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271- The Great Dismal Swamp

2017-08-15 | 🔗

On the border of Virginia and North Carolina stretches a great, dismal swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp, actually — that’s the name British colonists gave it centuries ago. The swamp covers about 190 square miles today, but at its peak, before parts of it were drained and developed, it was around ten times bigger, spanning roughly 2,000 square miles of Virginia and North Carolina. And it’s understandable why people called the swamp “dismal.” Temperatures can reach over 100 degrees. It’s humid and soggy, filled with thorns and thickets, teeming with all sorts of dangerous and unpleasant wildlife. The panthers that used to live there are now gone, but even today there are black bears, poisonous snakes, and swarms of yellow flies and mosquitoes. Hundreds of years ago, before the Civil War, the dangers of the swamp and its seeming impenetrability actually attracted people to it. The land was so untamed that horses and boats couldn’t enter, and the colonists who were filing into the region detested it. William Byrd II, a Virginia planter, called it “a miserable morass where nothing can inhabit.” But people did inhabit the swamp, including thousands of enslaved Africans and African Americans who escaped their captors and formed communities in the swamp. This “dismal” landscape was the site of one of the most remarkable and least told stories of resistance to slavery in American history.

The Great Dismal Swamp

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
MRS Ninety nine percent, invisible, I'm roman Mars, on the border of Virginia and North Carolina near the eastern shoreline stretches a great dismal swamp, the great dismal swan back, That's the name. British colonies have given it by the early seventeen hundreds, the swamp cover is about a hundred ninety square miles today, but at its peak before parts of it were drained and developed It was around ten times bigger spanning roughly two. Some square miles of Virginia and North Carolina. That's our own Sharif uses and its stand why people caught the swan dismal temperatures can reach over. Hundred degrees, its human and soggy filled with thorns and thickets. Oh, yes, is quite dismally named. It think, somewhat appropriately, that Eric Shepherd. He leaves in Carol Virginia and he runs a company that leads tourists to the great dismal swamp which is teeming with
all sorts of dangerous and unpleasant wildlife. You still have black bear some of the poison, snakes and yellow flies. Mosquitoes I mean you still have the hazards there in war, and even if you go in with a compass and a map, it's easy to get lost. But hundreds of years ago, before the civil war, The dangers of the swamp and its seeming impenetrability, actually attracted a lot of people cutting one of shepherds ancestors who was in in the region of red Mason that approximately fifty thousand escaped Africans. Through and or lived in, the dismal swap. That's a lot of people to come to despite all its predators and bugs all its thorns and vines dismal, listened sloppiness. This and was home, two generations of people it was. This
out of one of the most remarkable and least told stories of resistance to slavery in the United States, African Americans set up unity in this war and they were protected there, but they also in in a state of imports that they were not gonna. Let anybody come there and move them out of the community in this one reverend as to the great dismal swamp in the escape slaves who settled there started appearing in newspapers and other sources in the seventeen hundreds, but archaeology, have found evidence that people were living in the swamp long before that, when you look at one thousand six hundred and seven all the way to about one thousand six hundred and sixty. I believe that the major group- people that were coming into the swamp interior, indigenous Americans. That's perfect, you're damn sayers an historical archaeologist in American University and the leading experts on the ground. Dismal swamp say you're says that these indigenous Americans were seeking refuge from european settlers boots
did, building colonies up and down the eastern coast of America as colonialism sort of expanded and intensified in the landscape developed in other branches in the farms are the plantations and all the stuff there were sort of familiar with that swamp. It was a sort of the Sun aimed place then around seventeen hundred or so. The demographics The swamp started to shift by that time. Slavery was widespread in the american colonies and when instead People escaped the swamp was an obvious place to hide out NEWS of the swamp, probably spread quietly through word of mouth. Probably an underground should a great like that people. This, when there are trustworthy enough, they learn the information of how to go into the swamp and then find his resistance communities escapes she found refuge in the swamp, came to be as marooned from the Spanish Cimarron meaning wild or untamed
Unlike some other runaways who headed to northern cities, marooned lived in the wilderness in difficult to reach places, they were determined to build our own communities, with the forces of nature and landscape serving as a buffer between their new lives and the society that enslaved them. This is thousands of african Americans who totally orderly created their own world and successfully gave the bird as it were. Right that outside world that capitalistic world that enslaving world saying This has spent years going into the swamp and surveying it quite a journey for participants in this project, This tape is from a short film about the business one called landscape of power it Shapiro Pearl overtime. Years has come to love this dismal terrain,
just a wonderful thing to walk around up there in the thick of it and out there in the thick of it, urging from the dark brown waters, also come upon a little plot of dry ground islands, they're, pretty good size in many cases like twenty thirty forty acres and they just sort of sporadically pop up. It was on these islands, that marine communities formed likely a few does people on each one with some mingling and trade happening between islands that were close together and based on organ logical evidence, Sayers has pieced together an idea of what their lives might have looked like the shelter themselves. The Marines built debated cabins that they lifted above the moist ground, using wouldn't posts so years knows this, because the wood that they used to build the structures has changed the color of the soil, so the pulse rats in place, and it looks much darker contrasting with that. Usually lighter soil around it. The Marie screw food to support themselves
probably almost certainly cultivated, sort community grain noise feel down the swamp. I think do did community labour communal labour like that gathering Natalie what they aid on a daily basis, to probably some the surpluses to store for winter and hard times, but farming. This picture of life in the swamp hasn't been easy, because evidence of the marooned has long vanished. All the organic stuff than these communities used and created a trees would plan materials would aurettes all long. Rather, the ways we unfortunately lost would probably is about ninety percent or more of what they used on a daily basis. Sears says that normally and other sites from this period, you'd find a bunch of mass produce goods my class, containers and lead shod tobacco pipes, but there's much of that stuff in the swamp. The dearth of these good speaks to how self sufficient the Marines were. There wasn't much from the outside world coming in
So what they're doing is it's like? Ok, nor our goal is to settle the swamp, and this is our world. Instead of a bunch of the artifacts seers and his team have found any bits and pieces of old stone tools which marooned found or inherited from previous native american inhabitants at one excavations. For example, they found five thousand such artifacts, and even though that sounds like allied, So you're says he gets them all into a shoe box. Sayers research suggests that, at its peak from around seventeen, fifty two right before the civil war, the dismal swann was home to thousands of self sufficient marooned, and it also served as a starting point for other if slaves who are fleeing on the underground rail road, but like most maroon communities, it was under constant threat of discovery, The great dismal swamp is not the only example of a maroon settlement. Far from it
wherever slavery existed, there were runaways who escaped to live in the wilderness, that since there are no in the british colonies in Spanish in portuguese colonies, and then in the newly independent countries and states that those colonies gave birth to, I'm cases Marines clashed with colonial forces like in Jamaica, where they fought wars against the british and negotiate did treaties to stay in their communities. Fact, there's a settlement in Jamaica, where descendants of Marooned still with a place called mortal the way high in the country's eastern mountains. In the U S, Bring communities existed all across the south and the north, and even in western states like Texas, the long stay in anger. This is from an interview with a former slave named Laura smaller. It was recorded in Eighteen, forty one,
talks about what it was like growing up and working on a plantation and Bilbil Texas the interviewer asks the slaves of trust, Lithuania, a trial run, all anti replies, now here longer say when she was a good idea, No woman runnels are night. She slipped, somebody have was suddenly in she get dead videos. Go back and would Backstreet would give losses. Man stated woods. Awhile hey here's how on him, long lab at all stayed luge stayed in the woods and they couldn't get him up. Stay lying. The call me lying Tuesday I got stay in the lines. Every maroon community across the country was unique. Some,
lived in the woods like the woman in man described by smaller others, in the mountains or swamps, some even lived in underground shelters that they dug out in wild areas near plantations so in those little caves of dance, as they sometimes call them as well you sometimes at a real house, some add furniture. Some add stove, this is doctor, Sylvia and youth, a historic, of the african diaspora, an author slavery, exiles, the story of the American marooned she said. But these subterranean, maroon shelters were often ingeniously constructed. Some had timber supported roofs, complete with trap doors that had all traces of their presence that which opened on the outside to become a flash of the point that it would be invisible, but it would also be study enough so that, if somebody withstand I'll need, you know they wouldn't cave in some shape,
There's even had systems of what in pipes the transported the stove smoke away from the maroon stands, so it wouldn't give away their location broadly. Do you has found that most ruins tended to live in one of two types of places, each with its own advantages, some resided on the borders of plantations where their family and friends leaved, and so they would go back at night in just to be with them to get news also to gather intelligence by them, chose to live more remove from civilization in the hinterland. In the hinterland, The main feature is that they were secluded. They were difficult to access, but work where they were. The Marines all had something in common. They wanted freedom, yes, but even more, they wanted autonomy, a kind of control over their lives that wouldn't be possible even as free black people. In the north
Then the rules were safe fooled where the rising towards our faculties or community. They felt safer in the woods and the south even though it was a hard life full of danger, but they felt safer adding ghettos that among white people, in the late seventeen hundreds white people were rapidly becoming a greater threat than the reptiles of the great dismal swamp as more and more Europeans arrived in the area, land grew scarce and more valuable, wealthy colonist saw economic opportunity in developing a swamp in and its brother John started again George Washington yeah that George Washington and his brother John started a company with the goal of saving, improving and draining the land. George Washington, the arisen swarm trainer. Eventually
the company and others. That would create a network of canals so that boats could go into the swamp. Of course, they use slave labor for all of us hears Dan Sayers. Again, we see suddenly a introduction of a whole new large group of people enslaved workers right before I brought in by these companies to help begin. Transforming the swamp by the earth eating hundreds tracts of land had been cleared of trees and parts of the world. Impenetrable region have been opened up to new people and industries but remember places removed, is still huge. If even didn't want to engage with that encroaching world, they can still find places removed from the industry's workers, even as that in became more permanent. Timber companies set up encampments in the swamp for in workers were sent in to cut down, treats they at lumber into shingles and shipped all over the region, which brings us
active Eric shepherd. The tour guide we heard from at the beginning of the story whose ancestors spent time in the swamp. I believe he was my great great grandfathers uncle his name was Moses Brandy and evil. Enslaved, dancing Camden County North Carolina born in seventeen. Eighty six brandy, was a skilled boat captain and his talents were highly sought. After in the canals of the great dismal swamp he was the water Mendez DE live. Those shingles to the northward area, so they can build houses, While brandy was working in the swamp, it's likely that he got to know some of them ruins who live there? while some marooned remained isolated in their communities. Other saw opportunities, they knew timber industry contact between enslaved, occurs in the Marines who live near the new timber camps became pretty common. Sometimes Marines would help workers the shingle production in exchange for goods from the outside world,
but one day during his time on the canals grand fell ill. My case of severe rheumatism and when he needed it These two recovered. He picked the swamp he ended up living in the swamp for a whole year. Shepherd He must have had people he could depend on. I don't think you just do it not know anybody in the swamp. You knew some people there they watch out for you and over the course of years, I'm sure they're, Moses watch out for them. In a narrative later published about Moses Grandes life. He described his time in the swamp read here, Here by our friend lesson, I build myself a little hurt an epidemic is brought to me is opportune, deserved here among the snakes, bears panthers Whenever most dreadful, sufficient cut down a juniper tree and converted into Coopers Temp one night, Our work by large animal smell, my face. Sniff strong felt scope must be a suddenly
staff, my arms and shouted with all my might. It was frightened and made Meda. I put my trust in Lord continued on spot ass, never attacked again eventually grandly, recovered and went back to work in an eighteen three. He managed to buy his freedom. He became part the abolitionist movement and travel to Europe. Murray spoke out against what he'd seen an experienced and his narrative Randy reflected on what it meant to be free? After so many years of enslavement, I myself saw light that almost thought I could fly and it must sleep. I was My dream and fly of woods and rivers gay with the world above a glad people off stop me save grid was man. Slavery will teach any man to be glad when he gets his freedom.
From what researchers can tell maroon communities in the states existed as long as they were necessary or as long as they remained hidden from the outside world, dancers thinks that the communities in the great dismal swamp began. To this burst around the time of the civil war, my Oppression, based on the evidence from one into say, right now is, at some were more or less coincidence, with Emancipation proclamation do these communities finally disbanded. Maroon left to join the union in battle and after the war some may have I'm looking for newly freed family in the south. Some may have travelled north some may have settled in neighbouring towns. No one really it was for certain many enslaved people burn allowed to read or write so personal accounts from a runes awry It's only in the past few decades that researchers have started to study most. U S, maroon communities in any sort of depth for a long time. It was barely a footnote in. U S, history
and one reason for this omission is likely because These communities were intentionally secretive, but some academics thing There is a bigger reason why the stories of marooned aren't told. I think This case, you have a good amount of racism that that sort of code. Sort of people's understandings of history most american. Learn about the underground rail road way back in elementary school. I resist MR to slavery, that came about through white and black cooperation, the dismal swamp and other marine communities are all about black autonomy, a complete rejection of white, society. Here, Sylvie Andy, you again, I think that the idea. Of black people taking their I've into their own hands, not wanting to be any parts of the larger community, not wanting to be quiet and quota free, blacks in the north or passport
reading the Sabbath being self ruled and leaving their own kind of freedom. That was not part of their larger discourse on this country. I think we still have a way to go in this country. To be quite honest with you in terms of history. Uncut and wrong. That's one of the reasons. Eric shepherd started his tour company. He once more. People to know the history he left behind government job in Baltimore and he and his wife moved to Southern Virginia just to be closer to the hot muggy dismal swamp. I felt as though it was a call, and it was an assignment the need for me to be done in this area like it was some unfinished business for whatever reason in he doesn't three several sites in the great dismal swamp were added to. The national service network to freedom which recognise There's four hundred locations involved in the underground rail road.
And a sign at the great dismal swamp recognises that this place wasn't just us. For people on the underground rail road there were entire communities of people who made this their permanent today, the largest remaining part of the great dismal swamp is a national refuge, distorted by the? U S, fish and wildlife service who aim to protect the wild. That's made a home there and to preserve its unique landscape keeping alive. The memory of the people who found refuge in its dismal terrain is strong and rich history, which should be acknowledged, and we are very proud of. I assessed as that. Or that hill here on earth the black back in pamphlets The rattlesnakes and moccasins, even the unrelenting mosquitos
the very habitat whose dangers allowed thousands of people to live in relative peace on their own terms.
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very of Congress website. It says it's part of an interview with Wallace Quarrymen recorded in Georgia in nineteen thirty five, but there's RO voices in it were not quite sure who they all are. Is it really gets on? So I hope you like Where why, yeah
Where is he now so this voices from the days of slavery project has a lot of really incredible tape. If you want to hear more, I just Google, W P a voices of slavery and you'll be able to find them. There hosted Library of Congress website
where Ninety nine percent, invisible was braces week by refusing with editing by Delaney Hall, Katy Mingle is our senior producer. Kurt pulse tat is the digital director Sharia composed the music, the rest of the staff includes and Fitzgerald a reach, often turn Massa and me roman Mars. Additional is it this week firepower ok Academy who have to Sylvia Andy, Europe's book, slavery, exiles and dancers book. A desolate place for a defiant people on our website, thanks to Nina Shapiro Pearl of American University for the use for a short film landscape. Of power if you're interested in learning more about tours to the great dismal swamp check.
Eric Shepherds, website, diversity, restoration, dotcom, special thanks, also deterrents white and the Oakland African American Museum and Library thanks also to outlets podcast, reveal Dubois Moses, granting the archive audio of Laura smaller was, from the W p S, voices of slavery, project hosted by the brave Congress this peace? Inspired in part by an essay in the Smithsonian magazine by Richard grant all this and more on our website? We our project and radio Tokyo and K L debut in San Francisco and produced on radio row in beautiful, downtown oakland. California. We are proud member of Radio Tokyo from Pr Ex supported by the night Foundation and listeners. Just like you, You can find a show in joint discussions about the show on Facebook. You can t
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.