We recently transited the Great Dismal Swamp Canal and Locks and I’ve always wanted to experience this waterway of American history. However, boats over 50′ are not recommended to use the waterway, combined with a changing controlled depth and submerged logs are always a concern, in fact, we chopped up over five what I assume are branches or small logs resulting in no damage.
Arts from the swamp: In 1842 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem “The Slave In Dismal Swamp”. The poem uses six quintain stanzas to tell about the “hunted Negro”, mentioning the use of bloodhounds and describing the conditions as being “where hardly a human foot could pass, or a human heart would dare”. The poem may have inspired artist David Edward Cronin, who served as a Union officer in Virginia and witnessed the effect of slavery, to paint Fugitive Slaves in the Dismal Swamp, Virginia in 1888.
In 1856, Harriett Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published her second anti-slavery novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. The title character is a maroon of the Great Dismal Swamp who preaches against slavery and incites slaves to escape
Situated on the N.C. and Virginia line was the 1830’s hotel known as the Halfway House. “A quality place for sleeping, matrimonial celebrations, and of course, duelistical engagements for the settling of disagreements”. Situated evenly on the North Carolina and Virginia state line, it is the one place where the long arm of the law came up short as an outlaw simply hopped across the line to avoid arrest. It’s the place where a newlyweds could hold hands from different states and occasionally meet in the middle for a kiss on the lips. Between Gunfights, Marriages and occasional Lawlessness, it is also rumored that Edgar Allen Poe wrote “The Raven” while staying at the Halfway House.
Some history: Scientists believe the Great Dismal Swamp was created upon the last major shift of the continental shelf. The origin of Lake Drummond, one of only two natural lakes in Virginia, is not entirely clear; Native American legends tell of a giant firebird that made a nest of fire in the swamp that later filled with rain.
Archaeological evidence suggests people have inhabited the swamp for 13,000 years. In 1650, Native Americans lived in the swamp; in 1665, William Drummond, the first governor of North Carolina, discovered the swamp’s lake, which was subsequently named for him. In 1728, William Byrd II, while leading a land survey to establish a boundary between the Virginia and North Carolina colonies, made many observations of the swamp, none of them favorable; he is credited with naming it the Dismal Swamp. In 1763, George Washington visited the area, and he and others founded the Dismal Swamp Company in a venture to drain the swamp and clear it for settlement, with the company later turning to the more profitable goal of timber harvesting.
Several African American maroon societies lived in the Great Dismal Swamp during early American history. These maroons consisted of black runaway slaves seeking safety and liberty. The swamp’s role in the history of slavery in the United States is reflected in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s second novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. The Underground Railroad Education Pavilion, an exhibit set up to educate visitors about the fugitive slaves who lived in the swamp, was opened February 24, 2012.
The Dismal Swamp Canal was authorized by Virginia in 1787 and by North Carolina in 1790, with construction beginning in 1793 and completing in 1805. The canal, as well as a railroad constructed through part of the swamp in 1830, enabled the harvest of timber. The canal deteriorated after the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal was completed in 1858; however, in 1929, the U. S. Government bought the Dismal Swamp Canal and began to improve it. The canal is now the oldest operating artificial waterway in the country. Like the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canals, it is part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.