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Great Dismal Swamp

SOUTH MILLS, North Carolina

Great Dismal Swamp, once estimated at one million acres, is located in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Since the 17th century, historians, surveyors, and newspaper advertisements have identified the swamp and canal (within) as a refuge and route to freedom for thousands of runaway enslaved African Americans. For some, the swamp offered a means to purchase their freedom, through work on the canal and in cedar and cypress shingle and timber production. Others found refuge deep within the swamp, living off the land and what they could steal. These "outlyers" established maroon communities on the higher points of the swamp. Many lived there, raised families, and died there. For others, the swamp was a "stopping point" to get to Norfolk or Portsmouth, Virginia or to the Albemarle Sound and Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where they could secure passage on a ship traveling north. Despite the method or living conditions, the swamp provided the means of freedom which so many sought. During the Civil War, Union regiments of the USCT under Brigadier General Augustus Wild marched down the canal bank from Deep Creek in northeast North Carolina to liberate and recruit enslave African Americans in North Carolina.