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Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881
By George Holbert Tucker

Chapter 60

Norfolk and the Revolutionary Centennial

If it hadn't been for Michael Glennan (1844-1899), the owner and editor of The Norfolk Virginian, the original ancestor of The Virginian-Pilot, there might never have been a national centennial celebration at Yorktown in 1881 or a permanent marble monument at the same place commemorating the surrender of Cornwallis to the American and French forces one hundred years earlier.

Glennan, who began his career as a poor immigrant boy from Maynooth, County KIldare, Ireland, became the sole proprietor of The Virginian on March 24, 1876, when he was thirty-two. One year earlier, after the celebration of the centennial of the Battle of Bunker Hill, he began a one-man campaign to promote a similar celebration at Yorktown in 1881.

In 1878, Glennan began a correspondence with Hugh Blair Grigsby, the president of the Virginia Historical Society and the chancellor of the College of William and Mary, to promote the project. When this led to no definite conclusion because of Grigsby's failing health, Glennan decided to advocate publicly the proposed celebration in the editorial columns of his newspaper.

On July 8, 1878, The Virginian commented: "The 19th of October 1881, will be the centennial anniversary of the capture of Cornwallis, and the American nation owes it to itself and the memory of the men who achieved its liberties, that it should be celebrated with a pomp and circumstance worthy of the event it commemorates."

Glennan's personal crusade in The Virginian was hailed enthusiastically by the nation's press and resulted in a meeting of the governors of the thirteen original states in Independence Hall in Philadelphia on October 18, 1879. At that time, Governor Frederick W. M. Holliday of Virginia appointed Glennan, who was present, as commissioner to represent Virginia in appreciation of his services.

In that capacity, Glennan participated prominently on October 23, 1879, at a preliminary celebration at Yorktown, at which time he offered the unanimously adopted resolutions that instructed John Goode, the Virginia representative in Congress from the district that included Yorktown, to request the government to appropriate funds to erect a Yorktown Victory Monument and to plan for a four-day national celebration of the surrender of Cornwallis to take place at Yorktown in October of 1881.

In view of the enthusiastic national endorsement of the project that had originally been spearheaded and fostered by Glennan, Congress rose handsomely to the occasion and appropriated the funds for the monument, the erection of which had been considered by that body as early as October 29, 1781.

The centennial celebration at Yorktown on October 18-21, 1881, in which Glennan played a prominent part, was presided over by President Chester A. Arthur and was attended by notables from at home and abroad as well as thousands of patriotic citizens from all over the country.

On the Norfolk aspect of the celebration, Robert W. Lamb, editor of "Our Twin Cities of the Nineteenth Century: (Norfolk and Portsmouth) Their Past, Present and Future" (1887-88), wrote:

"On October 11 a proclamation by the Mayor requested an active participation by all citizens in a week of festivities from Monday, the 15th. He specially included the large fleet of British vessels lying at our wharves to participate in this celebration, as they gave our port "a great victory of peace, instead of the dread alarm of war which the British fleet created one hundred years ago." "It was a sight," Lamb continued, "to see the throngs by day wending their way through the triumphal arches adorned with appropriate mottoes and pictures, but a greater sight at night, in the full glare of the electric light, introduced into our city for the first time to grace the occasion, the old and staid citizen vieing with the child in merry amusement to honor our great centennial."


Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881

Norfolk Highlights 1584 - 1881

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