Remembering the Runaways in the Great Dismal Swamp

Title page of Dred

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s character Dred may have never resided in the Great Dismal Swamp, but hundreds of other enslaved individuals did. And this fall, officials plan to open a permanent exhibit on the runaway slave communities that sought safe haven in the swamp. The Great Dismal became such a common hiding place for runaways that the N.C. legislature passed a law in 1847 requiring registration for slaves working in the swamp. Unregistered slaves working in the swamp could be arrested and subjected to 39 lashes on the back. The person who arrested the slave could also demand a 25 dollar reward from the slaveowner. Employers who hired runaways or unregistered slaves could be fined $100 and imprisoned for 3 months.

4 thoughts on “Remembering the Runaways in the Great Dismal Swamp”

  1. Thanks for informing me about runaway slaves to the Dismal Swamp. I have driven Rte 17 thru the swamp and never knew this fact. Runaway slaves are more often associated with the underground railroad and Harriet Tubman. Was there a connection between the two. Was Maryland the southernmost state for the underground railroad along the east coast? Interesting.

  2. Is it really that the person who arrested the slave could also demand a 25 dollar reward from the slaveowner?

  3. Nora,
    There were Underground Railroad “stops” in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South. Runaways needed safe haven as they traveled the many miles north toward freedom.
    The National Park Service has sought to document Underground Railroad stops with its Network to Freedom project. You can learn more about the Underground Railroad and the stops in North Carolina by visiting the Network to Freedom website at


  4. The “Dover Swamp” near Near Bern, and the “Goshen Swamp” south of Goldsboro also afforded refuge(albeit a mighty tough existence” for “contrabans” or fugitive slaves. Could it be possible some children were born in these swamps and lived their lives in the freedom of these impenetrable places?

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