The Little-Known Black History Of The Great Dismal Swamp

boat traveling down a river
Briona Lamback
July 6, 2022

On a sticky summer’s day, snakes and mosquitos attacked Black flesh in between the episodes of brutal beatings. But President George Washington’s plans for a canal went forward by any means necessary - even if it meant our lives.

Located on the border between Virginia and North Carolina, the  Great Dismal Swamp was once a brutal sight of terror where oppressors like Washington wreaked havoc on enslaved people in labor camps. 

However, for other Black people, the swamp meant something completely different.

It served as a refuge for hundreds of Maroons escaping enslavement. Most whites considered the swamp uninhabitable, but our people knew the wetland was rich. We created self-sufficient communities on the fringes of its numerous islands.

We lived off the land for decades: hunting, fishing, and cultivating. It became an Underground Railroad stop. Other times enslaved and free Black people partnered, sharing food, supplies, and labor. 

Deep in the swamps, our people pursued freedom and security no matter what the risk was. There’s a crucial lesson for us in their resistance.

We’ve always done what it takes to get free. No matter how murky the waters are, we must be willing to unite and persevere together to see ourselves through to liberation.

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