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Insights and Artifacts
Spring 2006 Courier

Norfolk’s Harbor: Then and Now

Norfolk, Va, harbor

Norfolk is a city whose very existence is based on seaborne trade. The Borough was founded in 1682 as a place where customs duties could be collected. Mostly destroyed on January 1, 1776, Norfolk regenerated after the War of Independence. The merchants behind this re-growth moved to Virginia to take advantage of the trade possibilities of Norfolk’s location as America’s northern-most ice-free port. A brisk trade with Europe and the West Indies led to rapid growth in the years after the Revolution. By 1800, Norfolk had become the tenth largest city in the U.S. and the country’s sixth busiest port. A series of economic setbacks followed. The Embargo of 1807-1809, the War of 1812 and the closure of British West Indies ports following that conflict all hurt the city’s economy. When the railroad reached Norfolk shortly before the Civil War, the port regained its significance only to be ruined again in the aftermath of that war. Cotton exports and later coal shipments brought renewed growth at the end of the 19th Century.

Norfolk, Va, harbor



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