Kathryn Benjamin

The Impact of Marronage in the Great Dismal Swamp In History and Memory

This study is a critical examination of both the history of the Dismal Swamp maroons (individuals some would label “runaway slaves”) and of the politics of race and representation of this history in public historical narratives and collective memory. The project focuses on the resilience and survival of African American maroon communities within the Great Dismal Swamp, a huge morass of swampland straddling the Virginia/North Carolina eastern seaboard throughout the period of 1700-1865. Part of the study explores the internal dynamics of resistant and generally self-reliant communities in the swamp interior, composed primarily of black maroons by the late 18th, early 19th century, as well as the influence of their activities and of the swamp itself on the surrounding plantation world. In addition to weighing the historical scale, scope, and impact of marronage in the Dismal Swamp counties, this research examines how racially shaped power politics of representation in the dominant historical archive and in institutional (re)presentations of local, regional, and national history work to silence, erase, or else distort both these histories of African American agency, survival, and resilience, and our memory about these histories. The dissertative emphasis on the material history of marronage and the historical veracity of its impact throughout and around the swamp questions current representational practices led by institutions such as National Park Services and US Fish and Wildlife Service that facilitate collective memory (or forgetting) of this history amongst local communities. The project objective is to critically examine the effects the politics of power in historiographical and institutional representations of resistant and agentive actions of the enslaved have on the memory and by extension, on the sense of identity and belonging held by local African American communities.