A Desolate Place for a Defiant People:
The Archaeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp

Daniel O. Sayers

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"Shows how colonialism and slavery created sustained critiques of American capitalism and created the conditions for chronic resistance. 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

"Addresses key historical and theoretical debates of the archaeology of the African diaspora. 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

"Sayers uses archaeology to tell a compelling story of how alienated people found refuge in the alien landscape of the Great Dismal Swamp. Here they created their own way of life, free of the exploitation and alienation that they escaped. His work helps us to better understand the history of defiance in the Antebellum South and raises important theoretical issues for all archaeologists studying diasporic communities."--Randall H. McGuire, author of Archaeology as Political Action


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.

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.

Daniel O. Sayers is associate professor of anthropology at American University.
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The most comprehensive archaeological research completed on the Dismal Swamp area. . . .Highly recommended.-- Choice

Sayers and the maroons he studies force us to ask questions about the definition of liberty. . . .Sayers’s perspectives are fresh and brilliant.-- Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology

Lays the foundation for a predictive model that may fruitfully be applied to future investiga- tions of communities of resistance, radical praxis and alternative modes of production.-- Social Anthropology

Demonstrates what an archaeology of alternative modes of production might look like . . . [and] makes several strong methodological and theoretical contributions.-- Social Anthropology

A fascinating book in terms of the unique landscape it documents, the theoretical advances it proposes and the compelling political critique it draws out.-- Antiquity

Illuminate[s] the creativity of self-extricated enslaved people of African descent. . . . [and] demonstrates the immense rewards of sustained interdisciplinary research on communities of people whose lives are poorly or prejudicially documented.-- North Carolina Historical Review

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