History of Norfolk, VA


The modern day city of Norfolk, Virginia sits on the place that was once called Skicoak by its original Native American inhabitants. Long before English colonist began to settle in the Norfolk area, Chief Powhatan wiped out the Scioaks entirely. Spanish explorers were the first to settle in this area and did so briefly in the 1560s. English settlers reached Roanoke Island by 1585, but none survived until 1591 when new explorers found the colony.

The 17th century was busy for the area that is now called Norfolk. English ships landed in Cape Henry in 1607. The settlers from the ship headed inland towards Jamestown, which was the first permanent settlement in the New World. In 1622 200 acres from what is now the city of Norfolk was granted to Lewis Vandermill, who sold it that same year to a senior shipwright named Nicholas Wise. By 1634 Virginia was divided into eight shires and about 5,000 people lived among the shires in total.

In 1636, what is now known as downtown Norfolk was granted to William Willoughby by King Charles. In 1637 the first court of the area convened in a private home, which would continue for the next 25 years. In 1640 what is now the Norfolk Navy Base became the Elizabeth River Parish. In 1673 Half Moon Fort was built at what was then called Four Farthing Point and it  now called Town Point. The first church in Norfolk was built in 1698 on the site of present days St. Paul’s.

The growth of the area of Norfolk was rapid during the 18th century. George II incorporated the area of Norfolk and its surrounding suburbs into a borough and appointed its first mayor, Samuel Boush. In 1761 the first free public school was built in Norfolk and in 1776 inhabitants of the area assembled at the courthouse to form a group called the Sons of Liberty in an effort to propose the Stamp Act. As a result in 1776 English ships fired on Norfolk causing many of the buildings to burn to the ground.

In 1801  the first Continental Navy Yard was built in Norfolk. Norfolk was divided in to eight wards each with two councilmen to represent them. Embargo acts close the ports in 1807, but the act was repealed in 1809. In 1814 the Dismal Swamp Canal opens making trade between North Carolina and Virginia easier and further solidifying Norfolk’s position as a thriving port city. Norfolk was briefly considered a capital city when Virginia succeeded from the Union in 1861. At this time Norfolk was named the Capital of the Confederacy.

In 1917 the U.S. Naval Operating Base and Training Station is established. A total of 1400 sailors are transferred to the new base. Norfolk plays a huge role in both World War I and World War II because of it impressive navy base. Expansion of the surrounding road infrastructure along with the additions of a number of bridges and tunnels increase access to norfolk in the 20th century making it thrive both economically and in population density.


July 19, 2019, 1:25 am