Skip to Main Content

The History of Hog Island

The prominent peninsula now known as Hog Island has long been a gathering spot for both wildlife and people, and the area has a rich colonial history steeped with ties to the founding of our nation. Today, the WMA is known for its scenic views of the James River and the large number of waterfowl and other birds that visit the site throughout the year.

The 3,908 acre Hog Island Wildlife Management Area consists of three tracts: the original Hog Island Waterfowl Refuge directly on the James River at the end of the peninsula, the Carlisle Tract on the peninsula’s east side, and the Stewart Tract which is also east of the peninsula across Lawnes Creek in Isle of Wight County.

15,000 BCE
Hog Island: 15,000 BCE

Evidence of people inhabiting this area dates back to before the end of the Pleistocene, the last major Ice Age. Though no artifacts this old have been recovered at Hog Island, the Cactus Hill site located in Sussex County, just south of Surry, contained some of the earliest evidence of ancient North Americans, and is even changing the way archeologists think about how we got here.1

10,000–8,000 BCE
Hog Island: 10,000–8,000 BCE

The archeological remains of the Paleoindian Period suggest migratory groups of people that settled for short periods of time in lowland areas near water sources. These groups primarily hunted megafauna for food but also foraged and fished.14

8,000–1,000 BCE
Hog Island: 8,000–1,000 BCE

The archaeological remains of the Archaic Period suggest a change towards a more sedentary way of life. As megafauna began to disappear, there was an increased dependence on smaller game as well as fishing and early agriculture. Although people were still migratory, they stayed longer at their sites and base camps along waterways and hunting and foraging camps inland.14

1,000 BCE–1600 CE
Hog Island: 1,000 BCE–1600 CE

The archeological remains of the Woodland Period shows a shift to a more agricultural based community supplemented with hunting with bow and arrow and gathering. With this agriculture, people began to build permanent villages and establish complex systems of politics, culture, and trade. During this time, Virginia was occupied by Siouan speaking groups in the piedmont region and Algonquin speaking groups in the coastal plain region that had complex systems of trade within and between groups. Trade in the 1500s began to include European goods.14

At the end of this period, the Algonquian speaking Powhatan became the dominant group of the tidewater region of Virginia, known to the Powhatan as Tsenacomoco. The Powhatan River (now known as the James) was named after Chief Powhatan, the paramount chief of Tsenacomoco whose given name was Wahunsenacawh. The Chief inherited rule over six tribes (the Powhatan, the Pamunkey, the Arrohateck, the Appamattuck, the Youghtanund and the Mattaponi) from his father, but expanded his rule to more than thirty. Chief Powhatan primarily led from Werowocomoco, located on the north bank of the York River.2, 4, 5, 10, 12, 16

Hog Island: 1606

In 1606, King James I of England (r. 1603–1625) granted a charter to the Virginia Company of London for the land rights associated with today’s Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. In December of that same year, the company’s three ships, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, left England for the “New World” carrying 104 settlers, including Captain John Smith. During the voyage, Smith was arrested for mutiny and held captive as a prisoner.3

Hog Island: 1607

In April 1607, the settlers arrived in the now Chesapeake Bay area of the New World and began exploring what they dubbed the “James River” in honor of England’s reigning King. 3

On May 13, 1607, America’s first permanent English settlement, Jamestown, was established on the banks of the James River, approximately 2.5 miles from the center of what is today’s modern Williamsburg and less than ten miles northwest of the Hog Island WMA. 3

The Virginia Company of London appointed a council of seven men (including John Smith), with Edward Maria Wingfield elected to serve as president of the council in the first ever election of the New World. Although he landed in the new world as a prisoner, John Smith’s appointment to the council by the London Company served as a catalyst for his release. 3, 9

Following their arrival in this foreign land, the settlers faced severe hardships including food shortages, disease, and skirmishes with the Powhatan Indians. In the fall of 1607, Capt. Smith visited native villages along the James River, in an effort to secure food for the colonists at Jamestown. 3, 9

In December, Smith was captured by a Powhatan hunting party and was brought before Chief Powhatan at Werowocomoco. Smith was ultimately released, and a relationship was established between the Powhatan people and Smith which effectively changed the course of history for both the settlers and Indigenous People. Smith’s reports of involvement by Chief Powhatan’s daughter Amonute (nicknamed Pocahantas) in this event are viewed skeptically by modern historians. By the time Smith returned to Jamestown only 38 of the 104 original settlers remained. 2, 3 ,5, 9, 11

Hog Island: 1608

Additional settlers arrived in Jamestown in January of 1608 which bolstered the population. Chief Powhatan began sending additional food to the colony. 2, 3, 5

Capt. John Smith explored and mapped the length of the Chesapeake Bay and many of its tributaries, including the area now known as Hog Island WMA. These explorations are commemorated by the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and resulted in the generation of maps which were used to guide the development of the region for centuries to come. 3

In Sept 1608, John Smith was elected president and head of the council of Jamestown. While the colony’s conditions did improve under Smith’s leadership they still relied heavily on trade with the nearby Powhatan tribes. When Smith’s diplomacy with the Powhatan did not result in trade, violence often ensued, food was taken, and tribal villages were destroyed. 3, 9

By the end of 1608, the population of hogs which had been released on the south side of the James River following the settlers’ arrival had grown in number from three to sixty. The settlers aptly named the area Hog Island and the first English settlement was erected. 8

Hog Island: 1609

John Smith ordered the construction of a blockhouse on Hog Island. Once completed, troops were stationed here to protect the colony’s hogs, trade with the local indigenous tribes, protect against potential attacks from tribes, and to keep watch for Spanish and Dutch enemy ships. This blockhouse no longer exists on the property. 13, 14

The relationship between the colonists and the Powhatan people degraded to such a point that during civil negotiations in early 1609 at Werowocomoco, both Smith and Chief Powhatan were planning each others assassinations. Smith was notified about Chief Powhatan’s attempt on his life by Pocahontas and while both leaders kept their lives, their animosity grew. 3, 11

Smith, injured in a gunpowder explosion, returned to England and Chief Powhatan seized this opportunity to attack Jamestown and war between the colonists and the Powhatan People officially began. 4, 9

Hog Island: 1610

Colonists endured the start of the First Anglo—Powhatan War (1609–1614) but due to the violence of the war, winter, and a seven year drought their food supply dwindled and disease spread causing many colonists to die. The remaining colonists abandoned Jamestown to sail for England. They spent the night at Hog Island before finding their path to the ocean blocked by the new governor of the colony, Lord De La Warr’s (also known as Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr) fleet. These ships carried reinforcements and provisions which allowed Jamestown to continue as a settlement. 3, 15, 17

Hog Island: 1614–1617

On April 5, 1614, Pocahontas and John Rolfe, a tobacco farmer, married with the blessing of Chief Powhatan and the Governor of Virginia. This act ended the first Anglo-Powhatan War and led to a peaceful period between English settlers and the indigenous tribes under Chief Powhatan’s rule. John Rolfe received a land grant on Hog Island and according to recent research, he and Pocahontas resided on Hog Island at some point during this time. 2, 4, 6, 7, 14

Hog Island: 1619

In late August of 1619, approximately 20–30 Africans arrived at Point Comfort (in modern Hampton, Virginia) by way of an English warship, White Lion. Their arrival is the first known occurrence of Africans in mainland British America. These men and women were captives whom had been removed from the Portuguese slave ship, San Juan Bautista, following an encounter the ship had with the White Lion and her consort, the Treasurer, another English ship, while attempting to deliver its African prisoners to Mexico. Historians suspect that the enslaved Africans were Kimbundu-speaking and hailed from the Kingdom of Ndongo in West Central Africa.

Shortly after the White Lion’s arrival at Point Comfort the Treasurer also arrived with additional enslaved Africans from the San Juan Bautista. Although the majority of these captives were ultimately taken to Bermuda for trade, records indicate that “two or three” enslaved Africans from the Treasurer were left behind in Virginia. It is suspected that the captives from both ships were transported to Jamestown just a few days following their arrival. The Virginia Colony’s first census, taken in March 1620, recorded 32 Africans, 17 female and 15 male, none of whom were named but all probably from the White Lion and Treasurer. Although slavery as an institutional concept did not yet exist in the colonies, Virginia’s first Africans were probably enslaved for life, though a few eventually became free. 19, 20

Hog Island: Mid-1600s–1781

As Jamestown continued to grow, its inhabitants began to spread out and settle the land surrounding the fort, including Hog Island. Several families went on to build small dwellings (none can be seen today) and farm the island for fruits, grains, tobacco and hogs.

In 1676, a rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon resulted in much of the capital town being sacked and burned to the ground. Despite this, Jamestown remained the capital of Virginia until its major statehouse, burned in 1698. The capital then moved to Williamsburg in 1699, and Jamestown began to slowly disappear above the ground. 14, 21

Hog Island: 1781

During the siege of Yorktown, the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War, the island was used as a commissary depot by the French and American forces. Cattle and other food supplies were brought to Hog Island to supply the troops involved in the siege. 14, 18

Hog Island: 1861–1865

During the Civil War, the Confederate Army erected a signal station at Hog Island and the area was reported to be forested with little development. 14

Hog Island: 1865–1895

Hog Island’s owner at the time Edward E. Barney established a residence called Homewood on the northern portion of Hog Island which eventually grew to become a postal town. The brick smokehouse is the only remaining structure of the Homewood development that can be seen today. 6, 14

Hog Island: 1895–1951

Hog Island was used as a waterfowl hunting refuge by a variety of private owners who enjoyed the plentiful waterfowl of the James River and the Island’s marshes. 6, 14

Hog Island: 1950

In November 1950, the Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries (now known as Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources) purchased the 1,716-acre tract for the purpose of establishing the Hog Island Waterfowl Refuge, which later became Hog Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

Hog Island: 1968–1973

Construction begins on Surry Nuclear Power Plant which is located just south of Hog Island Wildlife Management Area. Dirt removed during the construction was used to expand roads on the WMA. Power plant began operations in 1972 and 1973. 15

Hog Island: 1980s

Hog Island WMA becomes known as a premier birding location as bald eagles begin to make a comeback. The rich waters of the James River, home to a diversity of fish species, provide a plentiful food resource within the impoundments.

Early 2000s–2021
Hog Island: Early 2000s–2021

Multiple management and restoration efforts are implemented in an effort to control for shoreline erosion and its associated impacts on the WMA. With help of Ducks Unlimited, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the Virginia Environmental Endowment’s James River Water Quality Improvement Program, the most recent living shoreline project finalized protection efforts needed along the western shoreline. The project included beach grass and riparian buffer plantings, the construction of 7 new rip-rap breakwaters, and beach nourishment to form tombolos.

Hog Island: Today

To date, over 275 species of birds have been observed on the WMA, and it is considered a key habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl as well as shorebirds and songbirds alike. Furthermore, it is a well-known concentration area for bald eagles where nesting occurs on an annual basis.

The DWR’s Marsh Cam went live in the fall of 2022 with the goal of connecting students across the state to the unique tidal-marsh ecosystems of the James River. In addition to supporting the camera, the DWR continues to manage Hog Island for the provision of wildlife-related recreational opportunities as well as for the benefit of the many species that depend on its wetlands.


References Cited

  • 1 091-5026 Cactus Hill Archaeological Site. (2022, July 29). Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from
  • 2 Editors. (2021, March 30). Powhatan. Biography. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from
  • 3 Captain John Smith - Historic Jamestowne Part of Colonial National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service). (2015, February 26). National Park Service. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from
  • 4 Chief Powhatan | Historic Jamestowne. (2021). Jamestown Rediscovery. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from
  • 5 Chronology of Powhatan Indian Activity - Historic Jamestowne Part of Colonial National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service). (2020, August 24). National Park Service. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from,Chickahominy%2C%20Nansemond%2C%20and%20the%20Rappahannock
  • 6 DeChard, S. & Stantec Consulting Services, Inc. (2017, July). Hog Island Wildlife Management Area Written Historical and Descriptive Data. Historic American Landscapes Survey- National Park Service.
  • 7 Editors. (2022, April 4). Pocahontas marries John Rolfe. HISTORY. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from
  • 8 Hog Island Wildlife Management Area. (2022). The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from
  • 9 John Smith | Historic Jamestowne. (2021). Jamestown Rediscovery. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from
  • 10 Morfe, D. (2016, September 27). Captain John Smith’s Adventures on the James- Chippokes Plantation State Park. THE HISTORICAL MARKER DATABASE. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from
  • 11 Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend - Historic Jamestowne Part of Colonial National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service). (2022, July 15). National Park Service. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from
  • 12 Powhatan (U.S. National Park Service). (2021a, August 24). National Park Service. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from
  • 13 Quarstein, J. V. (2020, October 15). Hampton Roads Invaded: The Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars - Mariners & #039; Blog. The Mariner’s Museum and Park- Mariner’s Blog. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from
  • 14 The Louis Berger Group, INC. (2001, March). Cultural Resources Assessment, Surry Power Station. Dominion Resources, INC.
  • 15 Troy, L. (2016, June 16). Hog Island. THE HISTORICAL MARKER DATABASE. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from
  • 16 Werowocomoco: A Powhatan Place of Power. (2021, August 27). National Park Service. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from
  • 17 Wolfe, B. (2021, February 17). First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614). Https://Encyclopediavirginia.Org/. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from
  • 18 Yorktown. (n.d.). American Battlefield Trust. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from
  • 19 African Americans at Jamestown. (2020, August 4). National Park Service. Retrieved August 21, 2022, from
  • 20 Austin, B. (2019, August). "1619: Virginia's First Africans". Hampton History Museum. Retrieved August 21, 2022, from
  • 21 History of Jamestown (n.d.) Jamestowne Rediscovery Foundation. Retrieved August 21,2022, from