About Us

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge was officially established in 1953 for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds. It is an important stopover site to migratory birds as they travel up and down the Atlantic Flyway. In addition, the 1,329 acre island refuge provides protected breeding habitat for State-listed threatened and endangered species, as well as many neotropical migrating bird species. Hundreds of native plant and animal species thrive in the isolated wetlands, forests, and grassland habitats.


Our Mission

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge exemplifies the majesty of our natural world and the significance of the Lower James River as a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Throughout the year, bald eagles perch on the island’s forested shores and survey the rich assemblage of wildlife: the wake of the prehistoric sturgeon heading to spawn, basking turtles in the warm spring sun, colorful warblers darting amongst trees all summer, and thousands of wintering waterfowl resting in the quiet waters of the winding river.

This isolated island bridges the modern world to its long and storied history of people connecting to the land. The joyful sound of children learning in the natural classroom echoes through the forest in this gateway to wild places. Stewardship fostered here generates action beyond the river in communities across their watershed.

Our History

Presquile’s history dates back to the late Archaic through the Woodland Periods (3000 B.C. through European contact in 1607). In 1609, the English began expanding, taking by force the territories of the Kecoughtan, Paspahegh, Warraskoyack, Quiyoughcohannock, and Arrohateck Tribes. Four years later, in 1613, acting Governor Thomas Dale seized the Appamattuck town, seat of Queen Oppussoquionuske, located at the confluence of the James and Appomattox Rivers. This town included present-day Presquile NWR. Sir Thomas Dale established the Bermuda Hundred Settlement, which, by the middle of the 17th century, had become a commercial center. Between 1785 and 1800, Bermuda Hundred was the official port of entry on the James and continued to be an important regional port well into the 19th century.

The land in and around Presquile NWR was an important site during the Civil War because of its location near two major rivers. In 1864 the Union Army landed at Bermuda Hundred with the intention of destroying the Confederate supply line between Richmond and Petersburg. The Union Army lost the subsequent battle upstream at Swift Creek, but they maintained a presence at Bermuda Hundred until 1865. It is likely that Watkins Farm, which was located within Presquile NWR, was either occupied or visited by Union troops. It is also likely that the Union Army guarded the James shoreline along the current Presquile NWR because the Confederates controlled the opposite shore. The island was given the name Turkey Island by Captain Christopher Newport in the early 1600s and is still referred to as such by some local residents. Additionally, in 1934, US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) cut a navigational channel through the peninsula to reduce travel time for river traffic. This cut, the Turkey Island cutoff, made Presquile NWR a true island.

Around 1660, William Randolph, an ancestor to Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Robert E. Lee, purchased the Presquile peninsula (present day Presquile NWR). The Presquile property was sold by the Randolph family in 1801, and successive ownership changed hands through four different families between 1801 and 1902 when it was purchased by Mr. A.D. Williams. Williams maintained a dairy farm and country estate on the island, with at least 5 houses and over 30 farm and estate related structures. In his will, Williams left 1,329 acres of lands and waters to the U.S. Department of the Interior for the purpose of “the preservation, protection, replenishment, and propagation of and for increasing the supply of game birds, game animals, fish and other wildlife in the State of Virginia.” As a result, Presquile NWR was established on March 7th, 1953.

Other Facilities in this Complex

Presquile National Wildlife Refuge is managed as a part of the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which is comprised of four different refuges. Please click the links below to learn more about these refuges.