The Dismal Swamp Canal is located along the eastern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina in the United States. It is the oldest continually operating man-made canal in the United States, opened in 1805. It is part of the Intracoastal Waterway, an inland route, which parallels the east coast and offers boaters shelter from the Atlantic Ocean from Manasquan Inlet, New Jersey, to Brownsville, Texas. The route runs through bays, lakes, rivers, streams, and canals, and includes the Intracoastal Waterway running from Norfolk, Virginia, to the Florida Keys.
In the Colonial period, water transportation was the lifeblood of the North Carolina sounds region and the Tidewater areas of Virginia. The landlocked sounds were entirely dependent upon poor overland tracks or shipment along the treacherous Carolina coast to reach further markets through Norfolk, Virginia. In May 1763, George Washington made his first visit to the Great Dismal Swamp and suggested draining it and digging a north–south canal through it to connect the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. As the first president, Washington agreed with Virginia Governor Patrick Henry that canals were the easiest answer for an efficient means of internal transportation and urged their creation and improvement.
In 1784, the Dismal Swamp Canal Company was created. Work was started in 1793. The canal was dug completely by hand; most of the labor was done by slaves hired from nearby landowners. It took approximately 12 years of back-breaking construction under highly unfavorable conditions to complete the 22-mile long waterway, which opened in 1805. At about the time the canal opened, the Dismal Swamp Hotel was built astride the state line on the west bank. It was a popular spot for lover’s trysts as well as duels; the winner was rarely arrested as the dead man, as well as the crime, were in another state. As the state line split the main salon, the hotel was quite popular with gamblers who would simply move the game to the opposite side of the room with the arrival of the sheriff from the other jurisdiction. No trace of the hotel can be found today.