Despite the recognized importance of historical factors in controlling many native species distributions, few studies have incorporated historical landscape changes into models of invasive species distribution and abundance. We explore the possibility that the current distribution of invasive species may reflect legacies of historical land use despite nearly a century of forest succession and subsequent disturbances. We evaluated the modern distribution and abundance of Berberis thunbergii DC. (Japanese barberry), a problematic non-native shrub in forests of the northeastern U.S., relative to two distinct periods of historical land use, modern forest harvesting activity, and environmental and edaphic characteristics. Species questions addressed in this study include: (1) Do patterns of historical land use influence modern barberry distribution and abundance? (2) What is the influence of disturbance type and timing relative to the timing of introduction on current barberry distribution and abundance? (3) Which disturbance, environmental and edaphic variables best predict modern barberry distribution and abundance? Japanese barberry occurred more frequently and was more abundant in sites historically cleared for agriculture than in historically wooded sites. This relationship was strongest for areas in agriculture in the early 20th century after barberry was introduced to the region. The strong relationship between modern distribution patterns and prior land use suggests historical colonization of abandoned agricultural lands and persistence through subsequent reforestation. Contrary to our expectations, recent forest harvesting did not influence the occurrence or abundance of barberry. Our results indicate that interpretations of both native community composition and modern plant invasions must consider the importance of historical landscape changes and the timing of species introduction along with current environmental and edaphic conditions.