Aside from maroons, Sayers says the swamp was also home to Indigenous Americans (Native Americans), enslaved canal labourers (African-Americans who worked for the canal companies—some worked to buy or earn their freedom), free African-Americans, and outcast Europeans, such as criminals.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Freedom in the Swamp
Archaeologist Dan Sayers has been working in the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia for ten years now, trying to document the settlements of maroons -- runaway slaves -- that some historians think lived in the hidden recesses of the swamp. Past Horizons has a story on his work that has the same characteristics as everything else I have read about this project: tantalizing hints of discovery but no actual data. I hope he is saving up his results for a big publication, because I am starting to think that the years of silence mean little or nothing has actually been found. This is not really a dig at Sayers but a problem with trying to study certain kinds of people through archaeology. What, do you suppose, would a runaway slave living in a swamp actually own? What traces would a camp of such people leave behind? And how would you distinguish their camps from those of other people who might have been in the swamp?