The Great Dismal Swamp Canal


The Great Dismal Swamp, located in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina has long been recognized as a mysterious place and a place in which people have easily lost their way. Scientists believe the Great Dismal Swamp was created when the continental shelf made its last big shift. 

Following the American Revolution, there were numerous instances of slave resistance. While some runaways were able to blend in with free blacks, many chose to seek refuge among a colony of runaways (called maroons) in the Great Dismal Swamp. The very nature of the swamp made it possible for a large colony to establish a permanent refuge. It was difficult to capture a slave once they reached the swamp although occasional forays were made into the swamp to recapture runaways with specially trained dogs.

Colonies were established on high ground in the swamp where slaves built crude huts. Family life evolved, and the abundant animal life provided food and clothing. Some earned money by working for free black shingle makers, who hired the maroons to cut logs, paying them with small amounts of food, money, or precious clothing.

Slave disturbances in the early 1800’s caused much alarm among residents living near the swamp. Tidewater, Virginia, residents were greatly concerned about reported unrest among slaves in nearby Camden, Elizabeth City, and Currituck County, NC. In the spring of 1823, the situation was so serious a large militia force with dogs was sent to wipe out the colony of slaves in the swamp. Even though some were captured or killed, most of the maroons escaped.

A brutal slave uprising in 1831 resulted in the butchering of 13 men, 18 women, and 24 children in Courtland, VA. Following the Southampton County slave rebellion, it was feared many of the insurgents planned to flee to the swamp. The leader of the rebellion was Nat Turner, a powerful Baptist preacher with a large loyal following, who remained at large for several months, causing speculation he was hiding in the swamp. Expeditions searched for him, capturing a number of maroons.



The Great Dismal Swamp Maroons – Haki Kweli Shakur