Dismal Freedom: A History of the Maroons of the Great Dismal Swamp

Time Period
1623 to 1763
1764 to 1824
1825 to 1860
1861 to 1876
Media Type
Black History
Civil War
Geography & Environment
Politics & Government
Brent Morris

On February 16, 2023, historian Brent Morris gave a lecture examining the lives of the maroons living in the Great Dismal Swamp and their struggles for liberation.

The massive and foreboding Great Dismal Swamp sprawls more than 2,000 square miles and spills over parts of Virginia and North Carolina. From the early seventeenth century, the nearly impassable Dismal frustrated settlement. However, what may have been an impediment to the expansion of slave society became an essential sanctuary for many of those who sought to escape it. In the depths of the Dismal, thousands of maroons—people who had emancipated themselves from enslavement and settled beyond the reach of enslavers—established new lives of freedom in a landscape deemed worthless and inaccessible by whites. J. Brent Morris, author of the new book Dismal Freedom: A History of the Maroons of the Great Dismal Swamp, examines the lives of these maroons and their struggles for liberation, and tells one of the most exciting yet neglected stories of American history. This is the story of resilient, proud, and determined people who made the Great Dismal Swamp their free home and sanctuary and who played an outsized role in undermining slavery through the Civil War.

Dr. J. Brent Morris is Professor of History and Humanities Department Chair at the University of South Carolina Beaufort and Director of the USCB Institute for the Study of the Reconstruction Era. He is the author of several books, including Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America; Yes Lord I Know the Road: A Documentary History of African Americans in South Carolina, 1526–2008; A South Carolina Chronology, 1497–2020 (with Walter Edgar and C. James Taylor); and Dismal Freedom: A History of the Maroons of the Great Dismal Swamp.

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Want to listen to an audio-only version of this lecture? Listen now on Soundcloud