History of Portsmouth, VA

Located on the western side of the Elizabeth River, Portsmouth, Virginia is located directly across from the city of Norfolk. John Wood, a ship builder from England, recognized the potential for shipbuilding in Portsmouth. John Wood sent a petition to King James I of England asking for a land grant. Shortly after John Wood got his land grant the surrounding area in Portsmouth was settled as a plantation community.

The Virginia General Assembly granted Portsmouth town statues in 1752. At the time a wealthy merchant named Col. William Crawford dedicated the four corners of High and Court street so a church, courthouse, market and jail could be constructed. The Town got its name from Portsmouth, England.

The Portsmouth and Norfolk area suffered greatly during 1855. Both cities suffered massive epidemics of yellow fever. At the time roughly one of every three citizens was killed by the disease. It wasn’t until 1858 that Portsmouth would become an independent city from Norfolk.

Owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Gosport Shipyard was opened at Portsmouth 1767. The head shipbuilder, Andrew Sprowle would ultimately call the ship yard the Gosport Shipyard Portsmouth. After the American Revolutionary War the Gosport Shipyard Portsmouth was purchased by the United States federal government.

When the American Civil War ignited, Portsmouth was no longer consider part of the United States of America. In 1861 Virginia joined the Confederate States of America. In an attempt to deter Confederate soldiers from using the shipyard the Union soldiers decided to burn it down. However, when they went to the shipyard to start burning it down they were met with armed opposition and were forced to withdraw to nearby Fort Monroe. When the confederate soldiers left the shipyard in 1862 they burned it to the ground.

When the Union forces finally recaptured Norfolk and Portsmouth they changed the name of the shipyard to its present name, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. The name Norfolk comes from the fact that the shipyard is in Norfolk county, but the shipyard still remains in its home place of Portsmouth.

Until 1963 Portsmouth was the county seat of Norfolk County, but when they city of Chesapeake was founded as a formation between the city of South Norfolk and Nansemond county thing shifted a bit. Similar upsets occurred when the city of South Suffolk was formed in 1974.

Portsmouth, Virginia is one of the oldest cities in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area. Much of the city is controlled by the U.S. Navy. Navy facilities like schools, markets, hospitals, and other tax exempt entities account for more than half of the city of Portsmouth revenue. This lack of revenue has put a strain on the economic development of the city, but it has steadily been improving. Recent donations to cause has led to an increase in improvements to the railroad and transportation systems in Portsmouth.

March 20, 2019, 2:48 am