The Great Dismal Swamp maroons were people who inhabited the swamplands of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina after escaping enslavement. Although conditions were harsh, research suggests that thousands lived there between about 1700 and the 1860s. Harriet Beecher Stowe told the maroon people's story in her 1856 novel Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp . The most significant research on the settlements began in 2002 with a project by Dan Sayers of American University.
The first enslaved Africans brought to the British colonies in Virginia in 1619 arrived on the frigate White Lion , a British privateer ship flying under a Dutch flag. The approximately 20 Africans, from the present-day Angola, had been seized by its crew from a Portuguese slave ship, the "São João Bautista".The enslaved Africans in British North America were legally deemed to be indentured servants, since slave laws were not passed until later, in 1641 in Massachusetts and in 1661 in Virginia, for example. As servants, they were entitled to freedom with the passage of a certain period of time; they were also allowed to purchase freedom. Others gained freedom by converting to Christianity, since the English of that time did not typically enslave Christians. Slave labor was used in many efforts to drain and log the Great Dismal Swamp during the 18th and 19th centuries. People who escaped slavery living in freedom came to be known as maroons or outliers.
Maroonage, runaway slaves in isolated or hidden settlements,existed in all the Southern states, and swamp-based maroon communities existed in the Deep South, in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Maroonage in the Upper South was largely limited to Virginia and the Great Dismal Swamp. The origin of the term "maroon" is uncertain, with competing theories linking it to Spanish, Arawak or Taino root words. In all likelihood, the words "Maroon" and "Seminole" share the same etymology in the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning "wild" or "untamed". This word usually referred to runaways or castaways and is ultimately derived from the word for "thicket" in Old Spanish.
At the beginning of the 18th century, maroons came to live in the Great Dismal Swamp.Most settled on mesic islands, the high and dry parts of the swamp. Inhabitants included people who had purchased their freedom as well as those who had escaped. Other people used the swamp as a route on the Underground Railroad as they made their way further north. Some formerly enslaved lived there in semi-free conditions, but how much independence they actually enjoyed there has been a topic of much debate. Nearby whites often left maroons alone so long as they paid a quota in logs or shingles, and businesses may have ignored the fugitive status of people who provided work in exchange for trade goods. Herbert Aptheker stated already in 1939, in "Maroons Within the Present Limits of the United States", that likely "about two thousand Negroes, fugitives, or the descendants of fugitives" lived in the Great Dismal Swamp, trading with white people outside the swamp. Results of a study published in 2007, "The Political Economy of Exile in the Great Dismal Swamp", say that thousands of people lived in the swamp between 1630 and 1865, Native Americans, maroons and enslaved laborers on the canal. A 2011 study speculated that thousands may have lived in the swamp between the 1600s and 1860. While the precise number of maroons who lived in the swamp at that time is unknown, it is believed to have been one of the largest maroon colonies in the United States. It is established that "several thousand" were living there by the 19th century. Fear of slave unrest and fugitive slaves living among maroon population caused concern amongst local whites. A militia with dogs went into the swamp in 1823 in an attempt to remove the maroons and destroy their community, but most people escaped. In 1847, North Carolina passed a law specifically aimed at apprehending the maroons in the swamp. However, unlike other maroon communities, where local militias often captured the residents and destroyed their homes, those in the Great Dismal Swamp mostly avoided capture or the discovery of their homes.
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Little is known of Native American activity in the area prior to 1600,though the presence of hunting bolas indicates that the area may have served as a hunting ground as far back as 5,000 years ago. Native American communities were already in existence in the swamp when the maroons began to settle there. Because leaving the area could inevitably lead to recapture, the inhabitants often used what was readily available in the swamp, even recycling tool remnants left by Native Americans. Since the maroons had few possessions, the few small artifacts that have been recovered have given historians little insight into their day-to-day lives. To date, excavation has yet to find any human remains. According to Sayers, historical archaeologist at American University who has led research on the maroons of the swamp, it is possible that the acidity of the water disintegrated any bones which may have been left behind.
Some maroons were born to those who escaped slavery and lived in the swamp for their entire lives despite the hardships of swamp life: dense underbrush, insects, venomous snakes, and bears. The difficult conditions also made the swamp an ideal hiding place, not just for the formerly enslaved but also for free blacks, slaves who worked on the swamp's canals, Native Americans, and outcast whites such as criminals.Maroons are known to have often interacted with slaves and poor whites to obtain work, food, clothes, and money. Some maroons plundered nearby farms and plantations, stole from anchored boats, and robbed travelers on nearby roads; those caught were tried for murder or theft. Some maroon communities were set up near the Dismal Swamp Canal, built between 1793 and 1805 and still in operation. These maroons interacted more with the outside world than those who lived in the swamp's interior, and had more contact with outsiders once canal construction began. Some took jobs on the canal, and with increased contact with the outside world, some people living in the swamp eventually moved away. During the American Civil War, the United States Colored Troops entered the swamp to liberate the people there, many of whom then joined the Union Army. Most of the maroons who remained in the swamp left after the Civil War.
The maroon communities in The Great Dismal Swamp were founded on persistence. The conditions in the swamp, whether that be the hot, humid weather, the deadly animals, or the bugs, made it a difficult place to live. These resistant communities would choose areas that were difficult to reach.This allowed for many of these communities to live in peace and to live freely. Maroon communities would also use only natural resources they found in The Great Dismal Swamp to build structures, tools, and other resources. Other more settled communities in this time period would have left behind mass produced goods, but because of the natural resources maroon communities used, everything marking establishment has eroded away. These maroon communities were able to find success even with the conditions they were living in. Studies have shown that the environment and ecology of The Great Dismal Swamp is always changing. Maroon communities were able to adapt to the ever changing swamp and use it to their advantage. These communities disbanded for a number of reasons. When the civil war started many people that were living in these maroon communities left to fight for the union in the war. Once the war was over and slavery was abolished many left to find family and to move north. The biggest change that led to these communities to end was the further development of The Great Dismal Swamp. Many free and enslaved African Americans worked with companies to develop the land in the swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp was drained to create fields. The swamp was also cleared and graded so roads could be implemented. By 1836, there were railroads constructed through the swamp. After this construction in the swamp, a 22.5-mile interstate highway was built around the area. The traffic drawn from this interstate eventually caused The Great Dismal Swamp to decrease in size and be used for commercial purposes. The swamp was no longer seen as a place that was "dismal," but more attractive to the people who could afford to visit. Many tourists would come and see the swamp and use the water for medicinal purposes. This caused many of the free and enslaved people to leave because the swamp was starting to be taken over by commercial businesses.
While these communities did not last forever and eventually disbanded, these maroons were a representation for black resistance, initiative and autonomy.There are criticisms for the lack of acknowledgment of these communities. Researchers have critiqued that these communities have not been given proper recognition due to the fact that the majority of these communities were made of black individuals or other people of color. These communities show a different side of America that is usually not depicted, but just as important to understand history. The maroon communities showed how powerful Black autonomy could be. The importance of these settlements is to show how Black culture can find something that is depicted as "dismal," but make it a home. It was also a community that was totally free from the outside world, other than for trading purposes. No government was enforcing rules, it was a free area for all that were able to settle there.
The Great Dismal Swamp spans an area of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina between the James River near Norfolk, Virginia, and the Albemarle Sound near Edenton, North Carolina. 1 million acres (4,000 km2), but human encroachment has destroyed up to 90% of the swampland. Today, the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is just over 112 thousand acres (450 km2).The swamp is estimated to have originally been over
In 1842, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem "The Slave in Dismal Swamp"for his collection Poems on Slavery . The poem uses six quintain stanzas to tell about the "hunted Negro", mentioning the use of bloodhounds and describing the conditions as being "where hardly a human foot could pass, or a human heart would dare". The poem may have inspired artist David Edward Cronin, who served as a Union officer in Virginia and witnessed the effect of slavery, to paint Fugitive Slaves in the Dismal Swamp, Virginia in 1888.
In 1856, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin , published her second anti-slavery novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp . The title character is a maroon of the Great Dismal Swamp who preaches against slavery and incites slaves to escape.
The Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study began in 2002 and was led by Dan Sayers, a historical archaeologist at American University's Department of Anthropology. In 2003, he conducted the first excavation in the swamp,and in 2009, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which manages the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge) and American University, initiated the annual research program titled the Great Dismal Swamp Archaeology Field School. This effort continues the work of the landscape study. It examines the impact of colonialism, slavery, and development on the swamp, especially on the self-sustaining maroon settlements in the swamp's interior. It also studies native lifestyles before European contact. Prior to Sayers' efforts, no field research had been done on the Great Dismal Swamp maroons. Even today, the swamp is impenetrable in places; a research group gave up in 2003 because it lost its way so many times. Sites deep in the swamp's interior are still so remote that a guide is needed to find them. The National Endowment for the Humanities gave the "We The People Award" of $200,000 to the project in 2010.
In fall 2011, a permanent exhibit was opened by the National Park Service to commemorate those who lived in the swamp during pre-Civil War times.Sayers summarizes: "These groups are very inspirational. As details unfold, we are increasingly able to show how people have the ability, as individuals and communities, to take control of their lives, even under oppressive conditions."
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century, and used by enslaved African Americans to primarily escape into free states and Canada. The scheme was assisted by abolitionists and others sympathetic to the cause of the escapees. The enslaved who risked escape and those who aided them are also collectively referred to as the "Underground Railroad". Various other routes led to Mexico, where slavery had been abolished, and to islands in the Caribbean that were not part of the slave trade. An earlier escape route running south toward Florida, then a Spanish possession, existed from the late 17th century until approximately 1790. However, the network now generally known as the Underground Railroad was formed in the late 18th century. It ran north and grew steadily until the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln. One estimate suggests that, by 1850, 100,000 enslaved people had escaped via the network.
A slave rebellion is an armed uprising by enslaved people, as a way of fighting for their freedom. Rebellions of enslaved people have occurred in nearly all societies that practice slavery or have practiced slavery in the past. A desire for freedom and the dream of successful rebellion is often the greatest object of song, art, and culture amongst the enslaved population. Many of the events, however, are often violently opposed and suppressed by slaveholders.
The Fugitive Slave Act or Fugitive Slave Law was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern interests in slavery and Northern Free-Soilers.
The Gullah are African Americans who live in the Lowcountry region of the U.S. states of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, in both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands. They developed a creole language, also called Gullah, and a culture with some African influence.
The phenomenon of slaves running away, seeking to gain freedom, is as old as the institution of slavery itself. In the United States, "fugitive slaves" were slaves who left their master and traveled without authorization. Generally, they tried to reach states or territories where slavery was banned, including Canada, or, until 1821, Spanish Florida. Most slave law tried to control slave travel by requiring them to carry official passes if traveling without a master with them.
Maroons are descendants of Africans in the Americas who formed settlements away from slavery. They often mixed with indigenous peoples, eventually evolving into separate creole cultures such as the Garifuna and the Mascogos.
The Great Dismal Swamp is a large swamp in the Coastal Plain Region of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, between Norfolk, Virginia, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It is located in parts of the southern Virginia independent cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk and northern North Carolina counties of Gates, Pasquotank, and Camden. Some estimates place the size of the original swamp at over one million acres (4,000 km2).
The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1974 to help protect and preserve a portion of the Great Dismal Swamp, a marshy region on the Coastal Plain of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina between Norfolk, Virginia, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina in the United States. It is located in parts of the independent cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk in Virginia, and the counties of Camden, Gates, and Pasquotank in North Carolina.
In the British colonies in North America and in the United States before the abolition of slavery in 1865, free Negro or free Black described the legal status of African Americans who were not enslaved. The term was applied both to formerly enslaved people (freedmen) and to those who had been born free.
The fugitive slave laws were laws passed by the United States Congress in 1793 and 1850 to provide for the return of enslaved people who escaped from one state into another state or territory. The idea of the fugitive slave law was derived from the Fugitive Slave Clause which is in the United States Constitution. It was thought that forcing states to deliver freedom seekers back to enslavement violated states' rights due to state sovereignty and was believed that seizing state property should not be left up to the states. The Fugitive Slave Clause states that freedom seekers "shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due", which abridged state rights because forcing people back into enslavement was a form of retrieving private property. The Compromise of 1850 entailed a series of laws that allowed enslavement in the new territories and forced officials in free states to give a hearing to slave-owners who enslaved people without a jury.
Ellen Craft (1826–1891) and William Craft were American fugitives who were born and enslaved in Macon, Georgia. They escaped to the North in December 1848 by traveling by train and steamboat, arriving in Philadelphia on Christmas Day. Ellen crossed the boundaries of race, class, gender, and physical ability by passing as a white male planter with William posing as her personal servant. Their daring escape was widely publicized, making them among the most famous of fugitives from slavery. Abolitionists featured them in public lectures to gain support in the struggle to end the institution.
The Black Seminoles or Afro-Seminoles are black Indians associated with the Seminole people in Florida and Oklahoma. They are mostly blood descendants of the Seminole people, free blacks and of escaped slaves who allied with Seminole groups in Spanish Florida. Many have Seminole lineage, but due to the stigma of having dark skin, they all have been categorized as slaves or freedmen.
Mary Edmonson (1832–1853) and Emily Edmonson (1835–1895), "two respectable young women of light complexion", were African Americans who became celebrities in the United States abolitionist movement after gaining their freedom from slavery. On April 15, 1848, they were among the 77 slaves who tried to escape from Washington, DC on the schooner The Pearl to sail up the Chesapeake Bay to freedom in New Jersey.
Slavery among Native Americans in the United States includes slavery by and slavery of Native Americans roughly within what is currently the United States of America.
Slavery in Virginia began with the enslavement of Native Americans, during the early days of the Colony of Virginia and through the late 18th century. They primarily worked in tobacco fields. Africans were first brought to Colonial Virginia in 1619, when 20 Africans from present-day Angola arrived in Virginia on the ship The White Lion. About that time, Native Americans were also captured and enslaved.
Moses Grandy, was an African-American author, abolitionist, and, for more than the first four decades of his life, an enslaved person. At eight years of age he became the property of his white playmate, James Grandy, and two years later he was hired out for work. The monies Moses earned were collected and held until James Grandy turned 21. Moses helped build the Great Dismal Swamp Canal and learned how to navigate boats. It was that skill that led him to be made commander of several boats that traveled the canal and Pasquotank River, transporting merchandise from Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to Norfolk, Virginia. The position allowed him to be better fed, shod, and dressed. Able to keep a portion of his earnings, Moses arranged to buy his freedom twice and twice his owners kept the money and held him in slavery. An arrangement was made for an honorable man to buy him and Grandy earned the money to buy his freedom a third time, this time successfully.
African-American North Carolinians are residents of the state of North Carolina who are of African ancestry. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, African Americans were 22% of the state's population.
The Chesapeake rebellion of 1730 was the largest slave rebellion of the colonial period in North America. Believing that local planters had disregarded a royal edict from Britain which freed slaves, two hundred slaves gathered in Princess Anne County, Virginia, in October, electing captains and demanding that Governor Gooch honor the royal edict. White planters stopped these meetings, arresting some slaves and forcing others to flee. Although hundreds of slaves fled to the Great Dismal Swamp, they were immediately hunted down by the authorities and their Pasquotank allies.
Slavery was legally practiced in the Province of North Carolina and the state of North Carolina until January 1, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Prior to statehood, there were 41,000 enslaved African-Americans in the Province of North Carolina in 1767. By 1860, the number of slaves in the state of North Carolina was 331,059, about one third of the total population of the state. In 1860, there were nineteen counties in North Carolina where the number of slaves was larger than the free white population. During the antebellum period the state of North Carolina passed several laws to protect the rights of slave owners while disenfranchising the rights of slaves. There was a constant fear amongst white slave owners in North Carolina of slave revolts from the time of the American Revolution. Despite their circumstances, some North Carolina slaves and freed slaves distinguished themselves as artisans, soldiers during the Revolution, religious leaders, and writers.
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