Underground Railroad

Leesa Jones

The story of the American Civil War is often told through famous battles and important generals. But that narrative doesn’t accurately represent North Carolina’s civil war story. In this state, the impact of the civil war was felt more on the homefront, within the homes, families and communities of ordinary people. The North Carolina Museum of History has begun an effort to pay tribute to these lesser-known Civil War stories through the North Carolina Civil War History Center, set to open in 2020.

Most Americans know about the Underground Railroad, the route that allowed Southern slaves to escape North. Some slaves found freedom by hiding closer to home, however — in Great Dismal Swamp.

The swamp is a vast wetland in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. In George Washington's time, it was a million acres of trees, dark water, bears, bobcats, snakes and stinging insects. British settlers, who first arrived in 1607, believed the swamp was haunted.

By 1620, some of their slaves may have overcome that fear to find freedom there.

The owners of a historic house in eastern North Carolina are donating it for use as an African-American history museum. The Picot-Armistead-Pettiford House has stood in the small town of Plymouth for nearly 200 years. Local folklore links the house to the Underground Railroad before the Civil War despite Census data that shows the tenants were white and owned slaves. Willie Drye is the leader of a downtown development committee in Plymouth. He says free African-Americans bought the house at auction after the war.