American University
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The morass of resistance during the antebellum: Agents of freedom in the Great Dismal Swamp

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posted on 2023-09-07, 05:14 authored by Karl Maddox Austin

The Great Dismal swamp straddles the North Carolina and Virginia state lines. From the seventeenth century until the Civil War this remote landscape became home to thousands of Maroons. These Maroon communities were comprised of runaway slaves, Native Americans and disenfranchised Europeans. The swamp was not only part of the passage for the Underground Rail Road (UGRR) but it was also a destination for individuals who lived on high ground and islands throughout the swamp. These self emancipated individuals developed complex modes of communitization. This dissertation uses a variety of theoretical perspectives, including agency theory, diaspora, and marronage to aluminate and understand the conditions and cultural transformations that took place over the course of several centuries and generations. The examination of these different communal groups will show that the each possessed and left behind different archaeological assemblages. Towards the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the outside world began to view the swamp as an exploitable resource and commodity. This led to increased forays by the outside world into the swamp and increased the possibility of contact with remote communities living on mesic islands deep in the swamp’s interior. As the outside world penetrated the interior of the Great Dismal Swamp it required the communities to adapt and transform. This dissertation will examine the cultural and communal transformations of a community that resisted contact with the outside world in response to loggers and canal laborers arriving in the deep interior of the swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp Landscape Study excavated The Crest of the nameless site during the 2009-2013 field seasons. These excavations ran in conjunction with American University’s Archaeological Field School. The excavations revealed a new architectural feature and artifact assemblage that represent a cultural transformation and the emergence of a new mode of communitization. These features and artifacts will be examined using a lens of agentive action to shed new insights into the Maroons who occupied a mesic island deep in the Great Dismal Swamp.







Degree Awarded: Ph.D. Anthropology. American University


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