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Robert Taylor

Fort Norfolk History - 1812

When the United States declared war on Great Britain in 1812, Virginia Governor James Barbour acted swiftly to provide for the defense of Norfolk.  Local militia units were summoned immediately to the harbor forts.  Five hundred Greensville County militia under the command of Edmund Lucas comprised the first unit from Virginia's interior to reach the port city.  The Greensville County men were sent directly to Fort Norfolk and remained encamped nearby for six months.  In February 1813, a British naval squadron established an anchorage at Lynnhaven from which it blockaded the Chesapeake Bay.  The British began making forays up the smaller tributaries of the bay. Raiding parties in search of fresh water and supplies harassed local communities and skirmished with local militia units.  On February 13, prominent Norfolk attorney Robert B. Taylor was appointed brigadier general under federal authority and placed in charge of the 5th Military District.  Taylor's jurisdiction included Norfolk harbor, and his authority   theoretically supplanted that of Lieutenant Colonel Constant Freeman of the Regular Army, the commander of Fort Nelson (Butler 1988:17-18; Parramore et al. 1994:144).

Taylor's appointment was apparently a source of contention.  Federal and militia units initially displayed a large measure of mutual resentment.  In September 1812, Lieutenant Colonel Freeman had ordered the militia company commanders to select from their ranks a "fatigue party to work within Fort Norfolk."  The aristocratic and parochial sensibilities of Virginia's militia officers were outraged at the prospect of their men performing manual labor under the supervision of federal troops.  "Such an order," they protested to the Secretary of War, "is an infringement on the rights of these soldiers."  They maintained that any work done at Fort Norfolk was the responsibility of contractors and, if need be, the Regular Army soldiers "quartered immediately in the fort."  The militia officers concluded by expressing their deep resentment at being "denied all the conveniences which they might enjoy and the accommodation the fort would afford them" (Records of the Adjutant General's Office [RAGO] Militia Officers at "Camp near Ft. Norfolk" to Secy. of War, September 9, 1812).

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Source of Information

A CULTURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLAN OF FORT NORFOLK, NORFOLK, VIRGINIA prepared for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District by the College Of WILLIAM & MARY, November 1995 under Contract No. DACW65-94-Q-0075.

David A. Clary's Fortress America: The Corps of Engineers, Hampton Roads, and United States Coastal Defense (1990)

William Bradshaw and Julian Tompkins's Fort Norfolk, Then and Now (n.d.).

The Norfolk Public Library vertical file of recent newspaper articles on Fort Norfolk.  Including articles by James Melchor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that describe archaeological and architectural findings on the fort property.