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The Norvells

A second history by a different author

The Norvells

By Leo Brooks



We know little about the early history of the Norvell family. The family came from Scotland, and it appears it was always a small family, and is seldom listed in listings of family names of Scotland. We do know they were low-landers and farmers. They were also followers of John Calvin, Protestant reformer of the Sixteenth Century, Vestrymen of the early Presbyterian Church, and followed the belief and practice of a very stern moral code.

The low-landers suffered much from the raids of the highlanders of Scotland. They also suffered for being Protestants in a Catholic Scotland, and, as a result, their loyalty was with the Kings and Queens of England instead of their native Scotland. Sometime in the late Sixteenth or early Seventeenth century, the family was forced to flee to England, and became a part of the early group that settled the Colony of Virginia in the New World.

Our first written record of the Norvells in the New World is in 1637. We know they were there much earlier, probably as early as 1617, but they first appear in the written records in 1637 as owning a plantation in Warrosquyouke County (now Isle of Wight County), Virginia. Their plantation was located just south of Lawne's Creek on the James River. This is about fifteen miles south of the present day restored Colonial Williamsburg. They were already active in the church at Williamsburg.

In 1710, Hugh Norvell and eleven others founded the Bruton Parish Church at Williamsburg. The church has remained in active use as a house of worship since then. A mural tablet on the north wall of the church honors Hugh and his fellow founders. Pew #7 in the church has the vestryman service of Hugh, his son George, and his grandson William inscribed on the door to the pew. Pew #7 was the Norvell pew in the present church. In the old 1683 church on the same site, the Norvell family sat in Pew #21, so they had advanced in stature over the years. The Norvells had long boasted that the Norvell Pew at the Bruton Parish Church at Williamsburg, Virginia, was directly behind that of George Washington and his family. It ended up the other way around. The Norvells were part of the elite of Williamsburg, while George was just a common Virginia planter at the time, so the Norvells sat at the front of the church and poor George and his family did not rate a private pew, and had to sit at the back of the church with the rest of the common folks.


In Scotland, the Norvells had been the outsiders looking in. In Virginia, they were the insiders. William Norvell was a member of the Virginia House of Burgess before the American Revolutionary War, then a member of the Virginia Legislature after independence was declared. William Norvell was one of the leaders in the battle for American independence. In his day he was considered on the same level of the early battles of the war, and this probably cost him his rightful place in American History.

The British burned the Norvell Plantation to the ground and several family members lost their lives in the war. After the war, much, of what little was left, of the family gathered up their belongings and moved to Georgia for a new start. The one thing the war could not take away from them was their education. So they settled near Augusta, Georgia and became school teachers.

For the next eighty years they minded their own business, taught school, and were the pillars of their church and community, and raised their families.

Owner/SourceLeo Brooks
Linked toBruton Parish, Colonial Williamsburg, James City, Virginia; Family: NORVELL/BESOUTH (F0146)

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