Suffolk is a city located at 36° 44’ 28” N 76° 36’ 35” W in the Hampton Roads area of the south east of Virginia. In area it covers 429.1 square miles, making it the largest independent city by land area in the state. Suffolk has land boundaries with the Virginian cities of Chesapeake to the east & Portsmouth to the north east, & the counties of Isle of Wight to the north & Southampton to the west, as well as with the counties of Camden & Gates in North Carolina to the south. It also has a water boundary with the city of Newport News, Virginia.
Population:- The population at the 2020 census was 94,324.
How to get there:-
By Road: From Norfolk & the east, take Interstate Highway 264 westbound, then US Highway 13/58. From Richmond & the north, take Interstate Highway 95 south to Petersburg, then take US Highway 460 south bound. From the south use Interstate Highway 95 northbound to Emporia, then US Highway 58 eastwards.
By Rail: A passenger rail service is provided by Amtrak from Newport News.
The nearest international airports are Norfolk International & Newport News/Williamsburg International.
Time Zone: Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5 hrs). Daylight saving time in summer + 1 hr.
Order of contents on this page: (Click on the links below)
Strange But True:
The area that was to become Suffolk was inhabited, at the time of the arrival of the first European settlers, by the Nansemond Native Americans, after whom the river that runs through Suffolk, and later the surrounding county, were named.
The Nansemond River was first explored by colonists from Jamestown led by Captain John Smith in 1608. Settlement of the region was first attempted in 1609, but permanent settlement was not established until the 1630s, and this was isolated tobacco plantations, rather than nucleated population centres (see Nansemond County section, below).
The first settlement in the area that would become Suffolk was the plantation of Richard Bennett who was granted 2,000 acres in 1635 between the Nansemond River at Sleepy Hole Point on the east side of the river, and the creek that bears his name today. Sleepy Hole was the name given to an inlet on a map of 1642, so this was probably already in use as an embarkation point by that time. It is known that a ferry owned by Robert Peele (1635-1694) was in operation across the river from Sleepy Hole Point to the west side of the river in 1657. This family owned several plantations and continued to run the ferry into the 1750s. There were still no settlements as such when a colonial merchant, Captain John Constant, arrived at Sleepy Hole Point in the 1720s. However, since 1700 the incoming population had drifted away from that location and had settled further upstream along the Nansemond River. In 1729 he built a wharf and warehouse there and used it for trading tobacco, lumber and farm products. This became an early meeting place known as Constant’s Wharf or Constant’s Warehouse (later run by his widow and known as Constance’s Warehouse). Memory of the original settlement remains in a tract of land adjoining the city cemetery where a house and grounds named Constantia are a faithful restoration of the Widow Constance’s home.
Although the records are lost, it is believed that in 1725 the Lower and Chuckatuck Parishes were united to form Suffolk Parish since they could not independently support a minister. It is known that by 1731 the name “Suffolk Parish” was in use, as it is recorded in wills. The name was probably adopted because the neighbouring county to the east of Nansemond County was known as Norfolk County. In 1742 the governing body of Virginia, the House of Burgesses, passed an Act allowing for the erection of a town on 50 acres of land at Constance’s Warehouse to be named Suffolk. So it was decided to build the town of Suffolk at the head of the Nansemond River, close to the Dismal Swamp and surrounded by flat country. This was actually in Upper Parish and not Suffolk Parish, and some eight miles further south from the original settlement area around Sleepy Hole Point.
The name Suffolk was already in use, but it is accepted that the new settlement also carried this name because Suffolk was the home county in England of the very popular Royal Governor of Virginia at that time, William Gooch. Although born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England, in October 1681, he was a member of a family of large landowners associated with St Margaret Ilketshall and Mettingham in East Suffolk. After serving in the British army, Gooch became Royal Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in 1727; a post he would hold until 1749. As well as promoting English settlement along the Shenandoah Valley, he was also instrumental in passing the Tobacco Inspection Act of 1730, under which the region’s tobacco crop was regulated and inspected, resulting in the improved quality of, and therefore greater demand for, Virginia tobacco. His administration was well received - it is said that he was the only colonial governor against whom no settler or merchant ever made complaint. In 1746 he was made a baronet and, as Sir William Gooch, he returned to England in 1749. He died in London in December 1751. As well as Suffolk, Gooch also gave his name to Goochland County, Virginia, whilst the city of Staunton, Virginia is named after his wife Rebecca’s maiden name.
In 1744 Suffolk was given greater prominence when the two parishes associated with it were renamed: Suffolk Parish became Lower Suffolk Parish and Upper Parish became Upper Suffolk Parish. After the Revolutionary War, the Anglican Church was disestablished in Virginia, and by an Act of the legislature in 1802 the parochial system was abolished. Suffolk became an incorporated town in 1808 and an independent city in 1910. In July 1972 Nansemond County achieved city status, but this lasted only eighteen months when, on 1st January 1974, it combined with Suffolk to create the largest city by land area in the State of Virginia, which also included the outlying incorporated towns of Holland and Whaleyville.
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The Siege of Suffolk took place between 11th April & 4th May 1863 during the American Civil War (1861 - 65). At that time Suffolk was under Union control, with the Suffolk Garrison stationed there under the command of Major General John J Peck (see photo, left). The garrison was manned by one division of the VII Corps. The Confederate side was commanded by Lieutenant General James Longstreet (see photo, right), whose objectives included the capture of the garrison, or failing this, to besiege the Suffolk Garrison & therefore free the surrounding area from Union forces, thus allowing his troops to forage the region for supplies.
On 11th April 1863, Longstreet’s forces, made up of three divisions of troops from the Army of Northern Virginia and North Carolina, crossed the Nansemond River & captured several Union pickets. At the approach of the Confederates, two more divisions of Union troops had been drafted in to defend Suffolk, together with two flotillas from the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron for naval support on the river. Peck organised the Union forces into a defensive ring around the city, aided by the fact that the Great Dismal Swamp & the Nansemond River formed natural obstructions to any would-be attackers. On 13th April the Confederate forces pushed their left flank to the Nansemond River and constructed a battery on Hill's Point, which closed off the garrison to Union ships. Another battery was also built at a bend in the river close to a local farm known as Norfleet House.
Two skirmishes during the siege are now often referred to as the Battle of Suffolk. The first began on 14th April, when one of the Union flotillas, under Lieutenant Roswell Lamson, opened fire on the Confederate battery at Norfleet. The Confederates returned fire, & in the ensuing battle the USS Mount Washington ran aground & suffered some damage, before the rising tide freed her & she, along with the USS Stepping Stones, were able to retreat. At this point, Union forces began constructing batteries of their own on the other side of the river & the following day, after a three hour exchange of fire, the Union troops were victorious & the Confederate guns fell silent.
The second Battle of Suffolk, also known as the Battle of Fort Huger, took place at Hill’s Point from 17th April onwards, when Union troops began attacking the Confederate batteries on the hill. Two days later, 270 Union infantrymen were ferried up the river on the USS Stepping Stones, before wading ashore & taking the battery without a shot being fired; capturing around 130 rebel troops in the process. After strengthening the post for the perceived counter attacks, the Union forces abandoned Hill’s Point on the 21st April, which was quickly retaken by the Confederates. Between then & the lifting of the siege, however, only minor skirmishes occurred.
The Siege of Suffolk came to an end when orders were given for the Confederate troops to withdraw on the 3rd May, with Longstreet’s soldiers marching to Franklin, where they would board trains for Richmond and Petersburg on 6th May, with the objective of participating in the battle of Chancellorsville.
The general consensus nowadays is that the Siege of Suffolk ended inconclusively, with no outright winner or loser. The Union side could claim that they achieved their aim of successfully defending Suffolk, whereas the Rebel side would point to the fact that they held the Union forces in check for nearly a month, allowing them to forage & gather supplies in the surrounding countryside unhindered.
In 1940 a major geomorphic feature of the Coastal Plain in Virginia and North Carolina was named after Suffolk, Virginia, when the geology in that area was closely examined. The Suffolk Scarp (in Britain the word “escarpment” is preferred) is generally 50 miles west of the present Atlantic Ocean and is composed of fine, pale yellow sand. It marks the limit of the Tidewater Area which is generally flat and low, composed of tidal marsh and large expanses of swamp. It is breached in several places by the great estuaries on the eastern seaboard of North America, and because of the coastal configuration can sometimes be found near to the sea and as much as 75 miles from the shore. It lies a few miles off the present coastline near Cape Lookout in North Carolina and then runs 200 miles (300 km) northward, demarcating the western limit of the Great Dismal Swamp, and as it nears the Potomac River in northern Virginia it lies just west of the southern part of Chesapeake Bay.
The Suffolk Scarp is the easternmost of a number of shore lines laid down during the Pleistocene period during recurrent incursions of the sea between glacial periods. It stands as a narrow, sandy ridge some 25 to 30 feet above the level of the Coastal Plain that runs down to the Atlantic Ocean. In the late Pleistocene, between 125,000 and 75,000 years ago during the Sangamon Interglacial, the sea level rose to about 28 feet above its present level and created the Suffolk Scarp. The sea deposited the Norfolk Formation sands along the Coastal Plain, and estuarine conditions laid down the peat that formed the Great Dismal Swamp. The sea level later dropped 300 feet during the last ice advance (the Illinoian), exposing the deposits on the flat ocean bottom and leaving the raised shore line as a ridge of pebbles and sand. As the glaciers melted the sea rose again to its present level, forming the coastline as we know it today.
These are three other populated places in the City of Suffolk that contain the name “Suffolk”, and all are designated official Subdivisions of the City.
South Suffolk has been designated a “populated place” by the US Board on Geographic Names since 1996. It is shown as 1 mile (1.7 km) south of the centre of Suffolk itself. However, it has no separate corporate existence from that of the “borough of Suffolk” (which is the original city before 1974). It does not seem to have defined boundaries, but is that part of the city to the south of Downtown Suffolk.
East Suffolk Gardens has also been designated a “populated place” by the US Board on Geographic Names since 1996. It is located on the easternmost part of the original city of Suffolk, adjacent to the Great Dismal Swamp. It consists of a number of roads around two main thoroughfares (Lake Kennedy Drive and Truman Road) that run north from White Marsh Road. The development comprises starter homes built in the early 1970s.
Suffolk Meadows has yet to be recognised as an official “populated place”, but it is without doubt a community separate from any other place, with a population recorded as 744 in 2020. It is located in rural countryside between two headwaters of Bennett’s Creek which is a 7.3 mile (11.7 km) long tributary of the Nansemond River, to the north of the Nansemond Parkway and west of County Road 626 (also known as Shoulders Hill Road).
This area has always been a rural part of Virginia of isolated farms in between extensive woodland. There was no real central community to which it was attached. The nearest named location was Shoulder’s Hill just to the southeast of Suffolk Meadows where two main thoroughfares crossed. A Baptist Church was organised here in 1786 on land owned by a man with the name of Shoulder.
In 1997 two property developers, John W “Chip” Iuliano III and Emil A Wiola, acquired the farmland and woods and formed the Suffolk Meadows limited liability company to develop two residential communities either side of the Commonwealth Railroad: Suffolk Meadows and Suffolk Meadows East. Construction began in 1998, first at Suffolk Meadows East, then from 1999 it continued in both areas simultaneously. Over the next five years 240 houses were built. The sister communities both have similar housing styles and comprise 40 houses in Suffolk Meadows East and 200 in Suffolk Meadows. In November 1999 the two communities merged as Suffolk Meadows, although there is no direct contact between the two, being separated by the railroad and the Nansemond Parkway. Suffolk Meadows East can only be accessed from Shoulders Hill Road while the original Suffolk Meadows can be accessed from both Shoulders Hill Road and the Nansemond Parkway.
Situated in the City of Suffolk, the name adopted is self-explanatory. The roads have a “medieval court theme”: the main thoroughfare in the original Suffolk Meadows is named Suffolk Meadows Boulevard, around which are Kings Reach, Crown Arch, Baron Boulevard, Princess Arch, Dutchess Way, and Armor Way, with Round Table Arch, Count Crescent and Page Place in Suffolk Meadows East. A man-made lake provides a recreational facility, with some houses along Suffolk Meadows Boulevard and Baron Boulevard fronting onto the lake. This has been named Lake Ipswich after the county town of the historic county of Suffolk in England (see Lake Ipswich, Virginia page on Planet Suffolk’s sister site ). The residents have their own homeowners’ association which is responsible for the lake, wetlands and common areas.
Nearby on the Nansemond Parkway is the Florence Bowser Elementary School and State Historical Marker commemorating Florence Bowser (died 1949). She was a noted educator who raised funds to have a school constructed in 1920 for the black community. She herself taught at this school which is now an historic landmark. The present school was built adjacent to it in 1963.
Under Virginian law when multiple local governments merge to form a consolidated city, the new entity may be divided into geographical subdivisions called “boroughs”. Suffolk is divided into seven boroughs, one corresponding to the former city of Suffolk and one corresponding to each of the six magisterial districts of the former Nansemond County. The city is required to redraw its boroughs after each census to make sure they are roughly equal in population (called “redistricting” in the USA). Because of Virginia’s legacy of racial segregation, the map must be cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice for approval to be sure it does not violate the Voting Rights Act. Whilst the boroughs remain basically the same, neighborhoods along the boundaries are cut up and moved from one borough to another along racial lines in order to achieve racial parity by making three boroughs majority-white, three majority-black, and one a “toss-up”.
Five boroughs are named after their historic district or community: Suffolk, Chuckatuck, Sleepy Hole, Holy Neck and Whaleyville; Nansemond recalls the historic county and original Native Americans, and Cypress reflects the cypress forests adjacent to the Great Dismal Swamp. The population of the boroughs is given below before and after “redistricting” following the 2010 census.
Chuckatuck Borough is located in the north western part of the City of Suffolk west of the Nansemond River, at the headwaters of Chuckatuck Creek, a major waterway which empties into Hampton Roads at the mouth of the James River. The name Chuckatuck is of Native American origin and means ‘crooked creek’. The population of the borough in 2010 was 13,216, after “redistricting” it became 12,479.
Chuckatuck is also a hamlet located at the junction of State Route 10/State Route 32 and State Route 125, just south of where SR 10/32 crosses Chuckatuck Creek. Chuckatuck is considered to be the first proper settlement in what became Nansemond County. The current settlement dates from soon after a 1635 land grant to Richard Bartlett, who built a grist mill at the head of Chuckatuck Creek, and there is a record in the Admiralty Court, London, in 1639 of a Thomas Davis as a ‘Merchant of Chuckatuck in Virginia aged 26’. Its first church was St John’s, built in 1642 about one mile east of the village. The present church, the third on this site, was constructed in 1756.
Nansemond Indians continued to occupy lands along Chuckatuck Creek until 1648, when they were then confined to reservations. Farmers of European descent then entered to work the fields. Many of the early plantations/large farms were within a short distance of the grist mill, and it is possible that a store was built there in the 1640s to serve their needs. Early settlers grew a variety of subsistence crops, but the river offered good transportation facilities for their farm products and tobacco soon became the major cash crop.
The most prominent settlers in Chuckatuck were the Godwin family. The earliest member of this family, Thomas Godwin (died 1677/8), had come to Virginia before 1650 and in 1654 he was a member of the Nansemond County Court, and represented the county in the House of Burgesses that year and the next. Thomas Godwin’s first grant in Nansemond was in 1655. This and later grants were “at Chuckatuck” and there were a number of grants to him and his son in both Nansemond and Isle of Wight counties. His homestead was on the border of the two counties and, in 1674, when the General Assembly drew the line between Isle of Wight and Nansemond counties it stipulated “that the house and grounds of Capt. Thomas Godwin, bee . . . in the county of Nanzemond”.
Godwin-Knight House: This is an historic home located at Chuckatuck. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. It was the boyhood home of Mills Edwin Godwin, Jr. (see separate section, below), twice governor of Virginia.
The tract of land upon which the Godwin-Knight House stands was acquired by the Godwin family in 1780, when Henry Godwin owned 441 acres in the vicinity of Chuckatuck. In 1815 his estate was divided between the family, and in 1856 this particular 1½ acre plot of land was sold to Edward Wicks who built the original two storey, three bay frame house in the Federal style with two exterior end chimneys. The property passed through several hands before Charles B Godwin, a successful businessman, boat owner, farmer, and timberman, acquired it in 1898. He then elaborately remodeled the house in the Queen Anne style. It is now a 2½ storey, three-bay, frame dwelling. It features a wrap-around front porch, a large dormer balcony and a corner tower with conical roof. In 1946 the property passed to Mildred Godwin Knight, a married daughter of the previous owner, whose family still lives there, hence its present name.
Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson: These are three close-knit, historic communities sharing a history of life on the water. The villages are located at the end of a peninsula bounded by the Nansemond River, Chuckatuck Creek and the James River. Small, isolated communities of fishermen and oystermen had probably congregated here from early in the 17th century. The peninsula location and relative isolation helped to establish the communities as self reliant with an economy dependent on the abundant resources provided by the three rivers. As such, this area was different from the farming and plantation economy found elsewhere in Nansemond County.
The early settlers at what would become Crittenden and Eclipse were primarily of European ancestry. However, in 1865, at the close of the American Civil War, a band of African-Americans fled from the Yorktown refugee camp in Virginia because of threats from white vigilantes, and settled at a location originally called Barrett’s Neck just to the south of Crittenden and Eclipse. The African-Americans also drew their livelihood from the rivers as oystermen, although they supplemented their income by carrying out seasonal work on white-owned farms.
The villages only received their present names when post offices opened in the late 19th century. Crittenden was founded in 1873, possibly named after John Crittenden, a prominent politician from Kentucky who tried to mediate between the opposing sides in the recent Civil War, and had died in 1863. Eclipse remained part of Crittenden until 1910 when it was given a separate post office; the residents chose the name from a solar eclipse seen in this part of Virginia in 1900. The African-Americans of Barrett’s Neck gained a post office in 1898 which took its name from Richard Pearson Hobson, a naval hero of the recently concluded Spanish American War.
The inhabitants continued their traditional way of life based on the water resources right up until the 1970s. However, pollution and disease killed off most of the oyster beds; the damming of creeks and cutting new channels along the James River affected the currents. These caused such a rapid decline in the economy that, by the 1980s, the traditional water-based industries had ceased to be viable. To a large extent the area is now being preserved to serve both as a recreational and historic region, and new residential development is being encouraged since modern communications have reduced the area’s isolation.
Until 1928 there was only one road providing access to the peninsula from Chuckatuck and the rest of Nansemond County. All the tracks leading off this road ended in dead-ends by the water’s edge. In 1928 the James River Bridge Corporation built a three bridge system that included crossings of the James River, the Nansemond River and the Chuckatuck Creek. This brought the present US Route 17 to the peninsula and connections to the rest of Virginia. The original bridges were replaced in 1982 and 1988: the Nansemond River Bridge crosses that river from the northeastern part of the City of Suffolk to Crittenden; US 17 passes through the community of Crittenden before using the Crittenden Bridge to cross Chuckatuck Creek into Isle of Wight County. The Crittenden Bridge is officially named the Sydney Hazelwood III Bridge and the Nansemond River Bridge is officially the Mills E. Godwin Bridge, both being named after prominent members of the Crittenden community.
Cypress Borough is on the eastern edge of Suffolk and substantially comprises that part of the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge that is in the City of Suffolk. The major population area is in the north of the borough and includes , and Shoulder’s Hill (see above). The population of the borough in 2010 was 9,877, after “redistricting” it became 11,633.
Glebe Church: Glcbe Church lies above the west fork of Bennett’s Creek about half a mile east of Driver on Route 337. In 1640, Percival Champion, an original settler, donated 450 acres to build an Anglican Church. This was constructed around 1643, and became the parish church of the East or Lower Parish. In 1737-38, because of its ‘ruinous condition’, a new brick church was built to replace the original one. The new church, the present Glebe Church, was regarded as the parish church of Suffolk Parish, and was originally known as Bennett’s Creek Church. After the Disestablishment of the Anglican Church, Bennett’s Creek Church retained its glebe lands on the grounds that they had been a private donation to the church and not purchased by the vestry. Since that time, it has been known as Glebe Church. Because it retains its original glebe lands, the church is something of an historic rarity. It is located a little further west of the Bowser School (see Suffolk Meadows, above).
Holy Neck Borough
No one knows the exact date when religious services were first held at the spot known as “Holy Neck”. Tradition has maintained that when European settlers reached the area, Native Americans were using the neck of land between two swamps as a place of worship, and possibly also as a burying place. The Society of Friends or “Quakers” held meetings here as early as 1672. A chapel was built there in 1747, and subsequent churches have also been built on this neck of land.
The Holy Neck Borough was established when Nansemond and Suffolk merged in 1974, and comprises the western part between the former city of Suffolk and Isle of Wight County. The only substantial community in the borough is the former incorporated town of Holland (see below). The population of the borough in 2010 was 10,483, after “redistricting” it became 12,122.
Holland:Holland is a formerly incorporated town that became part of the City of Suffolk after the latter’s consolidation with Nansemond County in 1974. The population at the 2000 census was just under 4,000. It is located around 12 miles to the southwest of Suffolk.
The name derives from the Holland family who emigrated from England to Massachusetts in 1630. Capt. John Holland (1602-1652) was born in Plymouth, England, and arrived with his family at Nantucket Point in May 1630 on board the ship ‘Mary & John’. Capt. John Holland is known to have travelled to Virginia, but it was his son, John Jr. (1628-1710), who moved to Jamestown in 1645. He was a major in the Virginia militia in 1654 and became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in that same year. He moved to Nansemond County in 1663 where he had patented 2500 acres of land on the basis that he would bring 60 persons from England to the colony.
Major John Holland settled and founded the Fighting Cock Plantation along Chuckatuck Creek. His sons, Henry and Joseph were the first to come south to the area around Somerton Creek, c.1674. In 1683 John Holland patented several grants of land adjacent to the “Kingsale Swamp” on the boundary with Isle of Wight County. One of these included a portion of the area where the village of Holland later developed. Members of the family obtained later patents in the same area, particularly James Holland, a grandson of John Holland, in the 1730s.
The Holland family became prosperous farmers in the area who encouraged others to settle nearby, but it remained a land of isolated farms until the late 19th century, with an economy based on agriculture and the lumber industry. Augustus H. Holland (1801-1888) owned all the land around the cross roads, and this is where the only store was opened. It became known as Holland’s Crossroads, then later, Holland’s Corner. In 1888 the Atlantic and Danville Railroad laid its tracks about ¼ mile to the south of Holland’s store. With the coming of the railroad and a depot at this point, a village developed, adding Holland Baptist Church (the first church in the area) and a post office. By 1900 the local population had increased enough for the area to be incorporated into the town of Holland. Four of the first six men on the town council were also named Holland. Today Holland has lost its incorporated status, and is part of Holy Neck Borough, but it still survives as a commercial centre for the surrounding region.
This area was part of an original grant given by King Charles I to the brothers Thomas and James Burbage in 1637, whose name is remembered by the precinct neighborhood of Burbage Grant. The borough is one of those that has seen its population increase by over 30% since the 2000 census because of its proximity to the high-tech corridor and the Portsmouth metropolitan spread. It is conveniently located by Interstate 664 and the Monitor Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel communications link to the rest of Hampton Roads. Since the mid-1980s, planned communities, such as Harbour View and Burbage Grant, have been developed that provide extensive housing and enjoy scenic views of the Nansemond and James Rivers. The population of Nansemond Borough in 2010 was 16,173, after “redistricting” it became 11,861.
Belleville: Belleville is an unincorporated community in Nansemond Borough. It is located at the junction of Interstate 664, US Route 17, and State Route 164. Until the present modern-day planned communities were built, Belleville was the only settlement in this part of Nansemond County. However, it is probably better known for being the headquarters of The Church of God and Saints of Christ. This is a Black Hebrew Israelite religious group established in Kansas by William Saunders Crowdy in 1896. In 1892 Crowdy had a vision which he believed to be from God calling on him to lead his people to the true religion. Black Hebrew Israelites are groups of black people, mainly in the United States, who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. In 1903 Crowdy purchased 40 acres in Belleville which he intended to be the International Headquarters for the congregation. In 1921 William Henry Plummer finally moved the organisation’s headquarters to its permanent location in Belleville.
Sleepy Hole Borough
The territory on the east side of the Nansemond River between Sleepy Hole and Bennett’s Creek was the first area of European settlement in what became Nansemond County. A series of land grants, beginning June 1635, handed the land around Bennett’s Creek to a group of Puritans led by Richard and Robert Bennett. By 1640 Richard Bennett had accumulated thousands of acres of land in Virginia and Maryland and imported 600 settlers, many of them Puritans. Richard Bennett established a base of political influence, and after the English Civil War, he became the first Puritan governor of Virginia (1652-1655). His home was located on Bennett’s Creek.
During the 17th century Sleepy Hole was the main centre for commerce in Nansemond County although there was as yet no towns or villages. Isolated tobacco plantations formed the basis for settlement and these were largely self-sufficient. Sleepy Hole Point, the place where the ferry crossed the Nansemond River, became a meeting point for trade, but by 1700 the population had begun moving further upstream to where the town of Suffolk would later be built.
For the next 300 years Sleepy Hole remained a backwater, but the development of planned communities, such as Belleharbour, serving the high-tech corridor around Portsmouth and Hampton Roads, heralded a massive population growth at the turn of the 20th century. Sleepy Hole’s population rose by 9,000 to 16,553 in the ten years to 2010; after “redistricting” it became 12,324.
Driver:Driver is an unincorporated community in Sleepy Hole Borough. The village was located on a 1635 land grant to colonial governor Richard Bennett who lived nearby. Originally known as Persimmon Tree Orchard, it was located at the intersection of two important travel routes, and it first developed as a crossroads community by the eighteenth century as a half-way stop for the stagecoach service between Suffolk and Portsmouth. The present-day village emerged in the late 19th century with the construction of the railroad. A depot stop was established along the new Norfolk and Carolina Railroad, later called the Atlantic Coast Line, which came through Nansemond County in 1887. With the coming of the railroads, Civil War veteran E.J. Driver saw an opportunity and opened a store in 1891. It was at this time that the small settlement was renamed Driver or Driver’s Station. This became the centre of a prosperous truck farming community, supplying vegetables to northern markets. With the emergence of the peanut industry in Nansemond County in the early 20th century, farmers also began growing peanuts. Amedeo Obici, founder of The Planters Peanut Company (see below), built his large country home west of Driver in 1924.
The parish church for the East, or Lower Parish, was originally built in 1643 on Bennett’s Creek about half a mile east of Driver (see Glebe Church, above).
This borough is the core urban area of the former Independent City of Suffolk established on 1st October 1910. The city gained three small areas from the surrounding Nansemond County in 1916, 1926 and 1928 but otherwise it remained the same until the merger with that county in 1974. The creation of boroughs for the new City of Suffolk in 1974 turned the former city into Suffolk Borough. The boundaries of this borough do not coincide with the previous city boundary because of the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. This attempts to achieve ethnic and population parity between the various subdivisions of a political entity. As a consequence, parts of the former city are now in adjoining boroughs: East Suffolk Gardens is in Cypress Borough; and South Suffolk is in Whaleyville Borough. The population of Suffolk Borough in 2010 was 9,060, after “redistricting” it became 12,565.
Formerly an incorporated town, Whaleyville was located in Nansemond County until this was amalgamated with the City of Suffolk in 1974. It is situated approximately 12 miles to the south of Suffolk and to the west of the Great Dismal Swamp, close to the North Carolina state line. The town was incorporated in 1950. The population in 2000 was just over 1,400. In 1995 the Whaleyville Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
By 1847 the land in the present Whaleyville area had begun to be developed for both farming and logging. The name derives from Seth Mitchell Whaley (1821-1901) who purchased a farm in this area in 1877, and built a sawmill to service his lumber business. Seth Whaley was born in Whaleyville, Maryland, which was named after his father, Capt. Peter Whaley, who was a successful general businessman, particularly in the shingle trade and coastal shipping. Seth Whaley sold the timber rights of his land in Suffolk, Virginia, to the Jackson Brothers in Maryland who established a modern lumber mill and brought workers here from Maryland. The construction of the Norfolk and Carolina Railroad through Whaleyville in 1884 to help transport and market the lumber products further sparked the growth of the village. The Jackson Brothers moved their operations to North Carolina in 1919, but Whaleyville remained a centre of the agricultural and lumbering trade.
Whaleyville Borough stretches from the southern suburbs of the former city of Suffolk (South Suffolk) down to the North Carolina State line. It had a population of 9,223 at the 2010 census; after “redistricting” it became 11,601. The borough also contains the Somerton Historic District and Cypress Chapel (see below).
Somerton:The village of Somerton in Whaleyville Borough began in the 17th century when Sir Thomas Jernigan (1614-1668) came to Virginia in 1635 on the ship ‘True Love’ and was later granted 250 acres in Nansemond County. The Jernigan (also spelled Jarnigan) family originally came from Somerleyton, Suffolk, England, where they were the lords of the manor. Thomas Jernigan was probably a younger son and not likely to inherit the manor, so saw a future for himself in the New World. The original settlement founded on his grant of land was known as “Sommer towne”, from the first part of the name of the village in England. This was later shortened to Somerton. The family also gave its name to Jarnigan’s Bridge, built well before 1696 since it was in bad repair at that date. This was the location of the first courthouse in Nansemond County in 1723 (see Nansemond County section, above).
The main route from Suffolk to northeastern North Carolina went straight through the middle of the village, and it thrived as a trade centre as a stopping point for travellers to purchase the necessary goods and supplies for their journey. After the completion of the US 13 bypass around Somerton in 1955, the number of visitors passing through the village decreased and this led to the gradual decline of the village. The present community consists of ten principal properties and numerous attached free standing barns and outbuildings.
Somerton was the first rural community nominated for historic listing in the City of Suffolk. The appearance of the village is historic in nature and little changed from the way it looked when it was settled over 200 years ago. The 236-acre Somerton Historic District is a collection of wood-frame dwellings of mid 18th to 19th century construction, and there are no stoplights or sidewalks. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
Cypress Chapel:Founded in 1746, with the first building erected in 1750, the “Chapel on the Cypress Swamp” is still in its original location on White Marsh Road near the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, in Whaleyville Borough. Originally part of the Episcopalian Church in colonial Virginia, during the Revolutionary War it became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1792, many ministers and churches withdrew from the Methodist Conference because they believed the churches should have greater freedom in their local church governments. Cypress Chapel was among them, and was one of the early leaders in the establishment of the Christian Denomination of the South or The Christian Church, as it was called, founded in 1794.
Situated partially in Suffolk, the Great Dismal Swamp is a large area of marshland on the coastal plain region that straddles the state line between Virginia & North Carolina. It is one of the largest wilderness areas remaining in the eastern USA. Situated within the swamp is the 3,100 acre Lake Drummond, named after William Drummond, the first colonial governor of North Carolina, who, in 1665, was the first European to explore the area. In 1728 William Byrd II led a surveying party into the region & is thought to have given the swamp its name.The Dismal Swamp Land Company was established in 1763 by George Washington, with the intention of draining the swamp for logging & farming. Soon, other logging companies had moved in, which resulted in the gradual destruction of the natural ecosystem over the next two centuries.
Established in 1973, The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge has its headquarters in Suffolk & now comprises more than 112,000 acres of forest wetlands. The main aim of the Refuge is to restore & maintain the regions natural biological diversity. Today the Refuge is open to the public for hiking, biking, fishing, boating & limited hunting.
The Refuge is home to more than two hundred species of birds, of which ninety six species are known to nest in the vicinity. Mammals known to inhabit the swamp include black bear, bobcat, otter, raccoon, mink, muskrat, groundhog, white tailed deer & several species of bats. Also present are 21 species of snake & more than 50 other reptile & amphibian species, together with more than 100 species of butterflies. The predominant tree species found in the swamp today is red maple. Other tree species include bald cypress, tupelo, Atlantic white cypress, & pine, whilst the non forested areas boast remnant marsh, sphagnum bog & evergreen shrub communities.
To the north of, & separate from the Great Dismal Swamp, is the Nansemond National Wildlife Refuge. Run by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as a satellite of Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, this 411 acre stretch of salt marsh on the eastern bank of the Nansemond River is not open to the public.
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The city of Suffolk is located in the region known as Hampton Roads, an area which encompasses one of the world’s largest natural harbours of the same name, together with the Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News metropolitan area. Also sometimes known as ‘Tidewater’, the land area of Hampton Roads, as well as the City of Suffolk, also includes the following counties & cities of Virginia:-
Gloucester County, Isle of Wight County, James City County, Mathews County, Surry County, York County, City of Chesapeake, City of Hampton, City of Newport News, City of Norfolk, City of Poquoson, City of Portsmouth, City of Virginia Beach, City of Williamsburg. Also included is Currituck County in North Carolina.
The body of water called Hampton Roads incorporates the mouths of the rivers Elizabeth, James, Nansemond & Lafayette, together with several other smaller rivers. Hampton Roads itself empties into Chesapeake Bay & the Atlantic Ocean.
The region is named after Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573 – 1624), who was one of the founders of the Virginia Company of London. (The area known as The Hamptons & the town of Southampton in Suffolk County, New York are also named in his honour). The suffix ‘Roads’ or ‘Roadstead’ is defined as an enclosed place outside a harbour where ships can lie at anchor with an opening to the sea, narrower than a bay or gulf. The name Hampton Roads was first recorded in 1755 in an act of the Virginia General Assembly to describe the channel linking the James, Elizabeth & Nansemond rivers with Chesapeake Bay. The region includes Jamestown, which was founded in 1607 & was the first permanent English settlement in what would become the United States of America.
Since the seventeenth century, the Hampton Roads region has been an important focus for commerce & shipping, & today the area is the site of many US navy, marine, air force & coastguard facilities.
As well as many miles of beaches, both on the Atlantic coast & in Chesapeake Bay, other tourist attractions in the region include:-
The Historic Triangle, which features the colonial communities of Jamestown, Williamsburg & Yorktown, linked together by the Colonial National Historical Park.
NASA Langley Research Center, which is situated in the city of Hampton & includes a visitor centre open to the public. This was the original training ground for the Mercury Seven, Gemini, & Apollo astronauts. It was here that the Apollo lunar lander was flight-tested, as well as being the location for the planning & design of a number of space missions.
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Located on North Main Street & overlooking the Nansemond River, the former Nansemond County Courthouse building is the third such structure on this site. The first was built in 1755, but was burned down by the British in 1779, during the American Revolutionary War. After being rebuilt, this building too succumbed to “the Great Fire” of 1837, which destroyed buildings on both side of Main Street.
The building seen today was completed in 1840 & served as part of the headquarters of the Union Army under General Peck during the Civil War.
The Roman Revival style building, fronted by four Tuscan columns, underwent renovation work in 1894 & again in 1958. It was in use as a courthouse until 1998, & is now the Suffolk Visitors Center, which includes an exhibition focusing on the history of Suffolk & the Great Dismal Swamp.
On North Main Street, not far from the Nansemond County Courthouse, stands Riddick’s Folly. Built in the Greek Revival style, the front of the mansion is bricked in Flemish bond, with columns framing the main entrance & five frieze band windows. Inside, the four storey building boasts twenty one rooms & sixteen fireplaces, with elaborate ceilings throughout.
The house was built in 1837, after “The Great Fire”, by plantation owner Mills Riddick (1780-1844), who was the grandson of Revolutionary War hero Col. Willis S. Riddick, & who had himself been a captain of cavalry during the War of 1812. He also represented Suffolk & Nansemond County in the Virginia House of Delegates. After Mills Riddick’s death, the house passed to his son Nathaniel, but was taken over by the Union Army during the Civil War. When the war ended, the house was returned to the Riddick family, whose descendants lived here until 1967. Riddick’s Folly became a museum in 1977 & was extensively renovated during the 1980s.
All four floors are now open to the public, & permanent exhibits include the Mills E. Godwin, Jr. Exhibit Gallery & Research Library, & an exhibition detailing the impact of the Civil War on Suffolk entitled “Our Bleeding Country”. The museum also features elegantly furnished parlours, bedrooms, kitchen, library, dining room & laundry room. The museum holds regular special events & is open from Wednesdays to Sundays.
Riddick’s Folly is registered with the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission & listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The First Lady of Suffolk is a house in the Queen Anne style at 447 West Washington Street, Suffolk, Virginia. The house was originally an 8,800 ft2 mansion built by James C. Causey in 1907 on the former site of the Suffolk Collegiate Institute. James Causey died in 1930, and in 1937 his widow sold the house to I. Owen Hill, who operated a funeral establishment at the home.
Business partners Mickey Boyette and Jennifer Seebo purchased the building in 2005 and leased it back to another funeral home until 2008 whilst they made arrangements to realise their ambition to turn it into an event venue. In 2009, after 13 months of renovations, The First Lady of Suffolk was opened as a wedding and event centre.
The home was restored as closely as possible to the way it looked when the Causeys owned it. There are 17 rooms, four full bathrooms, two half bathrooms and a service area. The chapel, which is the former dining room of the house, can seat about 100 people. A slightly raised stage at the front is perfect for the minister and bridal party. In 2013, the Crystal Ballroom and a storage area were added, making the house more than 12,000 ft2.
Mickey Boyette came up with the building’s name: “Queen Anne homes are usually known as ladies,” he said. “With it being on West Washington Street, The First Lady of Suffolk was a perfect match.”
“Painted ladies” is a term in American architecture used for Victorian and Edwardian houses painted in three or more colours that enhance their architectural details. The term was first used for a row of Victorian houses in Steiner Street in San Francisco by writers Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in their 1978 book “Painted Ladies - San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians”.
This phenomenon is also known as The Jackson Road Light. There are several different versions of the origins of the light, but all are related. The story behind the light originates in the early 1900s, and the most common version is given below.
There used to be a railroad track where the present Jackson Road (County Road 685) runs. On one night, the caboose* of a train bound for Norfolk, Va., became separated from the last car. The brakeman in the caboose stopped the car and lit his lantern as a signal to any oncoming train that there was something on the track, and they should stop. The brakeman heard a train and proceeded to wave the lantern. He did not realise that the train he heard was the one that he had become separated from, and it was now backing up towards him. He was struck by the last car and when he fell he was caught under the rail and thus decapitated. So the brakeman continues to this day to search the tracks (or where the tracks were) with his light, looking for his lost head.
In the 1950s the original track was closed down because it was sinking into soft ground. Jackson Road was then constructed over the old tracks, and that is when the story of the “light” began to circulate more widely because the increased road traffic brought more witnesses to the phenomenon. It has always been described as a green glowing orb about the size of a baseball. It will travel down Jackson Road until it comes to the T-junction of Turlington Road and then it disappears. In the 1960s, a group of National Guardsmen were camped out in the area to practise manoeuvres. They mentioned to some of the locals that when they came close to Jackson Road, all their instrumentation (compass, radio, etc.) stopped working or behaved erratically.
The more prosaic of us would say that this may be the phenomenon known as will-o’-the-wisp or ignis fatuus that is seen over bogs, swamps or marshes. This emanates from the release of methane and other gases produced by organic decay, and spontaneously ignites on contact with oxygen in the air. As the swampy ground is reclaimed and dries out, the phenomenon declines. The tracks were lain on soft ground that was once part of the Great Dismal Swamp, and the Suffolk Light is not seen very often nowadays.
(See also Suffolk County Potter’s Field on the Suffolk County, New York. page.)
* For our non-American readers, a caboose is a manned car at the end of a freight train having kitchen and sleeping facilities for the train crew. In the UK, Australia and India this is known as the Brake Van or Guards Van.
During the early part of the twentieth century there were six railroads running through Suffolk: Seaboard AirLine Railroad, the Virginian (Tidewater) Railway, the Norfolk & Western Railroad, the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, the Atlantic & Danville Railroad, & the Suffolk & Carolina branch of the Norfolk Southern Railroad. In its heyday, as many as 32 passenger & 70 freight trains passed through Suffolk daily.
The Suffolk & Carolina Railway originally ran from the Nansemond River down to Edenton, North Carolina, a distance of around 75 miles. This narrow gauge line was built by the Suffolk & Carolina Railway Company, which had been incorporated in 1884, with work on building the line commencing in 1885 & being completed in 1902. One of the leading figures in the construction of the line was Suffolk resident William Henry Gay.
In January 1906, the Suffolk & Carolina Railway Company merged with the Virginia & Carolina Coast Railroad Company, before becoming part of the Norfolk & Southern Railway Company in November of that same year.
The railroad bed for the Suffolk & Carolina line can still be seen today behind Cedar Hill Cemetery.
Built in 1885, Suffolk Seaboard Station on North Main Street is a Queen Anne style building complete with a tower that houses a walnut spiral staircase. After a fire destroyed much of the station in 1994, Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society renovated the building & restored many of the original features. The museum opened in 2000 & exhibits include bells, lanterns, signs, tools & other memorabilia from the railroads that ran through Suffolk.
The centrepiece of the museum, however, is an HO (1/87) scale model of Suffolk as it was in 1907, featuring a section of the Suffolk & Carolina branch of the Norfolk Southern Railroad (see section below); beginning at the terminus at Constant’s Wharf on the Nansemond River in the north, & finishing at the rail yard on the south side of town. The model was constructed by the Tidewater Division of the Mid-Eastern Region of the National Model Railroad Association. The museum is open Wednesdays to Sundays.
Sallie Ann Corbell was born in Chuckatuck, in what was then Nansemond County, in May 1843, the daughter of plantation owners. She attended Lynchburg Female Seminary &, sometime before the American Civil War broke out in 1861, she met George E. Pickett (1825–1875), who was later to become General in the Confederate States Army. They married in September 1863 at Petersburg; a few months after the disastrous Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. Their first son was born the following year. After the war, the Picketts fled to Montreal for a while, where Sallie taught Latin & French & was forced to sell her jewellery, before returning to Virginia in 1866. At this time a second son was born. He was to die at the age of eight in 1874, & the following year George Pickett also died at the age of fifty.
In the 1880s, Sallie Pickett became an author & commenced public speaking, using the name LaSalle Corbell Pickett & styling herself "Child-bride of the Confederacy”; appointing herself official biographer of her late husband & proclaiming herself an authority on the Civil War & the Old South. In 1899 her book Pickett and His Men was published, & over the course of the rest of her life she brought out several other books including Kunnoo Sperits and Others (1900), The Bugles of Gettysburg (1913), The Heart of a Soldier, As Revealed in the Intimate Letters of Gen'l George E. Pickett, C.S.A. (1913), What Happened to Me … (1917) & Soldier of the South: General Pickett's War Letters to His Wife (edited by Arthur Crew Inman, 1928). Between the publication of the first book & her death she toured the country & wrote for many popular magazines.
She always portrayed her husband as a hero & promoted a highly romanticised version of his life and military career. Much of her writing, it has often been alleged, blurs the lines between fact and fiction, & she was accused in some quarters of fabricating wartime correspondence from her husband. Her writing is described as belonging to a genre known as Lost Cause literature; in which the Confederate standpoint & defeat is explained & justified.
LaSalle Corbell Pickett died on March 22, 1931 & was buried in Arlington National Cemetery's Abbey Mausoleum. In 1998 she was re-interred next to her husband at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
Amedeo Obici, the founder of the Planters Nut and Chocolate Company, was born in Oderzo, Italy in 1877. At the age of eleven, after the death of his father, he immigrated to America; initially living with his uncle in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
In 1895, having bought his own fruit stand, he began selling peanuts; developing a new way to blanching the nuts & calling himself “The Peanut Specialist”. 1906, with his friend & future brother-in-law, Mario Peruzzi, Obici formed The Planters Peanut Company, & two years later the company was incorporated as Planters Nut and Chocolate Company. In 1913, Obici moved the manufacturing side of the business to Suffolk, whilst the headquarters remained in Scranton.
After marrying Louise Musante, the couple moved to Suffolk in 1924 & purchased the Bay Point Farm estate; an 1870s farmhouse where they began dairy farming with a herd of Guernsey cows. When his wife died in 1938, Obici set up a fund to build a hospital as a lasting memorial to her. Although not built until after his death in 1947, the Louise Obici Memorial Hospital was opened in 1951. The hospital is now affiliated with Sentara Healthcare.
Obici continued to live at Bay Point Farm until his death. The farm now belongs to the city of Suffolk & is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and on the National Register of Historic Places. The famous Mr Peanut character was created in Suffolk, after Obici sponsored a contest to create a new logo for his company; a statue of Mr Peanut now stands in Suffolk, on the corner of Main & Washington Streets.
The Planters Company is now owned by Kraft Foods & is still a major employer in the Suffolk area. Today Planters is one of the best known nut producers in the world, with many varieties of peanuts, cashews, pistachios, walnuts & almonds in their range, as well as sunflower seeds, cooking oil & nut bars.
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Mills E. Godwin Jr. (1914-1999) was born in the Suffolk neighbourhood of Chuckatuck. He was Governor of Virginia for two non-consecutive terms; from 1966 to 1970 & from 1974 to 1978. The first of these terms was as a member of the Democratic Party, whereas by the time of his second term, he had switched his allegiance to the Republicans. He is therefore the only Governor in the history of the USA to be elected as both a Republican and a Democrat.
Prior to his terms as Governor, Godwin had served in the Virginia State Senate between 1952 & 1962, after which he became Lieutenant Governor from 1962 to 1966. Initially a leader of the segregationist resistance movement that sought to stop the implementation of federal court decisions requiring black students to be allowed admission to white schools, his views later became somewhat moderated, & in 1964 he supported the presidential campaign of Lyndon B Johnson, who had been at the forefront of the movement for enactment of the Civil Rights Act. In 1965 he was elected Governor for the first time, during which period he instituted the first sales tax in Virginia.
After separating from the Democrats, he managed the U.S. Senate campaign of Independent candidate Harry F. Byrd Jr. in 1970, before being persuaded to run for Governor as a Republican in 1973. In this election he narrowly beat the Independent candidate Henry E. Howell, Jr. to secure his second term as Governor. During this term in office he guided the revision of the State Constitution, reinstated the death penalty and reorganized the penal system.
After leaving office, he worked behind the scenes for the Virginia Republican Party until shortly before his death. A permanent exhibition dedicated to his life & work can be seen at Riddick’s Folly Museum in Suffolk.
Guitarist Charlie Byrd was born in Suffolk, Virginia in September 1925 & was brought up in the Chuckatuck neighbourhood of the city.
Initially, he was taught to play steel acoustic guitar by his father, after which he played in the Virginia Polytechnic Institute school orchestra, known as the Southern Colonels. He was drafted into the army during World War II & ended up in Paris in 1945 playing in the Army Special Services band. Upon his return to America, he studied composition and jazz theory at the Harnett National Music School in New York. After taking up the classical guitar, he moved to Washington DC in 1950, where he studied under the internationally renowned teacher Sophocles Papas, before moving to Italy in 1954, where he was tutored by the Spanish classical guitarist Andres Segovia. At this time, one of his biggest influences was the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, whom he saw performing in Paris.
Teaming up with double bassist William ‘Keter’ Betts in Washington, in 1957, they began performing together & in 1959 they joined Woody Herman's band. During this period, Byrd also occasionally assembled his own groups, which often included his brother Joe on bass.
Byrd’s recording career began in 1957, with a brace of albums; Jazz Recital & Blues for Night People. From the early 1960s, after touring South America, Byrd became influenced by Brazilian music, especially the bossa nova, & in 1963 he collaborated with Stan Getz on the groundbreaking Jazz Samba album. This album inspired the bossa nova craze that hit the American jazz scene at this time. Byrd was to contribute many other Brazilian influenced recordings throughout the rest of his career. Over the next three decades, Byrd made numerous albums & played alongside many of the great names in twentieth century jazz, including, in 1973, a collaboration with fellow guitarists Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel in a band called the Great Guitars, which resulted in two live albums entitled Great Guitars & Great Guitars 2 (1975 & 1976 respectively). Other albums include Charlie Byrd at the Village Vanguard (1961), Crystal Silence (1973) & Rise and Shine (1992). In 1973 he moved to Annapolis, Maryland where he lived until his death from lung cancer in December 1999. He continued to play in Maryland clubs until the year of his death.
He was awarded the honour Knight of the Rio Branco by the government of Brazil in 1999, in recognition of his services to Brazilian music. After his death, the The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Mount Vernon, Maryland created the Charlie Byrd Memorial Endowed Scholarship in his honour.