Contraband Robert Blake (Photo#: NH 103762)
Robert Blake was born into slavery in Virginia. After escaping, he enlisted in the US Navy from Port Royal, Virginia and served on USS Marblehead during the Civil War. While off Legareville, Stono River, South Carolina, on 25 December 1863, Blake bravely served the rifle gun as Marblehead engaged Confederates on John's Island. The enemy eventually abandoned its position leaving munitions behind. For his bravery in this action, Blake was awarded the Medal of Honor.
USS Marblehead engages a Confederate Battery on John's Island, Stono River, South Carolina, 25 December 1863 (Photo#: NH 79920)
LCDR Richard W. Meade, commanding the Marblehead, wrote in a report to Rear Admiral John Dahlgren off Legareville commending several individual sailors in the conflict. Among the four who would eventually win the Medal of Honor was Robert Blake. LCDR Meade had this to say in his report about Blake:
"Robert Blake, a contraband, excited my admiration by the cool and brave maner in which he served the rifle gun." (Meade to Dahlgren, ORN, 15:190-191)
Richard W. Meade
He ends his report to Dahlgren by commending everybody, including Blake, onboard the Marblehead during the tense engagement:
"I have again to commend the good conduct of everyone on board. Their courage was so well displayed that the enemy, who had doubtless counted on disabling us, were forced to retire [. . .] in confusion and ignominy.” (Meade to Dahlgren, ORN, 15:191)
It should be of note that Robert Blake was the first African American to actually receive the Medal of Honor (most give that honor to SGT William Harvey Carneyfor his heroism at Fort Wagner).