About 200 years ago, a unique flock of sheep found its home on Hog Island, one of Virginia's barrier islands nestled off its Eastern Shore. These sheep were already indigenous to the area and were believed to possess a significant amount of Merino bloodline. Over the years, there were sporadic introductions of new genetic influences, with the most recent addition occurring in 1953 when a Hampshire ram was brought to the island.
In 1974, The Nature Conservancy acquired ownership of the island and made the decision to remove all the sheep and cattle. However, Gunston Hall Plantation in Fairfax County, Virginia, emerged as the primary custodian of a considerable number of these unique sheep. These sheep became an integral part of Gunston Hall's efforts to authentically replicate 18th-century plantation life, offering visitors a glimpse into the agricultural heritage of the region.
The Hog Island sheep thrived and evolved over two centuries in an exceptionally harsh environment characterized by limited resources and the absence of medical intervention. Their resilience and adaptability enabled them to withstand the challenges of their island habitat, where they subsisted on a restricted diet and faced harsh climatic conditions.
Today, the legacy of the Hog Island sheep lives on, with approximately 200 breeding ewes predominantly located in Virginia. Their survival and continued presence serve as a testament to their remarkable endurance and their historical significance within the agricultural landscape of Virginia's Eastern Shore.