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  • Susan Stoderl

Mission 2: Unexpected Visitors | Intrigue on the Dismal Swamp Canal

Painting by Robert Salmon 1830
Lake Drummond Hotel on the Dismal Swamp Canal

Mission 2: Unexpected Visitors, volume 2 of the Sophia of the Bright Red Sneakers series is a time travel historical middle-grade book. While trying to escape on the Maritime Underground Railroad, Elijah, the father of enslaved Jeb and Liza, go through the Great Dismal Canal and moor their steamboat by the hotel.

In the middle of the Great Dismal Swamp, which covers the southeastern part of Virginia, and the northeastern part of North Carolina, you will find the freshwater lake, Lake Drummond. No rivers flow into it. Experts believe the Great Dismal Swamp came about when the continental shelf experienced a sudden settling. A layer of peat underlays the entire swamp. Some believe a large underground peat fire from 3,500 to 6,000 years ago caused the formation. Native Americans of the Nansemond tribe speak of “the firebird” creating Lake Drummond.

Entrepreneurs established roadhouses and hotels along the banks of the canal. One of the more infamous was the Lake Drummond Hotel, established in 1829. Half of the hotel is in Virginia and the other half is in North Carolina. It became an infamous rendezvous for couples wanting to take advantage of the lenient North Carolina marriage laws and fugitives seeking isolation in the swamp, as well as duels. Young men would duel with one man standing in Virginia, and the other in North Carolina, making their crime legally ambiguous. If you were a gambler and either state’s marshals came to break up the game, you could escape to the other state.

The Lake Drummond Hotel earned comparisons to Gretna Green, a wedding location since 1754. In that year, Lord Hardwicke issued a marriage act that stated couples must be married in the Church of England for it to be legal. However, Scotland refused to adopt the law, and Gretna Green, Scotland, just across the border, became the wedding destination of that time.


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