Book Reviews -- Norfolk: The First Four Centuries by Thomas C. Parramore with Peter C. Stewart and Tommy L. Bogger

By Tarter, Brent | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, July 1995 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews -- Norfolk: The First Four Centuries by Thomas C. Parramore with Peter C. Stewart and Tommy L. Bogger


Tarter, Brent, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Norfolk: The First Four Centuries. By THOMAS C. PARRAMORE with PETER C. STEWART and TOMMY L. BOGGER. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1994. xv, 507 pp. $20.00.

THE city of Norfolk, Virginia, has been comparatively fortunate in its written history. In the first place, most of the public records since the first incorporation in 1736 are available. In the second place, so are long runs of most of Norfolk's generally above-average newspapers, although there is a serious gap in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. In the third place, the city's public library has assembled extensive, useful files on the city's history and people. In the fourth place, the city has always attracted attention as a seaport, railroad hub, and commercial and banking center and because it has a large naval base. Academic historians, skillful amateurs, and journalists have recorded various aspects of Norfolk's history in numerous books, essays, graduate theses, and in scholarly and popular articles, and its citizens have left a goodly legacy of private letters, diaries, memoirs, and informative photographs.

Norfolk: The First Four Centuries is the third full-scale history of the city since the publication in 1931 of Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker's Norfolk: Historic Southern Port, if you count separately Marvin Schlegel's revised and extended second edition of that title published in 1962. In all three instances, the city government has been partly responsible for the writing, publication, or distribution of the histories as a part of its official concern for the city's past and future. That is the principal reason why Norfolk: The First Four Centuries is very moderately priced by today's standards. Perhaps the city's official concern should be cited as an "in the fifth place."

As a city, Norfolk has a history that is scarcely three centuries long, not four, but the authors include a long and interesting section on the region before the settlement of the town site. This is a thoroughly researched, well-written, lively, entertaining, and comprehensive treatment of the city of Norfolk and its people. In every respect it replaces Wertenbaker's original and Schlegel's revision and would do so even if it did not bring the history right up to the present. The three authors adopted an ingenious middle approach between a strictly chronological history and topical analysis. …

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