The Tidewater Area
There are many clues as to where the Norvells owned land in Virginia. Some are mentioned outright in land grants, others give hints.
An article, in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1937 shows a home named Riverview, which is stated to be the home of the Norvell family , it is located on the York River near Norges, Virginia. Additionally a tourist map of the Tidewater area shows a Norvell Mill on it.
Actual land grants show that Thomas Norvell received a land-grant of 700 acres in Warwick County on the James River on July 9, 1658. The land was described as “Bounded west with the James River, south with Queens Creek, Northly by the Skiffe’s creek, and eastly by the land of Capt. Hurd.” He also had 357 acres of land in James City County on the James River’s north side. This land was subsequently sold to Mrs. Lydia Norvell (the wife of John Norvell) on April 16, 1683 as recorded in the Land Office at Richmond. After carefully studying land records, the late Grace Norvell, an expert on the colonial Norvells, identified, in additon to Thomas on Skiffes Creek, the location of the land of Capt Hugh Norvell and John and Lydia Norvell. Capt Hugh’s land consisted of 328 acres in James City County, adjoining the York – James City county border, approximately where today’s Virginia Highways 199 and 143 intersected. John and Lydia Norvell had land on the Chickahominy River,northwest of Williamsburg.
With these clues in mind, my wife and I set out to find what remained of the Norvell lands. Of the above mentioned, the Norvell Mill was too vague as was the land of John and Lydia Norvell on the Chickahominy. Riverview House appeared to still exist near Norges, Virginia, the location of the two Virginia highways was clear and Skiffes Creek, was identified on the map, south of Williamsburg.
Driving down from Richmond on I-64, the land was open, but as we approached Williamsburg, the roadsides closed in on the highway, and soon we were driving through a “tunnel” of pine and scrub. It was easy to see one reason why Virginia, as well as much of the colonial areas, was important to England: Wood.
By the time of English settlement, much of the home island had been deforested. Wood was the gold of England (of course they took all the gold they could get from the Spanish, as well). Wood was used for ship building, which was important to an island nation, and for the manufacture of charcoal which was used heavily at this time. Wood was the first industry of the new colony.
Riverview House proved to be much too new to have been associated with the Norvell family, although a small pond on the property was intriguingly labeled “Lake Norvell.” Later research would confirm that the current building on the site had been contructed in the 19th century and updated about 1914, long after the Norvells lived in the Tidewater area. The intersection of the highways where Captain Hugh had lived about 400 years ago was unremarkable. It was then on to Skiffes Creek where Thomas Norvell held his grant.
After wending down US 60 south of Williamsburg, we found our location a town house development bordering Skiffes Creek. The townhouse area was a warren of roads which led finally down to creek side. There we found Skiffes Creek, which at least in this area was a natural wetlands preserve.
It provided a look back 400 years. Standing on its shores one was able see the land mostly closely to how those 17th century Norvells saw it.
There are moments that suspend time. This was one such moment. One could see, smell, and experience Virginia untouched and unspoiled. A young Virginia known only to its native peoples, and soon never to be the same. It was transcendent.
Skiffes Creek, looking north from the lands held by Thomas Norvell