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Norfolk History, Virginia

Norfolk history is quite old – the area received its first inhabitants between 8000 and 10,000 B.C. Researchers have indicated that Paloeamericans had migrated to different parts of North America and even to parts of South America from the Sioux Falls region (the location of present-day city of Sioux Falls and its adjoining areas) around this time. Norfolk is believed to have been the site of the famous Chesepian city, Skicoak. By the time the Europeans (in case of Norfolk, English people or British) set foot in the region, it was a part of the Powhatan Confederacy.

Norfolk History – Under Colonial Rule

The region was under colonial rule for pretty long, for nearly two centuries – beginning in the first decade of the 17th century and coming to an end by the mid-1770s.

The initial days of colonial rule saw the region becoming part of the Elizabeth Cittie (one of the four incorporations within the Virginia Colony). When Virginia Colony was re-organized into shires by King Charles I in 1634, Elizabeth Cittee was made Elizabeth City Shire. Two years later, Adam Thoroughgood (a former resident of England’s Norfolk region who arrived in the colony in 1622 as an indentured servant) was granted sufficient land-holdings in this part of the shire. When Elizabeth City Shire was further divided into counties, Thoroughgood adopted the name of his place of birth for the county where he lived, christening it New Norfolk County.

By 1680, a township was established at the present-day city-site. In the meantime, the New Norfolk County underwent further subdivisions (at least twice in the whole course of the 17th century) and it was only in 1705 that the town of Norfolk was finally incorporated. 1736 has a special significance in Norfolk history for Norfolk was granted a royal charter as a borough in this year.

The second-half of the 18th century saw Norfolk becoming the most important city of the Virginia Colony. As the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, Norfolk was used as a base by the Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore. Lord Dunmore, however, faced defeat at the hands of rebels/patriots on the New Year’s Day in 1776 and had to flee. Norfolk saw a lot of destruction and devastation in the course of the few months during the war, but the eventful 18th century ultimately came to an end with Virginia breaking free from colonial rule.

Norfolk History – 19th Century

The 19th century did not begin very well for Norfolk – a number of waterfront buildings were gutted in a fire that broke-out in 1804 and this slowed-down the city’s economy. The mid-1800s saw Norfolk being used as a port of departure by black African émigrés.1861 proved another significant year in Norfolk history – the people of Norfolk voiced their support for the ordinance of secession and soon Virginia seceded (Virginia became a Confederacy with Richmond as its capital). This was one of the reasons that fuelled the American Civil War that continued for four years from 1861 to 1865. Although the city of Norfolk was surrendered to the Union forces by 1862 following the Battle of Hampton Roads, the Confederate forces put up good resistance and the clash of the two warships, USS Monitor and CSS Virginia was the highlight of this battle.

Norfolk History – 20th Century

The 20th century began on a positive note as Norfolk extended its borders. 1907 saw Norfolk being linked to Virginian Railway; nevertheless, it was Jamestown Exposition that brought more fame and recognition to Norfolk. (The exposition grounds were later developed into a naval air station during the WWI-years).

As the 20th century advanced, Norfolk not only grew in size, it also made progress in leaps and bounds. In spite of this, the policy of segregation followed as some Norfolk-schools continued to taint the city’s image during the 1950s. Although the desegregation policies adopted later restored the city’s image slowly, the exodus of a significant percentage of the city’s white-populace also caused the population to go down. The incessant efforts of the city’s leaders and common populace helped the city flourish and the result was that Norfolk is one of the most developed cities in the Commonwealth of Virginia, economically or otherwise – something that brings it the status of an independent city.

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