Elizabeth City Area Convention & Visitors Bureau June 12, 2007
Two centuries ago, African American
freedom seekers plied the Pasquotank River to escape slavery, making their way through
the Great Dismal Swamp's dense wetlands.
At a river front ceremony on June 11, the National Park Service (NPS)
unveiled markers to help visitors understand this chapter of American history and
the waterway's significance as a path to freedom. The markers recognize the Pasquotank
River and the Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) Great Dismal Swamp Boardwalk
Project as an official part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
"Waterways and natural land features acted as both 'abolitionist' and
'conductor' for enslaved African Americans," said Barbara Tagger, Southeast Region
Program Manager for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and an NPS
historian. "It was like a map. If they knew how the waterways progressed, they would
follow them north, and in some cases south,
Tagger, who helped Elizabeth City, Pasquotank County and Camden
County officials dedicate the markers today, said the Pasquotank River is the first
river in the United States to be recognized in the NPS Network to Freedom program.
"In this particular part of North Carolina, the Pasquotank River was integral
to the Underground Railroad because of the number of boats and ships that
came to that area and made their way north," said Tagger.
The Pasquotank River and Great Dismal Swamp Part of the Intracoastal Waterway, the
Pasquotank River was once an important transportation link between the Albemarle Sound
and the Chesapeake Bay. During the 1800s, the river and Elizabeth City bustled with
activity as ships, steamers and boats disembarked from the waterfront to transport
goods and people throughout the South. Some freedom seekers stowed away on the vessels.
Others were hired by boat owners and gained transportation to points north where they
sought independence as workmen. Upon reaching Elizabeth City, a number of freedom
seekers sought refuge
in the Great Dismal Swamp, an enormous track of forested wetlands that
straddles the North Carolina/Virginia state line. Many used the swamp as a
stopping place, before continuing on their journey. Some even made a home in the wilderness,
living off the land and bartering with local farmers for food and
Hired slave labor dug the Dismal Swamp Canal, the oldest manmade
waterway in the country, in 1793. The Pasquotank River, which forms the Elizabeth
City waterfront, was given designation on the Network to Freedom in 2004. The ECSU
Great Dismal Swamp Boardwalk Project received its designation in 2003. The half mile
long boardwalk and observation tower provides access to 639 miles of wetlands wilderness
area for use by ECSU in research and educational activities. A third Elizabeth City
area site, the Dismal Swamp State Park was designated in 2003? a marker is planned
for this site as well.
Freedom Seekers Itinerary and Museum of the Albemarle Displays
As a result of the NPS Network to Freedom designations, the Elizabeth
City Area Convention & Visitors Bureau plans to promote the sites through the
development of a new self guided
"Freedom Seekers" tour itinerary, that originates in Elizabeth City and guides visitors
to neighboring Network to Freedom sites in Edenton, Manteo, Creswell, Rich Square
and Wilmington, N.C. June 1216, the public can learn more about the Underground Railroad
through two displays exhibited at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City.
On loan from the NPS, a "Network to Freedom" display interprets the history,
people and terms of the Underground Railroad. Developed by ECSU, a "Math of
the Great Dismal Swamp" display focuses on the terrain and water quality of the Great
Dismal Swamp. NASA's Earth Science Education Office/The MUSPIN Office of Goddard Flight
Center and ECSU funded this display.
Located at 501 S. Water Street, the Museum of the Albemarle is open
Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.
The museum will be closed on Sunday, June 17. Admission is free.
For additional information, contact the Elizabeth City Area Convention &
Visitors Bureau at (252) 3355330.
Or go to www.discoverec.org
Photo caption: Barbara Tagger, left, and Wanda McLean, a local researcher, unveil
the ECSU marker for the audience with Pasquotank River, the first river in the United
States to be recognized in the NPS Network to Freedom program, in view.