A haunting journey into one of the most forgotten places in America:

Listen to locals long enough and you’ll come to find that the Dismal shifts in the eye of the beholder. The land’s kaleidoscopic history is much the same. For one of Eric’s distant relatives, a lumberman named Moses Grandy, the swamp was at once the site of his bondage and the nexus of his freedom. Grandy toiled in the cavernous morass for decades as an enslaved laborer before stashing away enough coin to purchase himself outright. He was one in a colony of workers who lived in camps in the bog. Out of porous peat soil they cut and glued canals, lugged cypress and white cedar trunks, and crafted millions of shingles. Most inhabitants were enslaved, but some harnessed the swamp to other ends. Some sought refuge in it.

From the late 17th century to the end of the Civil War, thousands of maroons — runaways who obtained their freedom by occupying remote and uninhabited regions — lived in relative secrecy throughout the 750-square-mile wilderness. No one is sure exactly how many people escaped enslavement within its confines, but this much is clear: The Great Dismal Swamp, an area regarded by colonial settlers as so utterly inhospitable that its very air was once said to be toxic, was over multiple centuries home to the largest maroon community in the United States.