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Updated: 05/25/2014 08:00:01AM

Blanchard closes ‘spying’ exhibit

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SUN PHOTO BY GARY ROBERTS
Gail Schyhol, former Peace River Wildlife Center administrator, gestures toward one of the many interesting displays within the “African-American Espionage During the Civil War” exhibit, which closed to the public Saturday at the Blanchard House Museum in Punta Gorda.

SUN PHOTO BY GARY ROBERTS
Maintaining the Blanchard House Museum in Punta Gorda is a labor of love for Executive Director Martha Bireda, from right, board members Cynthia Beauford-Johnson and Renee Caruthers, and intern Shay’trese Williams.

SUN PHOTO BY GARY ROBERTS
At Saturday’s Blanchard House Museum Open House, Kay Mason makes a point to Charlotte County Democratic Party members Judy Schnabel, from left, Jim Nolan and Mari Usera.

SUN PHOTO BY GARY ROBERTS
Fran Campbell, left, and Virginia Jusiel, both of Deep Creek and members of the Punta Gorda Historical Society, indulge their natural interest in history Saturday afternoon.

SUN PHOTO BY GARY ROBERTS

Kay and Bob Mason of Punta Gorda review the display on Harriet Tubman, conductor of the Underground Railroad and one of the Union’s most daring and effective spies.

By GARY ROBERTS

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PUNTA GORDA — Robert Smalls was a slave on an armed Confederate transport ship in Charleston harbor in 1862, when he commandeered the Planter and set sail for freedom. With the aid of his enslaved crew and their families, as well as his own, he escaped at night by using lantern signals to pass by Confederate forts to join Union forces.

Smalls was rewarded by being named the captain of what became the USS Planter, later becoming one of the first African-Americans to serve in Congress.

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