Fugitive Slave Settlements Discovered

An amazing story of shoe-leather archaeology deep in the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina:

Buried in the earth are what are believed to be remnants of one or more communities of escaped slaves, known as maroons, who built homes and carved out lives where their freedom depended on secrecy. Researchers now think settlements may have existed there on and off for hundreds of years; their occupants relying on the swamp’s forbidding conditions to give safe haven from those who wanted to return them to chains.

Historical archaeologist Dan Sayers spent years researching documents and talking to residents but his big break came when he reinvented his approach toward interviews:

Locals were stumped when he inquired about hills in the flat swampland.

His luck changed, Sayers said, when he figured out how to phrase the right questions.

In February 2004, he asked refuge forester Bryan Poovey about islands.

“He said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll take you out to one,’ ” Sayers said.

Very often, how you structure your questions determines the answers you’ll receive.