Deep within the coastal plain region of Virginia and North Carolina lies the Great Dismal Swamp, a habitat that was once home to thousands of maroons – people of African descent who fled slavery between 1660 and 1860.
Becca Peixotto, a PhD candidate and instructor at American University, safely brought home WINGS WorldQuest Flag #4 from the Great Dismal Swamp, where she spent the summer on an archaeological expedition. Her goal was to uncover the remarkable story of resistance and resilience of African-Americans who had escaped from their oppressive conditions and sought refuge in the swamp.
Becca and her team began the expedition by using data from an aerial lidar survey and historical documents to visit areas within the swamp that might be islands. They then mapped the islands, studied soil profiles and did test excavations. They discovered fire pits, a possible cabin footprint and artifacts ranging from small fragments of glass and iron nails to ancient stone tools left by people before the maroons.
Peixotto documented the expedition on her blog, Swampscapes. In one post, she ruminates about the extreme hot and cold weather that both escaped slaves and enslaved laborers had to face:
We whine and wilt and and swat flies and try to drink as much water as we’re sweating out but at the end of the day, we go back to a shower and air conditioning. The enslaved laborers who battled heat, humidity and thick undergrowth to clear only 1300 yards of survey path in a day in the summer of 1769 didn’t have that option. The maroons who chose a life of relative freedom in the Swamp over a life of chattel slavery didn’t have that option. [...] Going to the Swamp in its full summer glory gives all of us, I think, a better appreciation of the strength and determination of the people we’re studying out here.” – Becca Peixotto