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Chronology of the Great Dismal Swamp

Updated: Jul 1

The 1600s

1665    Lake discovered by William Drummond


1728     Dismal Swamp Canal proposed by William Byrd

1763     Lake Drummond charted by George Washington’s surveyor

1764     Dismal Swamp Land Company chartered

1787     Dismal Swamp Canal authorized by Virginia Legislature

1790     Dismal Swamp Canal authorized by North Carolina Legislature

1793     Work on the Dismal Swamp Canal began

A Young George Washington. With no existing portraits of Washington before the age of 40, Mount Vernon convened a team of experts who used imaging, documents, clothing and likenesses of Washington to create life-size models of him as a 19-year-old surveyor, a 45-year-old general and a 57-year-old president. These life-size models are displayed in three of the 16 galleries of the Mount Vernon Education Center.


1802     William Farange builds first hostelry in Camden County, N.C.

1803     Thomas Moore wrote “THE LAKE OF THE DISMAL SWAMP”

1805     Dismal Swamp Canal began limited through navigation for flat boats

1810     Jericho Canal completed

1812     Feeder Ditch completed

1814     First recorded passage of a vessel other than a shingle flat

1818     President James Monroe visited the Dismal Swamp

1819     First Lottery held to raise funds for improving the Canal

1820     Second Lottery held

1822     Cross Canal completed

1823     First passage of completely loaded schooner “Rebecca Edwards”

1825     Erie Canal completed

1826     U.S. Congress purchased 600 shares of Dismal Swamp Company

1826     Dismal Swamp Canal enlarged as a shoal draft ship canal

1829     Third Lottery held

1829     Lake Drummond Hotel built

1829     President Andrew Jackson visited the Dismal Swamp Canal

1829     Federal Government purchased 200 additional shares of stock

1830     “Lady of the Lake” first steamer designed to ply the canal

1830     North West Canal completed

1842     Moses Grandy, a former Camden County slave, dictates his autobiography in London.

1856     Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp is published.

1862     Confederate troops prevented the destruction of the Dismal Swamp Canal Locks

1867     State of Virginia’s 600 share-holdings sold at auction

1871      North West Canal closed by dam built to conserve water

1878     Congress sold its shares in the Dismal Swamp Canal

1888     Last sale of lumber harvested from the Dismal Swamp

1890     Emma K – Dismal Swamp’s favorite vessel – was built

1899     Dismal Swamp Canal enlarged in substantially its present form


1923     Largest Forest fire ever raged for 3 years consuming 150 square miles

1929     United States Government purchased the Lake Drummond Company

1952     Lake Drummond dried up there was no water in the Canal.

1974     Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge created

1989     Dismal Swamp Welcome Center opened


2004     Dismal Swamp Canal became a designated site and member of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program

2005     The 200th anniversary of the  Canal & 65th anniversary of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway

2005     Dismal Swamp Canal Trail opens to the public

2008     Dismal Swamp State Park opens to the public

2011     Largest fire in recent history. 9 square miles consumed                                                                     2016     Damage from Hurricane Matthew caused the Dismal Swamp Canal to close October 2016.

2017 Dismal Swamp Canal reopened to boating traffic in October.

Satellite view of Dismal Swamp Fire, 2011

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