William Craford (d. by April 15, 1762)

William Craford was the founder of Portsmouth. Little is known about his personal life, but in 1716 he patented more than 1,100 acres of land in Norfolk County across the Elizabeth River from the port of Norfolk. He co-owned a mill and constructed a wharf in the county, where he was appointed a sheriff in 1725 and commander of the militia in 1748. Craford sat as a member of the House of Burgesses for more than thirty years, beginning 1712. Early in the 1750s he hired a surveyor to lay off the land that he had acquired in 1716 into streets and lots. Probably at his request, in the spring of 1752 the General Assembly established the town of Portsmouth there, and in the summer of that year he began selling lots. Craford had died, probably in Portsmouth, by April 15, 1762, when his will was proved in the Norfolk County Court. MORE...

 

Craford was the son of George Craford and Abigail Mason Craford. Contemporaries sometimes spelled the family name Crawford, but several extant autograph signatures and many transcriptions of it in Norfolk County records indicate that he consistently used the spelling Craford. The place and date of his birth are not known for certain, but probably he was born in Virginia in the 1680s and was orphaned early in childhood. Craford and his sister were both younger than eighteen when in September 1699 their immigrant grandfather, who owned land in Norfolk and Princess Anne Counties and also in North Carolina, wrote his will and made them his principal heirs.

Little is known about Craford's personal life. There is no evidence that he ever married, but during the 1710s he cared for his paternal grandmother during her second widowhood. In the spring of 1711 he patented 173 acres of land in Nansemond County, and on October 31, 1716, he patented 1,129 acres in Norfolk County across the Elizabeth River from the port of Norfolk, land that had once belonged to William Carver, who had been executed in 1676 for his part in Bacon's Rebellion (1676–1677). Craford was a partner in erecting and operating a mill in Norfolk County, constructed a wharf for the county, and probably planted tobacco and engaged in trade. He recorded at least one deed of sale for an enslaved woman and her children, but it is not certain whether he regularly traded in laborers, either free or enslaved. Craford was almost certainly a member of the county court for several years before the governor appointed him sheriff of the county on May 4, 1725. He had become a colonel of militia by 1742 and was county lieutenant, or commander of the county's militia, in 1748.

First elected to the House of Burgesses representing Norfolk County in 1712, Craford served with one interruption for more than thirty years. He gave up his seat in the summer of 1734 after becoming county sheriff for the second time in a decade but was reelected to the House the following year. His name appears in the journals of the session that met early in 1746, but it is not clear whether he took part in the summer session of that year or the session of the following spring, as he was eligible to do. Craford sat on the Committee of Claims in 1723 and again in 1744 and 1746, and twice he served on the committee that drafted the reply of the House to the governor's message. He did not become a powerful legislative leader during his many years as a burgess, however. One of the last responsibilities that he shouldered as a member of the assembly was as a manager of a £600 fund that the legislature set aside early in 1746 to support British soldiers whose ship had blown into Virginia waters while en route to Cape Breton.

Early in the 1750s Craford hired a surveyor to lay off the land that he had acquired in 1716 into streets and lots. Probably at his request, in the spring of 1752 the General Assembly established the town of Portsmouth there, and in the summer of that year he began selling lots. Craford prepared to erect a market and a new courthouse for the county in Portsmouth, but during his lifetime the courthouse remained in the borough of Norfolk. He was in poor health when he wrote his will on January 27, 1762. He bequeathed part of his property to his sister and portions to members of the Dale and Veale families; he singled out the children of his late housekeeper, Mary Veale, for special favors. Craford died, probably in Portsmouth, sometime before April 15, 1762, when his will was proved in the Norfolk County Court. The place of his burial is not known.

Time Line

  • September 1699 - William Craford and his sister, both younger than eighteen, are made principal heirs to their grandfather's estate. Their grandfather owns land in Norfolk and Princess Anne Counties and also in North Carolina.
  • Spring 1711 - William Craford patents 173 acres of land in Nansemond County.
  • 1712 - William Craford is elected to the House of Burgesses representing Norfolk County.
  • October 31, 1716 - William Craford patents 1,129 acres in Norfolk County across the Elizabeth River from the port of Norfolk.
  • May 4, 1725 - William Craford is appointed sheriff of Norfolk County.
  • Summer 1734 - William Craford gives up his seat in the House of Burgesses after becoming sheriff of Norfolk County for the second time.
  • 1735 - William Craford is reelected to the House of Burgesses.
  • 1742 - By this year, William Craford is a colonel of militia in Norfolk County.
  • 1746 - William Craford serves as manager of a £600 fund that the House of Burgesses has set aside early in the year to support British soldiers whose ship blew into Virginia waters while en route to Cape Breton.
  • 1748 - William Craford becomes commander of the Norfolk County militia.
  • 1752 - Probably at William Craford's request, the General Assembly establishes the town of Portsmouth on land owned by Craford. During the summer, Craford begins selling lots.
  • January 27, 1762 - In poor health, William Craford writes his will. He bequeaths part of his property to his sister and portions to members of the Dale and Veale families.
  • April 15, 1762 - The will of William Craford is proved in the Norfolk County Court. The place of his burial is not known.

References

Further Reading
Baker, Barnabas W. and Dean Burgess. "William Craford." In The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 3, edited Sara B. Bearss, 518–519. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Baker, B. W., & Burgess, D., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. William Craford (d. by April 15, 1762). (2013, September 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Craford_William_d_by_April_15_1762.

  • MLA Citation:

    Baker, Barnabas W., Dean Burgess and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "William Craford (d. by April 15, 1762)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Sep. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: August 1, 2011 | Last modified: September 23, 2013


Contributed by Barnabas W. Baker, Dean Burgess, and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography