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 Cannon firing at Fort Norfolk, Norfolk VA - Photo by Steven Forrest

Fort Norfolk History - More 1794

Shortly after Major Rivardi arrived in Norfolk in early May, the lack of funds and local political squabbling began to impede his progress (Clary 1990:20).  After reconnoitering Hampton Roads, Rivardi found "an extensive coast, requiring multiple points of defence."  Like Thomas Newton, Jr., Rivardi considered Old Point Comfort a crucial strategic point worthy of a significant fortification.  However, three decades would pass before the government made Old Point Comfort the keystone of Hampton Roads' defense.  Rivardi saw his task at Norfolk as a more extensive project than his Baltimore assignment.  He expressed concern over the fact that the money allocated to defend the two cities was roughly the same.  Governor Henry Lee agreed with Rivardi that the Norfolk defenses would require additional funding. In early June 1794, construction began on Forts Nelson and Norfolk.  On June 9, Secretary Knox wrote to Governor Lee stating that Rivardi' s request for an additional $1,200 had been approved and that the engineer could "proceed upon the principle of that sum being added."  Knox was grateful for Lee's support.  "Your attention to this important object," the Secretary wrote, "is acknowledged by all to have greatly facilitated and accelerated its progress" (CVSP VII:l74).

While Knox expressed his thanks for the governor's efforts in expediting the work at Norfolk, Thomas Newton, Jr. tried to paint an optimistic picture of the actual difficulties.   "But little done at the forts yesterday, and to-day the same," Newton told the governor on June 10, "To-morrow I expect a large party and have hopes of soon completing Fort Norfolk. I shall be down with them" (CVSP VII:175).  Between June 16 and 28, the earth removal crew at Fort Norfolk dwindled from 46 to five laborers (CVSP VII:201).  Progress was slow despite the best efforts of Lee, Rivardi, and Newton. As the scope of the project increased, local political animosities surfaced, and the supply of local workers proved inadequate.  "The inhabitants of Portsmouth expected all the means should be employed in protecting their side," Rivardi explained to Knox in July, "and refuse their assistance at Fort Norfolk."  In retribution, Norfolk citizens refused to work at Fort Nelson.  Some local residents opposed the construction project altogether, declaring that the forts were unnecessary (Clary 1990:22).

At the end of July, Secretary Knox informed the governor that the "sum destined for the fortifications at Norfolk" had been increased to over $6,700 and that the amount "would appear by Mr. Rivardi's representations to be sufficient, provided the grounds shall not cost too much" (Clary 1990:23-24; CVSP VII:237).  The 1794 earthwork at Fort Norfolk had been built on the riverfront property of Edward and Sarah Poole.  On May 21, 1795, the U.S. government and the Pooles came to an agreement wherein the latter accepted the substantial sum of £200 sterling (or $972) for a 4.31-acre parcel of their 18-acre tract (Norfolk County Records Deed Book 35:184).  Edward Poole had purchased the property in February 1794, only a few months before construction on the fort began.  The Fort Norfolk property had once belonged to one William Chisolm, a "British subject" and apparently a Loyalist sympathizer during the American Revolution (Bradshaw and Tompkins n.d.:9).

In 1779, Governor Thomas Jefferson had overseen the passage of a bill in the Virginia Assembly that authorized county officials to confiscate and sell the estates of persons who had left the colony at the onset of the Revolution and who had either never returned or who had failed to demonstrate their allegiance to the United States.  The towns of Norfolk and Portsmouth held the largest concentration of Virginia's otherwise small contingent of Loyalists (Selby 1988:59-61, 234).  John Greenwood Marsden had purchased the confiscated Chisolm property from the Norfolk County escheator before selling it to Edward Poole (Bradshaw and Tompkins, n.d.:9).

On December 9, 1794 Major John Jacob Rivardi, the engineer for fortifying Norfolk writes to Secretary of War Henry Knox. He states that all the guns at Fort Norfolk have been mounted and unmasked; the battery is now completely turfed and in perfect order; the barracks are already framed. He writes that the weather has been very favorable.

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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.

Papers of the War Department: 1784-1800. http://wardepartmentpapers.org