Men of Distinction – Robert Smalls (1839-1915).
Enslaved African who, through courageous effort, became the first captain under service to the United States, distinguished politician, and entrepreneur.
In 1862, he was serving as ship’s pilot on the Confederate military transport vessel CSS Planter, when the ship’s captain and officers disembarked to spend the evening ashore. Smalls donned the captain’s uniform and a hat resembling the one that the captain wore, and with the help of various crew, managed to slip the vessel through Confederate lines and to the Union blockade. As a result, he was hailed a hero in the North, and was awarded $1500 as his share of the ship’s prize.
While serving in the US Army in 1863, the Planter came under fire in a skirmish; Captain Nickerson, in command of the vessel, was inclined to surrender the ship to the enemy. Wary of the potentially dangerous terms of surrender, Smalls instead assumed command of the ship and sailed the vessel out of harm’s way. For his action under fire, he was elevated to captain in place of Nickerson, becoming the first captain under service to the United States.
After the war, he continued to serve his country, having been elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, the South Carolina Senate, the South Carolina Militia (earning the rank of major general), and the US House of Representatives, serving multiple terms. He was also an entrepreneur of note, acquiring considerable holdings.
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Men of Distinction – Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799).
Born in the Caribbean to a French plantation owner and an enslaved African woman, Boulogne was renowned for his swordsmanship and athleticism; he also gained considerable fame as a composer and violinist, often referred to as the ‘Black Mozart’ for his musical prowess. It was noted that he excelled at fencing as a youth, and was praised by his contemporaries for his skill and grace in masterfully defeating his peers. During that time, he studied under several prominent Parisian musicians, gaining notoriety for his compositions and abilities. As an aristocrat, he served in the army during the revolution, commanding a regiment of free black volunteers, and also led the ensemble of the Concert des Amateurs, in which he played violin.
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Men of Distinction – Walter Tull (1888-1918).
Born to a Barbadian carpenter and an Englishwoman, Tull was a renown professional soccer player (having played for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town), and was the first black commissioned infantry officer in the British Army. Upon the death of his parents, young Tull was sent to an orphanage along with his brother, who interestingly enough, became Great Britain’s first black practicing dentist. Tull’s soccer career flourished, making many first team appearances for his clubs before he enlisted in the infantry at the outbreak of World War I.
Tull distinguished himself on the battlefield, and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in 1917, despite the British Army forbidding persons of color to hold such rank. He fought in 6 major engagements, was noted for gallantry, and was recommended for a Military Cross. Tull was killed in France in 1918, just 8 months before the war’s end.
Men of Distinction – Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696-1781).
Vitals – 1696-1781Afro-Russian general, engineer, and nobleman, the first of such lineage to attain status in the Russian royal court. Kidnapped at the age of seven, he was taken to the court of the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople and later ransomed and sent to Russia to the court of Emperor Peter the Great. Having taken a keen interest in young Gannibal, Peter absorbed him into his household, where he developed a close bond with the Emperor’s family.
Educated in Metz, excelled in his studies, and developed fluency in several languages.
Served in the Russian military, eventually obtaining the rank of Major General.
Served a post as governor of Reval (Estonia), and was a noted member of the Russian court.
Great grandfather of celebrated Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, the founder of modern Russian literature.
Father of Ivan Gannibal, accomplished naval officer and General in Chief of the Russian military.
Several prominent current British aristocrats descend from his esteemed lineage.
Men of Distinction – Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (1762 – 1806).
Vitals – Born in Saint-Dominique (Haiti), the son of a white nobleman, Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, and an enslaved African, Marie-Cessette Dumas. -Educated in France, and entered the French military.
-Rose the ranks from private to General in Chief by age 31, commanding 53,000.
-Earned renown in numerous wars and battles, earning the nickname ‘The Black Devil’ from his Austrian adversaries for his dogged tenacity on the battlefield.
– Father of Alexandre Dumas, legendary author of The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, and other notable works.
Elevated to the rank of Division General in the French army, becoming the highest ranking man of African origin in a European military structure. Among his many firsts, was the first black man to reach the rank of brigadier general, divisional general, as well as General-in-chief in the French army.