in Virgo very interesting. Mars does not enjoy being in Virgo. It is after all the warrior, the fighter and Virgo is far too reticent for battling Mars. Add to that a retrograde, an inward motion and a karmic pause that often makes people unable to channel their anger. He could have seethed under slavery and given up but he use his Aries Sun and heeded the call of Pluto to make great changes for himself and his society.
This is an important point about retrogrades. Too often people use them as excuses. They take on an attitude of I cannot do anything about this situation because I have a retrograde and well it stops me. No! Retrogrades are meant to be overcome. Smalls’ master and father hired him out in Charleston when Robert was just 12 years old. Over the years, became a lamplighter on Charleston's streets and then became a stevedore and a wheelman. There is something very “Shawshank Redemption” in him using his Aries spark and that Mars in retrograde to control his emotions, learn the trades and build the knowledge he needed to utilize when the moment for freedom presented itself.
With a South Node in Virgo, Smalls had experienced service before. Not necessarily a slave in prior lives, he was someone who was honed skills of hard work and common sense. Someone with a South Node in Virgo is moving toward a Pisces North Node – going from service to a particular person or career to large, worldly and other worldly issues. It is moving from life of control over a small portion of Earth to letting go and taking a risk – reaching out and trusting the universe will protect you. He did that on that night in Charleston and his continued work on behalf of newly freed slaves showed his continued dedication to powerful issues of the time.
Robert Smalls died in Beaufort at the age of 75 in 1915.