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Great Dismal Swamp and Runaway slaves

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by donna, Jul 6, 2011.

  1. donna

    donna Colonel Forum Host

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    There was interesting article in our paper on this subject. It was a haven for runaway slaves. It said that thousands of people lived here and for the most part their lives were unrecorded. They lived in small communities of wooden buildings on high ground.

    The Great Swamp straddles the line between North Carolina and Virginia. Today it covers over 112,000 acres. Before the Civil War, it was much larger. The site was long known as a havens for escapees. There were actually advertisements in newspapers seeking the return of slaves from the Swamp.

    Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote book on the Swamp. It is "Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp". It was her second novel and was published in 1856. Dred is an escaped slave. He lives in the Great Dismal Swamp, preaching angry and violent retribution for the evils of slavery and rescuing escapees from slavecatchers.

    The novel is interesting in the historical context of runaway slave communities surviving for a long time in swamp areas. The swamps were places where runaways could hide and became a taboo subject for the South to discuss.

    There is suppose to be a permanent exhibit this Fall by the National Park Service about the Swamp and runaways and their communities.
     
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  3. jpeter

    jpeter 1st Lieutenant Retired Moderator

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    Very interesting.

    I believe that swamp was also a haven for some Native Americans and creole communities... although I suspect slaves took the most advantage of it, just as they did in the Florida swamps.
     
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  4. donna

    donna Colonel Forum Host

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    The History of the Swamp is very interesting. Scientists believe it was created when the continental shelf made its last big shift. It consists mainly of peat and water. The origin of Lake Drummond. one of only two natural lakes in Virginia, is not clear. Scientists believe the lake resulted from the impact of a meteorite. Native Americans tell of a giant "firebird" that made a nest of fire in the swamp and later the nest filled with rain water.

    There is evidence that people lived in swamp over 13,000 years ago. In 1650 there were native Americans in the Great Dismal Swamp. In 1665, William Drummond, first governor of N.C., discovered the lake. It was named for him. It is said that William Byrd II after surveying the area named it the Dismal Swamp. In 1763, George Washington visited the area and he and others founded the Dismal Swamp Company.

    The Dismal Swamp Canal was authorized by Virginia in 1787 and by North Carolina in 1790. It was completed in 1805. A railroad was constructed through part of swamp in 1830. The canal deteriorated. In 1929 the U.S. Government bought the Dismal Swamp Canal and began to improve it. It is now the oldest operating artificial waterway in the Country.

    The Swamp was the home to runaway slaves. As I mentioned in previous post this was reflected in Harriet Beecher Stowe's book, "Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp".
     
  5. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater First Sergeant

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    I just finished Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp a few days ago. Oh, my. It makes such an interesting pairing with Uncle Tom's Cabin. I hope to write a review of it here sometime soon -- but it's so rich and complex, so profound, I hardly know where to start.

    Until I read Dred -- which I only picked up because I love Harriet Stowe so much (duh! look at my avatar) -- I did not even know that the Great Dismal Swamp is an actual, specific place -- and that hundreds if not thousands of free blacks and escaped slaves (called "maroons") lived there over a 200-year period. An archaeologist named Dan Sayers has been leading a research effort there the last few years. When I read that he'd found a large island of dry ground deep in the swamp, so surrounded by thick growth that you could wander in the swamp for years without ever finding it, I got chills -- for that is exactly the spot where the community led by Stowe's fictional character Dred lives. And despite the fact that archaeologists are only now digging up solid physical evidence of that swamp island community, Stowe knew all about it.
     
  6. brass napoleon

    brass napoleon Lt. Colonel Retired Moderator

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    I look forward to your review, Kansas. Sounds like it might be a worthwhile read.
     
  7. KLSDAD

    KLSDAD Sergeant

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    I had never heard of it. Neither have I read Uncle Tom's Cabin.....I guess it's the prejudice toward non-fiction in me.

    What do you mean by "taboo"?

    The "angry and violent retribution" would seem to play into one of the South's fears. Is that why it wasn't as popular as UTC?
     
  8. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree 1st Lieutenant

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  9. Frederick14Va

    Frederick14Va Sergeant

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    I spent plenty of time working Search & Rescue missions in the Dismal Swamp...... it was rightly named....
     
  10. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater First Sergeant

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    Thank you so much for posting that link, Alan. Great article. Love the artwork and Longfellow poem the author included.

    Hope everyone here will take a look at it.

    Thanks also for calling our attention to that blog, which I was unaware of until just now! I've bookmarked it and will be following it. As ever, you are a wonderful resource. (Wish there were an emoticon for "tip of the hat"-- but since there isn't, I'll just have to give you a :thumbsup: )

    Side note: That very moving painting, I see, was done by Thomas Moran. In a long-ago job I had, covering "art of the American West," I must have seen hundreds of Moran landscapes -- thought I knew all about the guy -- and never, ever saw this painting. Obviously, there was a lot more to Thomas Moran than I thought. In that painting, he has really conveyed the evil and the terror of slavery. I wonder how widely known and circulated the painting was at the time? And if it was ever used to illustrate later editions of Dred?
     
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  11. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater First Sergeant

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    Having lived on the Gulf Coast for many years, there are few things that make my skin crawl as much as swamps. Forget the water moccasins, mold, fungi, quicksand, scum and slime, the insects alone would drive me insane. It gives you an idea of how unimaginably horrible enslavement must have been, that people would choose even a swamp and all its terrors over living one day longer under another person's thumb.
     
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  12. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater First Sergeant

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  13. James N.

    James N. 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

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    Just north of where I live in North/East Texas lies Delta County ( so named because it's roughly triangular, formed in the forks of the Sulphur River ), which prior to the formation of Cooper Lake in the last century was mostly inundated with swamps called "thickets". These served before and during the war as hideouts for escaped slaves, desperadoes, and draft evaders from the Confederacy.
     
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  14. Seth VA/NC

    Seth VA/NC Sergeant Forum Host

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    live right near the dismal swamp, didn't know it was used as a escape or safe area for runaways.

    If you hate bugs, the dismal swamp is not the place to be, I can tell you that.

    Like Frederick said above, there is a good reason its called the "Dismal" Swamp.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2014 at 6:49 PM
  15. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

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    Seems like all swamps are kinda dismal, but a wonderful place to hide if you know what you're doing.
     
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  16. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater First Sergeant

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    The Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study is an ongoing project. Apparently, Professor Sayers takes his students on a dig in the Great Dismal every year. Wouldn't you just love to be one of his students so you could take part in this?
    Summer Field School: Great Dismal Swamp
     
  17. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater First Sergeant

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    Actually, a long time ago, the word "dismal" simply meant "swamp." (So "dismal swamp" would have been redundant.)
     
  18. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater First Sergeant

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    Oooh, how I would love to look into that. So much history to study, so little time!
     
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  19. Lost Cause

    Lost Cause Corporal

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    Yes, but not during the summer months.
     
  20. Seth VA/NC

    Seth VA/NC Sergeant Forum Host

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    Its so swampy its double the swamp....
     
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  21. Lost Cause

    Lost Cause Corporal

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    Special forces previously trained in the Dismal Swamp.
     
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