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Seeking a City of Refuge in the Great Dismal Swamp with Marcus P. Nevius

The Great Dismal Swamp is a remarkable feature of the southern coastal plain. Spanning from Norfolk, Virginia to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, the Swamp is now a National Wildlife Refuge home to Bald cypress, black bears, otters, and over 200 species of birds, among many other critters.

But in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was the home to the ambitions of planters and businessmen who sought to transform the swamp into a plantation enterprise of rice, timber, and other commodities. It was also home to the enslaved individuals who labored to make those dreams a reality.

Yet the natural landscape, combined with the circumstances of the white-owned companies who controlled the Swamp, created opportunities for the enslaved to resist their bondage, and even self-emancipate into the Swamp’s rugged interior.

And like the Jamaican Maroons who sought security in the island’s central mountains, some enslaved Virginians found a city of refugee in the Great Dismal Swamp. These acts of resistance were, as today’s guest explains, a form of petit marronage in a region that experienced more continently than change from the colonial era to the eve of the American Civil War.

On today’s show, Dr. Marcus P. Nevius joins Jim Ambuske to discuss his new book, City of Refuge: Slavery and Petit Marronage in the Great Dismal Swamp, 1765-1856, published by the University of George Press in 2020.

Nevius is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island and a 2020 Washington Library Research Fellow. Ambuske caught up with him over Zoom as he was completing some research on the Great Dismal Swamp in the revolutionary era.

About Our Guest: 

Marcus P. Nevius is an assistant professor of history at the University of Rhode Island. His scholarship has received the support of a Mellon Fellowship from the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and the support of a research fellowship awarded by the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. He has also published several book reviews in the Journal of African American History.

About Our Host:

Jim Ambuske, Ph.D. leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. A historian of the American Revolution, Scotland, and the British Atlantic World, Ambuske graduated from the University of Virginia in 2016. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA Law, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  He is currently at work on a book about emigration from Scotland in the era of the American Revolution as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.