Why is it called Fairfield?

It’s midnight and I’ve got Donna Summer on a loop and a cat that won’t stop until she has MORE FANCY FEAST NOW.

So clearly it’s time to write about a strip mall in Kempsville, drug trafficking, and the Caribbean island that gave us Rihanna.  Not sure how those relate?  Soon you will.  Read on.

Caribbean Drug Trade

Today when you say “Caribbean drug trade” people usually think of cocaine cowboys in Miami or those medieval catapults on the Mexican border propelling mary jane across the Rio Grande at 200 miles a second.  But the Caribbean drug trade is much, much older than that.  Three hundred years older.

Sugar and tobacco are some of the most addictive substances on the planet.  In the 1690s, Caribbean drug trafficking meant sugar and tobacco.  And these products were brand new to the European market.

Sugar: the crack of the 1690s.

One of the major producers of both was Barbados.  That little island was churning out incredible quantities of each.  But there was a problem: Virginia.

Compared to Barbados, Virginia was gigantic; the Old Dominion could churn out cancer sticks faster than anyone else.  And there was the undeniable truth that Virginia tobacco tasted better.  Virginia was no good for growing sugarcane, but who cared when you could grow gold in your backyard with a hoe and a pile of horse manure?

Barbadian planters tried to grow and sell their own tobacco in European markets, but nobody wanted Caribbean tobacco when they could get that sweet, sweet Virginia strain.  So smart Barbadians came up with a plan: throw some hogs and sugar and rum in a boat, take it to Virginia, and trade their tropical goods with the Virginians for tobacco that they could sell.  Or, better yet, they bought Virginia plantations of their own to grow high quality tobacco, and then traded it back home in Barbados for sugar.1  Processed sugar was a very new and tasty treat in 1650.

One family did just that.

Thomas Walke

Thomas Walke was part of a wave of Barbadian immigration to Norfolk and Princess Anne County in the mid 1600s.  Norfolk and PAC were ideal because they were on the coast: there was no long inland journey, goods could be taken to ships in a few hours, and Norfolk was already becoming a major shipping port back to England.2  

In 1662, Thomas used headright patents to get 500 acres of land in New Norfolk County (soon to be Princess Anne County).  Headright patents were a wacky early incentive to encourage immigration to Virginia.  Here’s how it works3:

  1. Beg, yell, or bribe your family to come with you to Virginia
  2. Round up some slaves or indentured servants
  3. Register with the Virginia Company for your trip
  4. Collect 50 acres of land per person that came with you

Item 4 was helpfully vague in the Virginia Company policy, and many colonists (like Adam Thoroughgood) exploited this policy to use their servants as access to more land.  In this case, Thomas Walke had no wife or children (yet), so that means he brought 9 slaves or servants with him.

He didn’t stop there.  Not satisfied with his first 500 acres, Thomas bought a second 360 acre plantation in Lynnhaven Parish in 1691.  As payment, he traded 6000 pounds of pork.

Now it’s time to switch gears.

Richie Rich of the 18th Century

Once upon a time, there was a toddler that lived in Kempsville.  He was the son of Thomas Walke.4  Shortly after Thomas bought that plantation in exchange for a metric crap ton of swine, Thomas died. 

Thomas must have sensed that the end was coming, because he wrote out a painfully specific will.  First, he wanted everyone he had ever met to have a ring.  And I mean that literally.  You get a ring!  She gets a ring!  Your sister’s barber’s turtle gets a ring!5

Second, he wanted his executor to buy his oldest son, Anthony, a plantation.  Sell his shiny new pig-plantation (I doubt they’d finished eating the pork chops), sell all the ships going back and forth between Virginia and Barbados, sell all the property in Barbados, and buy the most awesome, extravagant, amazing plantation money could buy.

There was also another son and a daughter, but the second son got a second-rate plantation in Currituck, and the daughter some furniture.

The executor did his job, and bought Anthony an 800 acre plantation called “Fairfield.”  And then he gave him the rest of his inheritance in cash: a cool million in 2018 dollars, and a lot of slaves.  A LOT of slaves.

It doesn’t stop there.  Anthony’s uncle died when he was a boy.  Thomas’ brother left Anthony 100 pounds (about $19,000 in today’s money) and another slave in his will.

Anthony was all set to be a Prince of the Universe at the tender age of two-and-a-half.

In Kempsville, you’ve probably never wondered why the vast shopping center is called “Fairfield Shopping Center.”  The name isn’t random.  Fairfield Shopping Center in Kempsville was built on the former site of Anthony Walke’s inheritance, Fairfield Plantation.6



1 Hatfield, April Lee.  Atlantic Virginia: Intercolonial Relations in the 17th Century.  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

2 Why not trade with South Carolina or Florida?  They weren’t successful English possessions yet.

3 Headrights.  Bob’s Genealogy Filing Cabinet, 2004, http://www.genfiles.com/misc-files/Lower-Norfolk-County-Headrights.pdf.  Accessed 17 March 2018.

4 The Virginia Historical Society.  The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.  Vol 5, Printed by William Ellis Jones, 1898.

5  In case you’re wondering, 20 shillings in 1694 is equal to one pound, which is equal to $192 in 2018 money.  That’s $2200 for jewelry.  He presumably wanted his relatives to make and wear mourning rings in remembrance of him.

6 Hawkins-Hendrix, Edna.  Black History: Our Heritage, Princess Anne County/Virginia Beach, VA.  Self-published, 1998.

Why is it called Norfolk?

When Adam Thoroughgood hopped off the boat in 1622, he must have been very confused.

He had just left Norfolk, England, which looks like this:

And landed in what is today Virginia Beach, which looks like this:

Actually, I lied.  The second picture is Norfolk, UK too.  But you believed me, didn’t you?

My point is, the Norfolk he left behind looked an awful lot like the place he had just adopted. So it makes perfect sense that when Elizabeth City County was subdivided in 1634, he suggested the new smaller county be called New Norfolk.  And when Norfolk County eventually became the city of Norfolk, well, here we are.

It’s one of history’s little ironies that Virginia Beach’s favorite founding father selected the name for one of its traditional rivals.


A History of Bay Island

Sometimes I start one of these blogs thinking “Eh, I know all about this already!  I don’t need to check the librar—Oh.  Oh.  Huh.  I didn’t know that.  Hmm.”

This is one of those times.


Bay Island is a small island in between First Landing State Park and Great Neck.  The island is about two miles long but only about a quarter mile wide.  As you can see in this old postcard, it is very narrow and now surrounded by water on all sides.

It is currently divided into two different neighborhoods: the older Broad Bay Colony in the western half, and Bay Island in the eastern half.  But just about everybody calls it “Bay Island.”

Way, Way Older Than You Think

Bay Island, Great Neck Point, First Landing State Park, the mouth of Lynnhaven Bay… all of these were originally home to thousands of Native Americans. Great Neck Point or nearby Bay Island were probably the site of Chesepioc, a major Chesapeake Indian village.  The earliest accounts of the Jamestown settlers mention their explorations of these areas, and their encounters with the local people.  English nobleman George Percy later wrote

At night, when wee were going aboard, there came the Savages creeping upon all foure, from the Hills like Beares, with their Bowes in their mouthes, charged us very desperately in the faces, hurt Captaine Gabrill Archer in both his hands, and a sayler in two places of the body very dangerous. After they had spent their Arrowes, and felt the sharpnesse of our shot, they retired into the Woods with a great noise, and so left us.

It’s likely the natives had already heard about the English antics in Roanoke.  Hence the attack.

Throughout the Colonial period and the 19th century, Bay Island was mostly marsh land, and still connected to Great Neck Point.  The northern boundary of Bay Island was a narrow channel called Long Creek.  The eastern half was probably tidal and only accessible some of the time.  But otherwise, this 1879 map by the Army Corps of Engineers clearly shows no division between Bay Island and the northern shores of Great Neck.

The western half of the land seems to have been higher and dryer, and a few people built homes here before 1900.

The 20th Century

Large scale development didn’t happen until the mid-20th century.

Broad Bay Colony was developed first, in the 1940s.  A small draw bridge connected the island to the mainland.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the marsh area along the southern boundary was heavily dredged.  A newer, deeper water channel was dug out of the marsh muck.  It was now truly an island.

Deck of a home in Bay Island, looking south across the canal to homes in Great Neck.

In 1959, a real estate company in Norfolk began selling lots to the eastern half of the island.  According to their civic league, “The first Bay Island house was built on Windward Shore Drive.  A 1962 aerial map shows about 33 houses on Bay Island.  Bay Island had almost as many canals as streets, with most homes having backyard waterway access.”

In 1960, Princess Anne County erected the tall bridge that we still use today to access Bay Island by road.  It’s worth noting the postal addresses people used at this time.  The USPS lumped Bay Island with the small village of London Bridge to the south, so everyone’s address was 1234 Road Name, Route 1, London Bridge, Virginia.

A 1991 issue of Real Estate Weekly says: “Across the water from Seashore state Park, and reaching in Broad Bay like the tentacles of a giant squid, is Bay Island, Virginia Beach’s answer to Venice.  Bay Island is canals; serene, secluded canals that invite you to glide into the neighborhood straight up to your own back door.”

The whole area is now so water friendly that you can hop in your boat on Bay Island and zip across to one of the many waterfront restaurants along Shore Drive and Lynnhaven Bay.


Time is taking a toll.  The homes of the 1950s and ’60s are giving way to massive redevelopment.  Virginia Beach citizens, looking for cheap deep waterfront access to the Chesapeake Bay, have begun demolishing the old homes to build newer, bigger palaces.  Take a long look at Bay Island the next time you drive that way – it will probably look very different in 10 years!

George Percy, “Observations gathered out of a Discourse of the Plantation of the Southerne Colonie in Virginia,” in Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes, compiled by Samuel Purchas (London: H. Fetherston, 1625) 4:1686-1689.

Wolfe, Brendan. “Indians in Virginia.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 3 Mar. 2018.