Robert Brown Elliot was born on August 11, 1842. His parents were probably from West India, but were living in Liverpool, England. He graduated from Eton College in 1859. Elliot served in the British navy and by 1867, he had moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and was the associate editor for the South Carolina Leader, a freedmen's newspaper. Elliot later practiced law and served in the South Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1868. He was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1868 to 1870 and an assistant attorney general of the state from 1869 to 1870. Elliot was elected to Congress in 1870 and reelected two years later, serving from 1871 until he resigned in November 1874. While serving in Congress, Elliot advocated a bill that later became the Civil Rights Act of 1875. He was Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1874 to 1876 and an unsuccessful candidate for attorney general in 1881. Appointed a customs inspector for the Treasury Department in Charleston in 1879, Elliot was abruptly transferred to New Orleans in 1881 and dismissed there a year later. Elliot opened a law practice in New Orleans where he remained until he died on August 9, 1884.
Lamson, Peggy. The Glorious Failure: Black Congressman Robert Brown Elliott and the Reconstruction in South Carolina. New York: Norton, 1973.
Ragsdale, Bruce A., and Joel D. Treese. Black Americans in Congress, 1870–1989. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1990, 45–47.