This blog chronicles exploration and archaeological survey in the Great Dismal Swamp as we work to uncover the hidden landscape of maroons who lived in the Swamp from the early colonial period until the start of the US Civil War. We’re using fancy new technologies and old fashioned on-the-ground exploration to look for answers to questions about where maroons lived and how they made their lives in the forbidding Swamp environment. It’s a remarkable story of resistance and resilience but there is still much we don’t know.
Thousands of marginalized people lived in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina, circa 1680-1860. Enslaved laborers built canals and harvested timber for lumber companies. Deep in the Swamp’s interior, maroons, people of African descent fleeing the oppressive conditions of slavery, sought a measure of freedom. This project employs targeted exploration and archaeological survey to define the maroons’ hidden landscape which emerged through resistance to the control of people and space in the Tidewater region. This project will locate and map small islands, a scattered network of which formed the foundation of living space for maroons and enslaved laborers alike. LiDAR data and information gleaned from historic maps and documents will guide on-the-ground exploration. The resulting new maps and subsequent archaeological testing will enable researchers to chart shifting land-use and material culture patterns and begin to answer questions about how maroons dealt with changes that accompanied canal and timber development and threatened their place of refuge. By going beyond previous site-focused research in the Dismal Swamp to investigate a new geographical area, this research examines how maroons made lives for themselves in a place that was viewed by outsiders as wild and forbidding.
This project is an extension of the Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study initiated by Dr. Dan Sayers more than a decade ago. See the Bibliography for a list of articles and links about archaeology and history in the GDS.