Area History of Culpepper Landing and The Dismal Swamp

The story of Culpepper Landing mirrors the history of American itself, complete with indispensable elements of discovery, vision and perseverance.

Colonial Era
In 1650 a group of families including the Cherrys, Wallaces and Culpepers (the second “p” was added later) settled in the area near the Dismal Swamp, where their presence lead to the creation of the village of Deep Creek. A decade or so later William Drummond discovered a secluded lake in the midst of the great swamp while hunting and named the peat-brown body of water after himself.

While leading a survey party in 1728 to draw the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina, William Byrd and his party— which included a young George Washington—nearly perished and their ordeal gave the Dismal Swamp its name. Thirty-five years later the Virginia Council granted a group of investors including George Washington and the Dismal Swamp Land Company over 40,000 acres of land.

Canal Building
In 1787 the Virginia Assembly passed legislation authorizing the construction of a navigable canal through the Dismal Swamp. Enslaved laborers cleared the land and dug the canal from 1793 until 1805. Upon Washington’s death in 1799, the executors of his estate purchased his holdings in the Dismal Swamp Land Company.

Although the community of Deep Creek prospered following the Great Dismal Swamp Canal’s opening, the enterprise suffered from competition following the opening in 1859 of the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canal connecting the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Virginia with the Currituck Sound in North Carolina.

The Civil War Era
A company of Deep Creek area residents attempting to defend the Great Dismal Swamp Canal from Union forces suffered great losses at the Battle of Frazer’s Farm in 1862. Both Confederate and Union armies used the canal as a transportation route, but they were not alone. As early as the 17th century and extending into the Civil War period, thousands of runaway slaves used the Dismal Swamp and the canal as a refuge and a route to freedom.

The 20th Century
At the dawn of the century William Camp purchased the acreage held by George Washington’s heirs and added it to his family’s timber company, Camp Manufacturing. In 1926, Leroy Norman Culpepper purchased 488 acres of farmland adjacent to the Great Dismal Swamp Canal near the village of Deep Creek.

Union Camp, the company formed by a merger of Camp Manufacturing and Union Bag, donated over 49,000 acres of swamp to the Nature Conservancy in 1974. It was the largest single land donation to date ever made for wildlife preservation. Fourteen years later, the Great Dismal Swamp Canal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2007, Culpepper Landing, a new settlement near historic Deep Creek on the banks of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal, broke ground.

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