Reconstructing Moses Grandy’s World: The Interplay of GIS With Enslaved Narratives

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Subtitle: Exploring the Life of Moses Grandy and the Harsh Reality of Enslaved Life in Lawrence County, Alabama


In this article, we will delve into the fascinating story of Moses Grandy and the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to reconstruct his world as an enslaved person in Lawrence County, Alabama. Through the interplay of digital humanities and historical analysis, we gain a deeper understanding of the harsh realities faced by enslaved individuals surviving within the Great Dismal Swamp.

Background of Christy Hyman

Christy Hyman, a doctoral student in the Department of History at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, has undertaken the task of unraveling Moses Grandy’s story. With a background in history and gender studies, her research is influenced by her experiences working with the National Parks Service. Hyman’s unique perspective brings an interdisciplinary approach to the field of digital humanities.

Uncovering the Invisible Narratives

Historical analysis often focuses on the construction and origin of nation states, leaving Afro-descendant collectives on the periphery of the narrative. Hyman aims to change this by shedding light on the experiences of enslaved individuals and their contributions to shaping history. Her use of GIS technology helps reconstruct the long-forgotten stories and brings their narratives to the forefront.

The Journey Begins

To set the stage for the 19th-century experience of enslaved individuals seeking freedom in the inhospitable Great Dismal Swamp, Hyman shares a slideshow of images. These include actual enslaved runaway advertisements, footage taken in the swamp, and survival instructions from that era. The slideshow provides a visual context for understanding the challenging environments in which enslaved people navigated.

Theoretical Framework: Henri Lefebvre and Emmanuel Levinas

Hyman explores the theoretical underpinnings that shape her research on slave flight and the relationship between space, power, and environment. Drawing from Henri Lefebvre’s concept of space production and Emmanuel Levinas’ exploration of the condition of enslavement, Hyman examines the interconnectedness of concepts and physical realities.

Flight as an Act of Autonomy

Jill Stauffer’s work on ethical loneliness reveals the importance of human interactions in shaping personal identity and autonomy. Enslaved individuals sought flight as a means to reclaim their autonomy and reconnect with loved ones who were torn away. Flight involved navigating unfamiliar spaces, experiencing moments of danger and opportunity, and utilizing various tools for survival.

Reconstructing Moses Grandy’s World

Moses Grandy, an enslaved waterman working in the Great Dismal Swamp, serves as the primary subject of Hyman’s research. Born in 1786 on a farm owned by William Grandy in Camden County, North Carolina, Moses’s narrative sheds light on the arduous labor, traumatic experiences, and the collective suffering endured by enslaved swamp laborers.

The Intertwined Relationship Between Labor and Environment

Enslaved individuals in the Great Dismal Swamp performed challenging agricultural, pastoral, and manual tasks. Clearing land, digging drainage ditches, and constructing the Dismal Swamp canal were just some of the backbreaking jobs they undertook. Their productivity often exceeded their energy reserves, leading to extreme exhaustion and privation.

Medical Discourses and Exploitation

Racial pseudoscience of the 18th century perpetuated the exploitation of enslaved people in inhospitable environments. These pseudoscientific beliefs, linking Black people’s disease acceptability to warm climates, provided a justification for subjecting them to labor in extreme conditions. Moses Grandy’s account highlights the brutal reality of swamp labor and the inherent suffering endured by enslaved individuals.

Trauma and Bonding in the Great Dismal Swamp

Environments within the Great Dismal Swamp bear the invisible markers of enslaved laborers’ suffering. The shared trauma created powerful bonds among those determined to survive in this harsh landscape. Despite the unimaginable hardships they faced, enslaved individuals developed connections that served as a source of strength and resistance.


Through the use of GIS technology and a multidisciplinary approach, Christy Hyman’s research on the life of Moses Grandy offers a fresh perspective on enslaved narratives. By uncovering the untold stories and documenting the interplay between GIS and enslaved experiences, we gain a more comprehensive understanding of the profound impact of slavery and the resilience of those who lived through it.

By bringing these narratives to the forefront, we honor the memory of enslaved individuals like Moses Grandy and shed light on their contributions to history. The use of GIS technology opens new possibilities for exploring and reconstructing the lives of those who were marginalized and silenced. Through continued research and storytelling, we can ensure that their voices are heard and their stories are never forgotten.

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