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Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881
By George Holbert Tucker

Chapter 52

Other Distinguished Visitors

Although Norfolk put out the welcome mat for Lafayette in 1824-25 and General Robert E. Lee in 1870, they were not the only famous visitors to the borough and city in its early history.

Leading the list was Benjamin Franklin, who as deputy postmaster of the colonies, visited Williamsburg on official business in 1756. Returning to Philadelphia by the way of Norfolk, he was made an honorary citizen of the borough on April 10, 1756.

George Washington was next. He visited Norfolk briefly in May 1763 while he was on an inspection trip to his lands in the Dismal Swamp. Thirteen years later, John Marshall, later chief justice of the United States, was in Norfolk for a short time after having taken part in the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775.

Thomas Jefferson arrived next, by ship, on November 29, 1789. He and his two daughters, Martha and Mary, were returning from France, where he had been United States minister since 1785. Mary, at least, did not like Norfolk, for the French-educated young lady burst into tears upon catching sight of the borough, sobbing, "Mais c'est bien different de Paris (But this is very different from Paris)."

Jefferson was followed by Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, in 1803-04. Moore didn't like Norfolk either, calling it a "disagreeable place," adding, "It abounds in dogs, in Negroes, and in Democrats."

James Monroe was Norfolk's next distinguished guest, paying the borough two visits during his two-term administration. The first was in 1818 during the celebration of the opening of the Dismal Swamp Canal. The second was a year later for the laying of the cornerstone of the United States Customs House at Wide Water and Church Street.

The eccentric John Randolph of Roanoke came next. He came to Norfolk to meet the USS Concord, which took him across the Atlantic as United States ambassador to Russia. While he was in Norfolk he was entertained at an elaborate banquet at the Exchange Hotel on Main Street on June 26, 1830.

The famous Indian chief, Black Hawk, and several of his warriors came next and created great excitement. They arrived in Norfolk on June 2, 1833, and were quartered in the Exchange Hotel. They were taken to visit the Gosport Navy Yard, where they were delighted with the 74-gun USS Delaware, which they dubbed a "great canoe."

Prince Louis Napoleon, later the Emperor Napoleon III, arrived in April 1837, on board the French frigate L'Andromede. He was the first guest to register at French's Hotel at Main and Church streets and was described as "a fine looking man, erect, dignified and masculine in person, but not resembling in features his late, great uncle."

Henry Clay next electrified Norfolk with his oratory in a two-day visit on April 24-25, 1844. He was followed by Edgar Allan Poe, who delivered his lecture, "The Poetic Principle," on September 16, 1849, in the Old Norfolk Academy on Bank Street. It was to be Poe's last public appearance before his tragic death in Baltimore one month later. Earlier in the century, Poe visited Norfolk in the company of his mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Arnold Poe, an actress.

On April 24, 1850, General Winfield Scott (Old Fuss and Feathers), the hero of the Mexican War, was entertained in Norfolk. Scott had also served earlier in Norfolk as a captain of a military company from Petersburg during the War of 1812.

President Millard Filmore came for a visit in 1851 and was followed on August 25, 1860, by Stephen A. Douglas (The Little Giant), who spoke to a crowd of more than five thousand from the portico of the Norfolk Court House (now the MacArthur Memorial). In recalling the event, John S. Wise, in "The End of an Era" (1899), said: "I drove into Norfolk, and seeing a great crowd assembled, paused and heard part of a speech by Stephen A. Douglas. I was greatly impressed by his tremendous voice, every tone of which reached me more than a block away."

Chapter 53
Education in Old Norfolk

Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881

Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881

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