Great Dismal Swamp
National Wildlife Refuge
|3100 Desert Road
Suffolk, VA 23434
Phone Number: 757-986-3705
|Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Continued . . . Human occupation of the Great Dismal Swamp area dates back some 13,000 years, 4,000 years before the formation of the swamp began. By the time European colonists arrived, the area had acquired its swamp-like character and they met the Nansemond Indians, who inhabited the western edge of the swamp.
In 1665, William Drummond, governor of North Carolina, discovered the lake that now bears his name. In 1728, William Byrd II, charged with surveying the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina, proposed draining the swamp, selling the timber, and utilizing the land for agricultural purposes. It would be 40 years before several prominent Virginians, including George Washington, founded the Dismal Swamp Land Company in an effort to implement Byrd's plan. The company did not succeed with the agricultural venture, but commercial harvesting of the swamp's resources had begun.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Great Dismal Swamp served as a refuge for African-Americans escaping slavery. Historians believe these people established maroon communities in the swamp and used the swamp as both temporary and long term shelter. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe found literary inspiration in the swamp and the slaves hiding there.
Due to the significant role the swamp played in the lives of the freedom seekers, the refuge is an official designated site of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, the first national wildlife refuge to be so named.
In 1805, the Dismal Swamp Canal began serving as a commercial highway for timber coming out of the swamp. Today, the canal continues to serve recreational boaters.
In 1974, the Union Camp Corporation donated 49,100 acres of land to The Nature Conservancy. The land was then transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which officially established the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
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