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HOME An Unenviable Situation Buried Treasures Saving 'Rocky Horror' ... And Other Classics He Had The Write Stuff 'Straight, No Chaser' One Day Her Prince Did Come He Bought a Dismal Swamp
Granting Copyright

Believe it or not, George Washington, a surveyor by trade, bought this swampland for the purpose of developing it. The Dismal Swamp, in southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina, is a coastal swamp covering about 750 square miles. It once extended over some 2,000 square miles. The area is geologically unusual in that it is higher than the surrounding land, and water drains out of it rather than into it. At its center is Lake Drummond, about 3 miles across, which George Washington called "the pond."

'Prayer at Valley Forge,' ca. 1866 George Washington, first inaugural address, April 30, 1789

In 1763, Washington and several partners formed a company called Adventurers for Draining the Dismal Swamp, and the General Assembly of Virginia empowered them to construct canals and causeways through private land without being subject to suits for damages. The purpose of the undertaking was to harvest lumber while the swamp was draining and to farm the land once it became dry. Early developers including Washington showed little interest in the digging of a canal for boat traffic between Chesapeake Bay and Albemarle Sound, a project that was accomplished a generation later. Although Washington acquired land in the area and helped to finance some draining, his interest waned by about 1783.

Today, the area is still heavily wooded and is the home to numerous species of rare birds and poisonous snakes. Hunters and fishermen prize the area.

You can read about the Dismal Swamp, in Washington's own words and handwriting, by going to "The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799." The fastest way to find material related to the Dismal Swamp is to go to the Search by Keyword page. Type in Dismal Swamp in the search box and go to the drop-down box below and select "match this exact phrase." Press "search" and you will get access to 49 matching documents. These materials were recently added to this Web presentation, and the 65,000 documents available complete this project.

Papers of presidents are fascinating records of American history. The Library of Congress is home to the papers of 23 U.S. presidents. In addition to Washington, the papers of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln can be read online. These documents are presented as one of more than 120 thematic collections in American Memory, the Library's Web site of more than 8.5 million items of American history and culture.

Other American Memory collections related to Lincoln are "Mr. Lincoln's Virtual Library" and The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana. During February, when we celebrate Presidents' Day, it might be a good time to explore these and other "presidential" American Memory collections:

"Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929"

"The Last Days of a President: Films of McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition, 1901"

""I Do Solemnly Swear ...": Presidential Inaugurations"

"By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies"

"Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film"


A. Brueckner, artist. "Prayer at Valley Forge," ca. 1866. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-4036 DLC (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: PGA - McRae--The Prayer at Valley Forge (D size)

B. George Washington, first inaugural address, April 30, 1789. Manuscript Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: A115 (color slide; page 1)