The Great Dismal Swamp and runaway slaves and Maroons

GS

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Jan 31, 2017
This is an interesting story, but seems based on speculation, with little evidence to support his theory. Why no photographs of those cabin foundations, for example? No doubt maroons did live there, as were reported to be in other swamps throughout the South, but those tiny artifacts found in the Great Dismal sound most like Native American.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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I don't know. I know Frederick Law Olmsted talks about the slave Negroes hired out for months at a time that cut shingles in the swamp. And they talk about the runaway slaves living there. But in his time period (1857-1859) the Negroes working in and around the swamp said most of the runaway slaves living deeper in were mostly gone because a couple of men had made it a "sorter business" of hunting down runaway slaves in the swamp with their packs of dogs. And he copies out a couple of ads from local papers advertising that service.
 

5fish

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The man Sayers explain the problem I have on this broad at times... Show me the money people!

“Historical archaeology does require interpretation,” he says. “But I always imagine what my worst critic is going to say, or want as evidence, and I’ve done a decent enough job to convince my academic peers on this. There’s a few who don’t buy it. The show-me-the-money historians don’t see much money.”

 

NH Civil War Gal

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Paging @Dedej, I went back to the thread link you gave and read through all the threads again. I'm SO GLAD you put in all that info. I had forgotten about it and now, after reading the bit I did in the Smithsonian and Frederick Law Olmsted, what you wrote puts it much more into context for me.

But, you may know the answer to this question: How did the escaped slaves/maroons know how to survive in such an extreme environment? Ones that live there can teach others but they couldn't all have been in contact with each other in these great swamps or could they? It is such an extreme environment. Like what would they have done to just keep from literally being eaten alive by mosqitoes? A lot of bites on your body can easily become infected. After reading the Smithsonian article it seems like Sayers didn't cope as well as they did back then.
 

Dedej

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Mar 17, 2017
I don't think the Maroons coped with them well either -- but they dealt with it because they did not want to be enslaved. I have read that many didn't come out till at night due to not wanting to be seen or caught. They lived in woods, swamps, mountains and caves/dens throughout the southern United States.

Roman Mars has a great podcast on the how maroons lived in the Dismal Swaps and even interviews a descendant of the Dismal Swaps AA maroons. You can listen here: https://soundcloud.com/roman-mars/271-maroons-of-the-great-dismal-swamp

I have also listed a couple of Maroon narratives/accounts about the Dismal Swamps and other areas to give you a better insight on how they lived. You can learn more about their daily lives and the challenges they faced here.

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I therefore had myself carried in a lighter up a cross canal in the Dismal Swamp, and to the other side of Drummond's Lake. I was left on the shore and there I built myself a little hut, and had provisions brought to me as opportunity served. Here, among, snakes, bears, and panthers, whenever my strength was sufficient, I cut down a juniper tree, and converted it into cooper's timber. The camp, like those commonly set up for negroes, was entirely open on one side; on that side a fire is lighted at night, and the person sleeping puts his feet towards it. One night I was awoke by some large animal smelling my face, and snuffing strongly; I felt its cold muzzle. I suddenly thrust out my arms, and shouted with all my might; it was frightened and made off. I do not know whether it was a bear or a panther, but it seemed as tall as a large calf. I slept of course no more that night. I put my trust in the Lord, and continued on the spot; I was never attacked again. Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy; Late a Slave in the United States of America


In October 1817, a young Yale Graduate name Samuel Huntington Perkins was bound for Hyde County, North Carolina to tutor plantation girls. After staying in Norfolk, Virginia for a short visit, he hired a horse and buggy and traveled down the canal bank road towards Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He was forewarned not to travel through the swamp without a pistol.“Traveling here without pistols is considered very dangerous,” Perkins wrote, “owing to the great number of runaway Negroes. They conceal themselves in the woods & swamps by day and frequently plunder by night.” By the time Perkins reached Hyde County in mid-November, he learned that “not long since a woman was discovered in the center of the Great Dismal Swamp.

There she and her six children had lived for years preferring the horrors Of such a place and the enjoyment of freedom, to the comforts of civilized life when attended with the loss of liberty. Source


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JOHN HALL, alias JOHN SIMPSON. John fled from South Carolina. In this hot-bed of Slavery he labored and suffered up to the age of thirty-two. For a length of time before he escaped, his burdens were intolerable; but he could see no way to rid himself of them, except by flight. Nor was he by any means certain that an effort in this direction would prove successful. In planning the route which he should take to travel North he decided, that if success was for him, his best chance would be to wend his way through North Carolina and Virginia. Not that he hoped to find friends or helpers in these States. He had heard enough of the cruelties of Slavery in these regions to convince him, that if he should be caught, there would be no sympathy or mercy shown. Nevertheless the irons were piercing him so severely, that he felt constrained to try his luck, let the consequences be what they might, and so he set out for freedom or death. Mountains of difficulties, and months of suffering and privations by land and water, in the woods, and swamps of North Carolina and Virginia, were before him, as his experience in traveling proved. But the hope of final victory and his daily sufferings before he started, kept him from faltering, even when starvation and death seemed to be staring him in the face. For several months he was living in dens and caves of the earth.

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Henry Gorham was thirty-four years of age, a "prime," heavy, dark, smart, "article," and a good carpenter. He admitted that he had never felt the lash on his back, but, nevertheless, he had felt deeply on the subject of slavery. For years the chief concern with him was as to how he could safely reach a free State. Slavery he hated with a perfect hatred. To die in the woods, live in a cave, or sacrifice himself in some way, he was bound to do, rather than remain a slave. The more he reflected over his condition the more determined he grew to seek his freedom. Accordingly he left and went to the woods; there he prepared himself a cave and resolved to live and die in it rather than return to bondage. Before he found his way out of the prison-house eleven months elapsed. His strong impulse for freedom, and intense aversion to slavery, sustained him until he found an opportunity to escape by the Underground Rail Road.

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HARRY GRIMES, GEORGE UPSHER, AND EDWARD LEWIS.
In the woods I lived on nothing, you may say, and something too. I had bread, and roasting ears, and 'taters. I stayed in the hollow of a big poplar tree for seven months; the other part of the time I stayed in a cave. I suffered mighty bad with the cold and for something to eat. Once I got me some charcoal and made me a fire in my tree to warm me, and it liked to killed me, so I had to take the fire out. One time a snake come to the tree, poked its head in the hollow and was coming in, and I took my axe and chopped him in two. It was a poplar leaf moccasin, the poisonest kind of a snake we have. While in the woods all my thoughts was how to get away to a free country."

Subsequently, in going back over his past history, he referred to the fact, that on an occasion long before the cave and tree existence, already noticed, when suffering under this brutal master, he sought protection in the woods and abode twenty-seven months in a cave, before he surrendered himself, or was captured. His offence, in this instance, was simply because he desired to see his wife, and "stole" away from his master's plantation and went a distance of five miles, to where she lived, to see her. For this grave crime his master threatened to give him a hundred lashes, and to shoot him; in order to avoid this punishment, he escaped to the woods, etc. The lapse of a dozen years and recent struggles for an existence, made him think lightly of his former troubles and he would, doubtless, have failed to recall his earlier conflicts but for the desire manifested by the Committee to get all the information out of him they could.

Source: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15263/15263-h/15263-h.htm

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Lord, Lord! Yes indeed, plenty of slaves uster run away. Why dem woods was full o’ ’em chile,” recalled Arthur Greene of Virginia.1 He knew that some stayed there for a few days only but he also knew that his friend Pattin and his family had lived in the woods for fifteen years until “Lee’s surrender.” Like them, over more than two centuries men, women, and children made the Southern wilderness their home. They hid in the mountains of Virginia and the low swamps of South Carolina; they stayed in the neighborhood or paddled their way to secluded places; they buried themselves underground or erected “snug little habitations.”2 Source: https://nyupress.org/webchapters/exiles_intro.pdf

Maroon books/resources:
12 Years a Slave. What About 15 Years in a Cave?
Six years in a Georgia prison. Narrative of Lewis W. Paine
The Underground Railroad: An Encyclopedia of People, Places, and Operations
Acts Passed by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina
Richard Price, Omar Ali and Sylviane Diouf on maroons in Suriname, Colombia, and the US
Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation
The Slave in the Swamp: Disrupting the Plantation Narrative

Maroon Communities in South Carolina: A Documentary Record

Florida/Black Seminole Maroons:
Liquid Landscape: Geography and Settlement at the Edge of Early America
Immokalee's Fields of Hope
Florida's Forgotten Rebels


 
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