Garrett Island, which covers 198 acres, was originally inhabited and settled by the Susquehannocks – the “tall, majestic” Native Americans to the north. John Smith may have visited the island in 1608 but there is no definitive documentation proving this. In 1622, the island was given to Edward Palmer as part of a land grant by King James I, and the earliest documented European presence dates to 1637 when William Claiborne established a trading post on the island. In the same year, Maryland troops evicted Claiborne’s Virginia traders from the Upper Chesapeake region and built Fort Conquest on what was then called “Palmer’s Island.”During the later colonial period, the island was farmed by a family named “Watson” and it eventually came to be called “Watson Island.” Watson Island was purchased by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) in the 1880s so a bridge could be built across the Susquehanna River at that point. The island was named after John W. Garrett, then president of the railroad.
Not much has happened on Garrett Island since. Over the years there have been a number of schemes to develop the island in various ways: condos, amusement parks, etc. A lot of public pressure evolved to insure that Garrett Island would never actually be developed.
This protection came just a few years ago when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the island and designated it a wildlife refuge. It is now part of the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex is located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. It is the most complete network of protected lands in our Nation’s largest estuary. It shows the importance of the natural world to the quality of human life; the value of, and need for, fish and wildlife management; and the human role in preserving and enhancing wildlife habitat. The Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex includes the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Eastern Neck NWR, Martin NWR and Susquehanna NWR. Other parts of the Complex are the Barren Island, Watts Island, Garrett Island, Bishops Head, and Spring Island Divisions.