Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Straddling Virginia and North Carolina is an area that was once described as the "most repulsive of American possessions." By 1728, it was known as the Great Dismal Swamp.

  • But while many deemed it uninhabitable, recent findings suggest that a hidden society persisted in the Swamp until the mid-1800′s.

  • So, who lived there? And what happened to them?

  • People long suspected that communities had settled in the Swamp, but the historical record was spotty. It wasn't until 2003 that the first systematic archaeological foray finally launched.

  • But, despite having been extensively drained over the years, the wetland still presented many practical challenges: researchers had to penetrate thorny thickets, wade through waters studded with sinkholes, and braved the threats of dangerous animals.

  • After several months, they finally found islands in the Swamp's interior. These formations quickly revealed traces of centuries-old secrets.

  • Archeologists found buried markings that appear to have been left by raised log cabins, fire pits, and basins that may have collected drinking water.

  • They identified what seems to have been a palisade wall and excavated more than 3,000 artifacts, including weaponry, stone tools, and fragments of ceramic pipes and vessels.

  • These discoveries, combined with previous findings, helped tell a story that reaches far back in time.

  • Indigenous American people began regularly inhabiting or visiting the area around 11,000 BCE, before it was even a swampland.

  • A second era of occupation began much later. In the early 1600′s, more Indigenous people came seeking refuge from colonization. And later that century, it seems that Maroonsor people escaping from slaverybegan entering the area.

  • In fact, the team's findings support the theory that the Great Dismal Swamp was home to the largest Maroon settlement in all of North America.

  • Because their success and survival depended on staying hidden from the outside world, these Swamp communities were largely self-sufficient.

  • Based on primary sources, historians believe that people cultivated grains and created homes, furniture, musical instruments, and more from the Swamp's available resources.

  • These organic materials had probably already decomposed by the time archaeologists came to investigate.

  • But researchers were able to find more durable objects, like ceramic and stone items that were likely left by ancient Indigenous people then reused and modified by others later on.

  • Around the turn of the 19th century, it seems the relationship between the Swamp's community and the outside world changed.

  • Lumber and manufacturing companies began encroaching on the Swamp's interior. They brought thousands of free and enslaved workers to live in the Swamp and made them harvest wood, excavate canals, and drain fields.

  • Certain findings suggest that the Swamp's hidden communities might have switched to a more defensive mode during this period, but researchers also observed more mass-produced objects from this time, indicating that trading was taking place.

  • Researchers think that the secret Swamp communities dispersed during or soon after the American Civil War, by the end of which slavery was abolished in the United States.

  • Some people may have stayed in the Swamp until they passed away or left to settle elsewhere.

  • Most of what we know about these hidden communities has come to light after archeologists excavated sections of a single island; however, there may have been hundreds of habitable islands dotting the Swamp's interior at the time.

  • Between 1600 and 1860, many people lived in these hidden settlements. Some probably lived their entire lives within the Swamp and never saw a white person or experienced racial persecution in broader American society.

  • Generations of Black Maroons and Indigenous Americans resisted slavery and colonization by creating an independent society in the heart of the Great Dismal Swamp.

  • They fostered a refuge in what might seem like the unlikeliest of placesbut one that was more hospitable than what lay outside.

  • Today, this area offers a partial record of that secret, self-reliant world, imagined and built for survival and the preservation of freedom.

Straddling Virginia and North Carolina is an area that was once described as the "most repulsive of American possessions." By 1728, it was known as the Great Dismal Swamp.

Subtitles and vocabulary

Click the word to look it up Click the word to find further inforamtion about it

B2 US TED-Ed swamp indigenous hidden society slavery

The secret society of the Great Dismal Swamp - Dan Sayers

  • 2417 98
    Minjane posted on 2021/09/25
Video vocabulary