The first Norvell experience in Williamsburg occurred about 60 years after the family arrived in America: By 1700, the Norvells were a prominent Virginia family.
When the General Assembly of Virginia passed an act in 1699 establishing the City of Williamsburg, Captain Hugh Norvell was appointed one of the trustees that sold the half-acre lots in the new city. Hugh Norvell was still a trustee in 1705 when the act directing the building of the Capitol was passed. Hugh Norvell also served on the vestry of Bruton Church. Thus he had ties to both the state and religious life of the colony.
The current Bruton Church building dates from 1715, it is the third such church (the first was erected in 1660). On November 21, 1710, the vestry proposed the construction of the new church, as the second building was in bad shape. The vestry submitted a plan for one large enough to meet only the needs of parish. A plaque in the church today lists George and Hugh Norvell as vestry members. Hugh Norvell served as a vestryman at Bruton Church in 1694, 1697, 1704, and 1710-1715. Among the men of the Revolution who attended Bruton Parish Church were Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, George Wythe, Patrick Henry, and George Mason. Part of that prominent group was the Norvell family. It is from Capt Hugh Norvell that most of the current Norvell lines seem to descend.
The capital remained at Williamsburg until 1780, during the American Revolutionary War, when it was moved to Richmond so as to make it less vulnerable to a British attack. Throughout this 80 year period the Norvells continued to play a role in the life of the colony.
William Norvell a grandson of Captain Hugh served as a member of the House of Burgesses and was a signer of three issues of Virginia money. The James City County freeholders elected William Norvell for a term in the last House of Burgesses (1774), and for all five Revolutionary Conventions, also for seventeen consecutive annual terms of the new House of Delegates. In 1792, he was 66 years of age at the end of his last term in the House of Delegates.
Colonial Williamsburg today is a mere shadow of the city’s past. Although there were never more than 2,000 permanent residents, the town’s population swelled when the House of Burgesses and the colony’s courts met. Gentlemen arrived with their wives, the streets were filled, and the markets bustled. Several years ago, my wife and I stayed over-night in a guest house in the restored area of Colonial Williamsburg. Walking the streets at dusk as night settles in and, traversing the Bruton Church yard after dark takes one back to very different era. And, one can clearly imagine Captain Hugh Norvell and his family in the center of it all.