Legends of pirates’ loot, lost vessels, and hidden colonies….
Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge’s fall festival was unlike any other. Their 2016 refuge event, located in Southeastern Virginia, encompassed a wide range of activities for all ages, and offered a mesmerizing mix of historical lore and legends with guided tours in and around the swamp. In addition to this was an author’s book talk and a recreational craft station for the younger folks. The event was short and sweet, lasting on a Sunday from sun up until four.
The refuge manager, Chris Lowie (pictured middle), even got involved by dressing up as President George Washington, who had visited the swamps back in the 1760s and purchased some of the Dismal Swamp land for his logging company. Children often tried to guess who Lowie’s historical character could be.
A crowd of mostly young adults came out for the book talk to discuss “Unbound: A Novel In Verse,” written by award winning author Ann E Burg. This novel is about a young slave girl and her family escaping familial separation to find a safe haven deep within the remote wilderness of Great Dismal Swamp. Even though this is a fictional story, the swamp has been directly connected to maroons or escaped slaves, and historians have discovered artifacts of small colonies where maroons hid to find freedom. Native Americans helped the refugee slaves acclimate to the challenges of living in the swamp’s environment.
This Fall festival provided a craft-making area for kids where fire fly lamps of plastic cups and lights were made to reflect the poem “A Ballad: A Lake of the Dismal Swamp” by Sir Thomas More.
“Away to the Dismal Swamp he speeds, –
His path was rugged and sore,
Through tangled juniper, beds of reeds”
Volunteers also dressed in colonial garb and spoke of mythological stories and legends, while stationed along the guided tour. “The White Deer – Virginia Dare” was one of the tour stories told about a young colonist girl who wandered into the swampy woods and was accidentally shot with a special arrow by a man of the Chowan tribe. He had been hunting a rare white deer, which was known throughout the nation that this prize would make him the greatest hunter of all. After not being able to locate what his arrow had hit, he returns home. The young girl, being hit directly in the heart, turns into a white deer and is said to wander the swamp immortal and mysteriously majestic.
Another story being read by a costumed lady pirate (pictured above in black), is “French Gold,” a myth about a plundering french ship washing up in the Great Dismal Swamp area after its crew tried to flee from a Vessel of British Soldiers. The group of French pirates fled on foot. They carried as much gold as they could and eventually buried it, but were ultimately followed by the soldiers and eventually killed. Legend has it the gold is supposedly buried deep within the swamps, and the eerie voices of the deceased pirates call out to locate their cursed looted treasure. Fake gold coins were placed around the refuge and children could find and collect them along the tour as well.
Great Dismal Swamp will continue their Fall Festival tradition next year and plans to include more costumed characters in the future.
For more information on Great Dismal Swamp Widlife Refuge, you can refer to this link: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/great_dismal_swamp/
Whether you are visiting Great Dismal Swamp to see wildlife, explore and learn about the swamp’s rich history, or get involved in some fun activities, Great Dismal Swamp provides an abundance of reasons one should come out and visit this year!