Historical Reminiscing with Robert B. Hitchings
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Unknown Mayor of the Borough of Norfolk, Virginia

It all started a few years ago when the old vault of Christ & St. Luke’s Episcopal Church here in Norfolk was opened for me. Inside this old large vault was a beautiful silver pitcher or flagon, with the date September 1st 1762, a beautiful piece of silver. 

This flagon is an unusual piece, beautifully made in London, England, 1763-1764 by Fuller White. The dome, top of the tankard, is engraved with the donor’s arms (Perkins) in a rococo cartouche. The inscription reads: “The gift of Mr. Christopher Perkins to the church of Norfolk, Virginia, in Memory of Elizabeth, his wife, who interred therein 1st September 1762.”

As I handled this unusual piece of silver with special care, I wondered who Christopher Perkins was. Curiosity go the best of me and brought out the nosy historian.

The silver flagon is a container that holds the sacred wine for communion. I had no idea our church had such a beautiful item in their vault. To my knowledge, I had never seen any pictures of this old silver flagon. However, I had seen pictures of the chalice that Samuel Bush, our first mayor of Norfolk, had given and also the chalice that a Robert Tucker had given to the Borough church during the early part of the 17 century. Photographs of these two chalices had been taken years ago during the early part of the 20th century by our renowned photographer, Harry Mann (1878-1925). But the flagon was absent, no picture of this unusual piece of silver was seen until about 1970.

Christopher Perkins was twice mayor of Norfolk serving 1752 and 1761. He was a merchant and a business man. He also settled estates and was a big investor in local properties. He was good friends with William Crawford who created the town of Portsmouth and one of the first to buy lots in the town of Portsmouth, Virginia.  

What made Christopher Perkins settle here in our area we do not know? We do know he made several trips to England while on the borough council, which was a brave feat on those small vessels crossing the Atlantic Ocean. However, I believe he was the grandson of the late Sir Christopher Perkins who was an investor in the Virginia Company settling Jamestowne colony in 1607. Christopher Perkins, our former mayor of Norfolk, was born in Darlington, Durham, England, at Barnard Castle in 1708. His parents were Thomas and Elizabeth Perkins.

Interestingly, he was appointed to a committee to draft a letter of thanks to Royal Lieutenant-Governor Robert Dinwiddie (1692-1770) on the presentation of our Norfolk’s Mace in April 1, 1754. Apparently, he was present when the mace arrived.

On September 1, 1762, his wife Elizabeth Perkins passed away here in Norfolk and was buried in the churchyard of the old Borough church, now called Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Norfolk. Her stone was uncovered in 1957 when the church was installing a new heating system. Today, one can see the old stone on the second floor of the church. The old stone is broken in two, but one can still read the inscription and date. It’s a heavy stone. They had no children.

After Elizabeth Perkins passed away in 1762, Christopher Perkins sold his properties in Norfolk and the town of Portsmouth and returned home to England, settling down in the Hendon section of London.

Christopher Perkins made out his will in 1765 in England and the majority of his wealth was distributed to his nieces and nephews. However, in his will he mentions a John Langdale, late of Norfolk, Virginia, now living in Haddon Field in West New Jersey, 20 pounds Virginia currency to buy a piece of plate to be paid by my friend Col. Robert Tucker of Norfolk, Virginia.

On December 5, 1765, the former mayor of Norfolk Borough, Christopher Perkins, passed away and was listed in the burial register of St. Mary’s Anglican Church. He was buried in the churchyard cemetery.

Today, the small church of St. Mary’s and the cemetery lies behind the University of London, Hendon Middlesex and a popular pub called the Greyhound. 

We do not know much about Mayor Christopher Perkins as the old colonial records are few, but reading through a few old records we know he was an honest mayor and took his mayor-ship very seriously before returning home to his native England to die. 

St. Mary's Anglican Church

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Robert B. Hitchings is a seventh generation Norfolk resident, graduating with an Associate's Degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and BA in history from Virginia Wesleyan University. During his studies he was awarded a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, and he was an exchange student at Brooks-Westminster College, Oxford, England. From 1999-2014 he worked as head of the Sargeant Memorial History Room at Norfolk Public Library, and since then has headed the Wallace History Room at Chesapeake Public Library. He is also the President of the Norfolk County Historical Society, and for six years was a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Robert may be reached at nchs.wallaceroom@gmail.com