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 George Washington

Fort Norfolk History

During the American Revolution the Federal Government was run based on the Articles of Confederation passed by congress on July 9, 1777. After the American Revolution the United States Army was disbanded. Trouble with the Native American tribes resulted in Congress passing a resolution on April 12, 1785 to raise one regiment of troops from 4 north east states. Then on October 3, 1787 a resolution by congress increased the size of the army.

After the current Constitution of the United States was created, the first congress passed a law "Chapter XXV - An Act to recognize and adapt to the Constitution of the United States the establishment of the Troops raised under the Resolves of the United States in Congress assembled, and for other purposes therein mentioned." which was approved by George Washington on September 29, 1789. This law only recognized the current force under the new Constitution.

Congress soon passed a law "Chapter X - An Act for regulating the Military Establishment of the United States." which was approved by George Washington on April 30, 1790. This law created the Legion of the United States which consisted of one Regiment of men consisting of 65 Officers and 1,281 enlisted for a total of 1,216 men. This Regiment was organized into four battlions (3 Infantry and 1 Artilery).

When this Legion of the United States proved to be too small congress passed "Chapter XXVIII.- An Act for raising and adding another Regiment to the Military Establishment of the United States, and for making farther provision for the protection of the frontiers." which was approved by George Washington on March 3, 1791. This law raised an additional regiment of infantry, which, exclusive of the commissioned officers, consisted of nine hundred and twelve noncommissioned officers, privates and musicians.

The Legion of the United States continued to be too small congress passed "Chapter IX.- An Act for making farther and more effectual Provision for the Protection of the Frontiers of the United States" which was approved by George Washington on March 5, 1792. This law raised an additional three regiments of infantry.

On May 2, 1793 Henry Lee (Govenor of Virginia) wrote George Washington about the need to the erecting some defence for the Town of Norfolk. Henry Knox (Sec. of War) wrote a response on May 10, 1793 stating that the President of the United States acknowledges the propriety of your observation which apply to all the important towns of the extended Seacoast of the United States, he finds himself restrained at present from directing any measures, which must lead to considerable expenses for which there is neither authority nor appropriation by the legislature of the United States. On May 21, 1793 Thomas Jefferson wrote to Henry Lee "The legislature has not considered the idea of putting US harbors on the defensive, which means that there is no money to do so and therefore the President cannot comply with the suggestion. The treaties with France and Holland do not allow them to arm their vessels in US ports, and such action should be prevented."


In the early 1790s, the newly constituted United States government found it increasingly difficult to distance itself from Anglo-French hostilities in Europe.  Great Britain's manufactured goods accounted for most of America's foreign trade-a connection that the new, overwhelmingly agricultural nation needed to maintain.  Yet, the United States and France retained close political ties based on their alliance during the American Revolution.  The French Revolution served to heighten the shared republican sentiments of the two nations and to further strengthen their ideological bonds.  In April 1793, President George Washington formulated a policy committing the United States to work toward friendly relations with both France and Great Britain.  However, he carefully stopped short of declaring complete neutrality.  Still, Washington's diplomatic pronouncement has traditionally (if not quite accurately) been called the "Proclamation of Neutrality" (Tindall 1984:297). 

Washington's policy kept the United States out of war, but it served to antagonize both Great Britain and France.  During the two decades preceding the War of 1812, the United States faced a narrow range of diplomatic options and at times seemed headed for war with each of the European belligerents.  The navies of Great Britain and France prowled the Atlantic, and their men-of-war sailed with impunity into Hampton Roads and Norfolk harbor itself.  These foreign warships posed a serious threat to the poorly defended Atlantic coast of the United States (Calendar of Virginia State Papers [CVSP] VII:30).  In April 1794, Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay as a special envoy to London to "settle all major issues" with the British (Tindall 1984:298).  The agreement that became known as Jay's Treaty eased tensions with Great Britain, but did not bode well for the immediate future of Franco-American relations.

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Source of Information

A CULTURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLAN OF FORT NORFOLK, NORFOLK, VIRGINIA prepared for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District by the College Of WILLIAM & MARY, November 1995 under Contract No. DACW65-94-Q-0075.

David A. Clary's Fortress America: The Corps of Engineers, Hampton Roads, and United States Coastal Defense (1990)

William Bradshaw and Julian Tompkins's Fort Norfolk, Then and Now (n.d.).

The Norfolk Public Library vertical file of recent newspaper articles on Fort Norfolk.  Including articles by James Melchor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that describe archaeological and architectural findings on the fort property.