- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — Great Dismal Swamp has been added to the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network.

The swamp, which encompasses 110,000 acres through Chesapeake and Suffolk and into North Carolina, was used as a haven for slaves who fled their owners before and after the Civil War.

A selection committee unanimously accepted the swamp last month, said Diane Miller, national coordinator of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. There are now 149 sites, programs and facilities in the park service’s network, representing 26 states and the District, she said.

The National Park Service defines the Underground Railroad as any “resistance to enslavement through flight,” Miss Miller said. The Underground Railroad has come to be known as a variety of escape systems, such as churches, homes, river crossings and paths, that aided slaves in flights to freedom.

Supporters with the National Wildlife Refuge and Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) in North Carolina, and others worked together to secure the swamp’s inclusion in the network. The organizations researched and documented examples of the swamp’s ties to freedom seekers.

They found that slaves fled to the higher points of the swamp and formed “maroon communities,” which are isolated and self-governing hideaways.

In the 1800s, David H. Strother, an artist for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, explored the swamp and found large colonies of runaway slaves living in its dense undergrowth.

“Many lived there, raised families, and died there,” according to the National Park Service.

Other slaves hid in the swamp before moving on to port cities, such as Norfolk and Portsmouth, where they sought to board ships to the North.

Wanda McLean, a staff member at ECSU, was instrumental in the application process for inclusion. She had conducted research for the past 20 years on the swamp.

Miss McLean said the park service has been “adamant concerning the preservation and/or telling these important stories concerning the Underground Railroad, especially the Great Dismal Swamp, because it is a part of this country’s overall American history.”

Inclusion in the list could make it easier to obtain grants for the swamp, which has been a national wildlife refuge since 1974. At the swamp’s center is the 3,100-acre Lake Drummond.


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