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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.


It’s Friday!!

And rarely has The Legal Genealogist reached a Friday with such relief!

It’s the last day of the Chromosome Mapping course at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) where I’ve been trying to learn new things all week and… well… my brain is about to explode.

New tools, new concepts, new software programs (some of which stubbornly refuse to play nice with my laptop)… it’s enough to stretch you to the breaking point.

Isn’t genealogy fun?

Seriously, I’m delighted to have had a chance to take this course, to start adding some more advanced tools to my DNA toolkit. But boy has it been a tough week…

So I’m going to let reader Richard English direct us to today’s 2018 alphabet soup word. We’re up to the letter P, and Dick’s word is pocosin.

And, he quickly explains, it’s not exactly a legal term at all: it is instead used in legal descriptions in deeds, in the metes and bounds descriptions in (for example) Pitt County, North Carolina– “…. to a pine at Smith’s Corner, then to a pocosin, then 100 poles to a pine…”1

So… what’s a pocosin?

You can find a great definition from the federal government: it’s a “wetland bog with sandy peat soil and woody shrubs throughout.”2

Or, if you prefer: “Pocosins are naturally occurring freshwater evergreen shrub bogs or wetlands of the southeastern coastal plains. … The word ‘pocosin’ is Algonquian in origin and is variously spelled ‘poquosin,’ ‘pequessen,’ ‘poccoson,’ and ‘percoarson.’ The generally accepted meaning of the word is ‘swamp on a hill.’”3

Or, perhaps, this version: “Native Americans called it a pocosin, which in their language meant ‘swamp on a hill.’ A more accurate assessment of this seemingly flat area that rises slightly in the center might be ‘raised bog.’ Over thousands of years, organic matter (basically black muck) accumulated to form a pocosin, an area highly acidic and deficient in nutrients that produces a unique biological occurrence. The thickness of the muck varies from several inches at the edge to several feet at the center. Growth on the outer rim is typically pond pine with a dense understory of titi, the shrub Zenobia (unique to pocosins), and an impenetrable jungle of greenbrier vines. Toward the center of the waterlogged goo, trees thin and grow more stunted, and shrubs and vines diminish, their tangled roots providing the only footing.”4

Bottom line: it’s a swamp.

But it’s a really cool swamp. You can read more about the pocosins — both low and high — in a blog post by T. Delene Beeland at The Wild Muse: “A low pocosin is characterized by vegetation that grows in a somewhat dwarfed state, while a high pocosin is characterized by vegetation that grows much taller. Here’s the catch: the exact same kinds of plants and trees grow in both a high and a low pocosin.”5

So now you know, when you come across that deed from North Carolina with one of the metes and bounds listed as a pocosin just what that means.

And you can thank Dick English for suggesting it…


  1. Email, “Re: The Legal Genealogist: Oy! judicial style,” Richard English to JG Russell, 26 June 2018; privately held by JG Russell.
  2. What is a pocosin?,” National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( : accessed 29 June 2018).
  3. Bland Simmons, “Pocosins,” Encyclopedia of North Carolina, ( : accessed 29 June 2018).
  4. Pocosin Wilderness,” ( : accessed 29 June 2018).
  5. T. Delene Beeland, “Why pocosins are amazing,” The Wild Muse, posted 6 Nov 2010 ( : accessed 29 June 2018).
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