A Desolate Place for a Defiant People

“A compelling story of how alienated people found refuge in the alien landscape of the Great Dismal Swamp.”—Randall H. McGuire, author of Archaeology as Political Action

“These communities represent a largely unrecognized, alternative declaration of independence. They are a part of world history that is truly revolutionary.”—Mark P. Leone, author of The Archaeology of Liberty in an American Capital

“Theoretically complex and methodologically rigorous, it is the first serious study to locate maroon groups in the Chesapeake.”—Frederick H. Smith, author of The Archaeology of Alcohol and Drinking

“The people of the Dismal Swamp…radically transformed the world.”


Today we proudly announce the release of A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archaeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp by Daniel O. Sayers and co-published with The Society for Historical Archaeology.

“I find it amazing that the Diasporic history of the Great Dismal Swamp is so poorly known,” reveals Sayers, associate professor of anthropology at American University. Yet he stresses that “even such a seemingly remote place as the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and Virginia has a complex social, economic, and cultural history.”

In the 250 years before the Civil War, the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina was a brutal landscape—2,000 square miles of undeveloped and unforgiving wetlands, peat bogs, impenetrable foliage, and dangerous creatures. It was also a protective refuge for marginalized individuals, including Native Americans, African-American maroons, free African Americans, and outcast Europeans.

“The people of the Dismal Swamp are among that micro-minority across the past five centuries or so whose form of consciousness radically transformed the world,” says Sayers.

In the first thorough archaeological examination of this unique region, Daniel Sayers exposes and unravels the complex social and economic systems developed by these defiant communities that thrived on the periphery. He develops an analytical framework based on the complex interplay between alienation, diasporic exile, uneven geographical development, and modes of production to argue that colonialism and slavery inevitably created sustained critiques of American capitalism.

“I hold the people who came to dwell in the Dismal Swamp in particularly high regard on many levels,” shares Daniel O. Sayers. “They are inspirational to be sure.”

Read more in this excerpt.

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Categories: Anthropology, Archaeology, Publication Announcement

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