The Great Dismal: A Carolinian's Swamp Memoir


A lyrical tribute to the Great Dismal Swamp, the mysterious wilderness straddling the North Carolina-Virginia line. Includes a new epilogue by Bland Simpson, one of the region's most loved authors.

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A lyrical tribute to the Great Dismal Swamp, the mysterious wilderness straddling the North Carolina-Virginia line. Includes a new epilogue by Bland Simpson, one of the region's most loved authors.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
[Simpson] has given us a jewel of natural and human history.

New Yorker

[An] engaging portrait.

Publishers Weekly

Mr. Simpson's book, part history and part travelogue, entices the reader to join them [previous visitors to the Great Dismal].

Atlantic Monthly

Nature-writing at its best, classic in its fervor, sincere in its integrity, transfixing in its gem-like language.

Christian Science Monitor

No pleasure quite matches that of reading prose that feels as natural as breathing.


Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Northernmost of the southern swamps, the Great Dismal sits astride the Virgnia-North Carolina border and is perhaps the most mysterious wilderness area in the U.S. It has a colorful history: George Washington invested in a rice farm there; it was a refuge for runaway slaves, home to moonshiners and lumbermen and a rewarding spot for hunters and trappers. Because of a high tannic acid content, the swamp's water has remarkable keeping qualities; the Navy used the water to supply the fleet in the 19th century. Simpson ( Heart of the Country ) grew up in the area; here he reminisces about childhood visits to the swamp, talks to oldtimers and describes recent developments. The Great Dismal Swamp Canal, connecting Chesapeake Bay and Albemarle Sound, is the oldest extant manmade waterway in America. The swamp's natural history, encompassing black bear, bobcat, a bird paradise, rare ferns and wildflowers, is also examined in this engaging portrait. Illustrations. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Simpson mixes history with personal visits and interviews to show the uses, changes, and effects of the swamp, ``the oldest continuously used man-made waterway'' in the United States, from the 18th century to now. Washington, Jefferson, Civil War armies, timbermen, runaway slaves, farmers, sportspeople--all have had designs on the Great Dismal Swamp on the Virginia/North Carolina border at one time or another. Its industries of shingle cutting, cypress lumbering, hunting, and trapping had nearly ended by 1973, when the area became a national wildlife refuge. Although near major populations, the swamp, Simpson notes, has been an endlessly fascinating subject of literature, music, and legend. Of regional interest especially, for public and academic collections.-- Roland Person, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
School Library Journal
YA --For all those readers who mourn the lack of a grandpa or old auntie who'll invite them to sit a spell and listen to tales of bygone days, Simpson offers memoirs of the Great Dismal. In an informed conversational tone, he weaves the physical and social history of both the swamp and those whose lives intertwined with it. He begins with his own boyhood recollections: ``I had no notion that anything had ever been different than it was now or ever would be.'' He moves swiftly back 10,000 years to hypothesize about the first man or woman ``to disappear . . . into the Great Dismal Swamp,'' and then on to the role the swamp played in the lives of such famous men as William Drummond, William Byrd II, and George Washington. Interviews with old-timers such as lifelong swamper Reggie Gregory are intermingled with tales of the lumbermen, escaped slaves, and the flora and fauna. A limited but steady young adult audience will enjoy spending a few hours in the Great Dismal. --Barbara Hawkins, Lake Bradock Secondary, Fairfax County, VA
The Great Dismal Swamp lies just below the Tidewater area of Virginia, straddling the North Carolina-Virginia line. Simpson (writing, U. of North Carolina) mixes personal experience, travel narrative, oral history, and natural history to portray the Swamp and its people. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807847527
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Series: Chapel Hill Books Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,438,306
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Bland Simpson, who teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is author of Into the Sound Country (with photography by Ann Cary Simpson) and The Mystery of Beautiful Nell Cropsey. A member of the Red Clay Ramblers, an internationally acclaimed string band, he has collaborated on such musicals as Kudzu, King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running, Diamond Studs, and Fool Moon.

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