Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




John E Selby


Colonial Norfolk, Virginia, developed a more diversified economy than much of the rest of the tobacco-growing Chesapeake. Through a vigorous trade to the West Indies in agricultural products, local merchants prospered, and in 1736 a group of the leading local traders received a charter incorporating Norfolk town as a borough. From that time until the Revolution, through the offices of mayor and aldermen, who corresponded to county magistrates elsewhere in Virginia, the founding merchants and their hand-picked successors governed the town.;Norfolk's merchant-magistrates retained their grip on the town's political and economic life until after the Revolution, despite competition from new arrivals who came to Norfolk after 1750. This influx of new men resulted from economic developments in the wider Atlantic trading world which fueled significant local commercial expansion and created tensions resulting in violence in Norfolk in the 1760s.;The turbulence of the 1760s played a role in determining how Norfolk's merchant-magistrates reacted to the growing imperial crisis. While the established leaders formed the core of the area's patriot group during the Revolution, many of the newer arrivals remained loyal to Great Britain. at the beginning of the conflict, Norfolk Borough was almost totally destroyed, and its merchants, patriot and loyalist, became dispersed.;Norfolk's patriot merchants provide much-needed aid in supplying Virginia during the Revolution, and their wartime careers placed them in a favorable position to resume leadership of the borough after the war. In the post-war years, while the merchant-magistrates lost their oligarchic hold on local government with the revision of the borough charter in 1787, Norfolk's commercial vitality resumed. By 1800, Norfolk's leading merchants saw their economic preeminence confirmed through the establishment of the Norfolk branch of the Bank of the United States and the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce in 1800.



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