Norwood’s Trip To The Beach

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Have you ever wondered who the first tourist was to enjoy a beach vacation in Ocean City? Henry Norwood may not have been the first - but he probably had one of the worst trips to the beach ever.

Native peoples did not live on the barrier island year round but they did visit during the summer to stock up on fish which they caught and smoked for their larders in their villages on the mainland. One of the first recorded European groups to visit our particular ocean side paradise arrived in January 1650. Their adventure is not the stuff of postcards or tourism brochures. It is more like a reality TV show gone horribly wrong.

One member of that group wrote a memoir of his journey which he later published. It remains a rare record of early colonial interactions with native peoples in our region. Our story begins with the author, Henry Norwood, who served in the cavalry supporting the Royalists in the English Civil War. Henry Norwood's part in all this was very minor but it was a military mission in service to his King which brought him to Delmarva on his way to the Jamestown colony where he was supposed to line up loyalist support.

In September 1649 Norwood set sail for the New World on a ship called the Virginia Merchant along with a number of settlers. To call the crossing difficult would be a huge understatement. The ship was not sufficiently outfitted for its journey which was during the fall storm season. The ship's captain had trouble staying on course while enduring several powerful gales.

Imagine being confined below deck during the treacherous storms in the close quarters of a small wooden vessel with little ventilation. Just about everyone on board was sick. Food rations were running out because their journey had taken much longer than they had planned. Enterprising sailors began selling rats to the highest bidders. Everyone was pretty miserable until finally land was sighted.

The Virginia Merchant weighed anchor just off what later became known as the false cape of Fenwick. The captain and a handful of sailors loaded many of the passengers (including Henry Norwood) into dorries and rowed ashore. Historians guess that they landed in today's Ocean City at about 95th Street. The plan was to spend a few days recovering before returning to the ship and heading south for their ultimate destination Jamestown. But those members of the crew who had been left on board decided to mutiny. They did not have confidence their captain could get them to Jamestown and decided it was too risky to wait a few days. They were afraid of another storm brewing that would sink them if they remained too close to shore.

On shore the captain could see them begin to raise their sails. He and the other sailors, leaving behind the other weary passengers, jumped in a dory and raced back to the Virginia Merchant before it could catch the wind and sail away. After much wrangling with the captain his crew insisted that they not only get underway immediately but they abandon their fellow travelers who had been left on the beach without any word.

Norwood became the de-facto leader of the small band of men and women. Some in the bereft landing party were so sick that they perished not long after the departure of their ship. Norwood records in his memoir that the living were so desperately hungry that they resorted to eating some of the flesh of the dead. It is gruesome idea. The group must have felt that they were otherwise doomed. Eventually they realized that there were natives nearby watching them. They tentatively approached one another using a clumsy sign language to communicate. The natives guided them to canoes to cross the inland bay to their village near what is now known as St. Martin's River. They were presented to the clan's matriarch who offered them shelter and food, boiled swan, oysters, hominy, and a milk made from powdered nuts and water. Norwood and his bedraggled company were very grateful for this sustenance.

Once they had regained some of their strength their hosts led them south to another village. Historians surmise this may have been the site of present day Berlin. Norwood says the locals called this place Kickotank.

The group spent quite a bit of time there, under the care of the king. Though they appreciated all that was being done for them the landing party had no way of knowing what their fate would be. Would they be stranded there indefinitely, to live out the rest of their days in this primitive existence? The natives could see that they were depressed and worried. Through hand signals they tried to tell them to smile and cheer up. This just served to confuse the travelers.

Meanwhile native messengers had been sent further south on the peninsula to small English settlements in Accomack. Eventually they returned with a trader who could translate for Norwood and his friends. This was no coincidence. The trader was a man named Jenkins Price who had been dispatched to find them by Virginia's Governor who had heard about their plight from the captain of their ship which had made it to their intended destination. Finally they could continue their journey. Before leaving, as a way of thanking him, Norwood gave the King a sword and his many colored striped cavalier's coat with its silver and gold lace.

The troupe walked south stopping at other settlements making their way finally to a boat that conveyed them across the Chesapeake to Jamestown. Norwood completed his mission securing the pledge of loyalty from key leaders in Virginia before returning to Europe. His next post was as Lieutenant Governor of Tangier. When Charles II was coronated Norwood was rewarded with the title of "Treasurer of Virginia." This was probably an honorific. Though he never revisited the New World, he held the position for the rest of his life. After his tour of duty in Africa he returned home, bought the family estate from his cousin and lived out his days there as a wealthy bachelor serving for four years as Member of Parliament.

You might say our hospitality industry began in January 1650 with the kindness shown to Henry Norwood and friends by the native peoples of Delmarva. Every year families save their money and come to the beach for a day or a week or more. Often they endure long car rides and costly accommodations, just to enjoy the beauty and adventure found at our beaches. If they only knew what Norwood and his friends went through.

If you would like to read more about Henry Norwood and his memoir you can actually find it at a number of local libraries. The language is old and in places hard to comprehend. But those same libraries may also have the much more accessible book "Cavalier's Adventure" which was written and illustrated by Snow Hill artist Sharon Himes.


Cavalier's Adventure
By Sharon Himes - Heritage books

Family Tree of Bill Norwood
Primary Surnames: Norwood, Duckworth, Allen, Brashier/Brasher, Speed, Magee, Travis, Cooley
This has a transcript of Norwood's "A Voyage To Virginia"

Voyage To America, 1649
by W. Wroten - Salisbury Times - October 28, 1964

Sir William Berkeley and the Forging of Colonial Virginia
By Warren M. Billings
Louisiana State Unversity Press 2004

The Language Encounter in the Americas, 1492-1800: A Collection of Essays
By Edward G. Gray, Norman Fiering
Berghahn Books Providence, Rhode Island 2000

Tales of Delmarva and Other Places
By Bud Rogner
Writers Club Press - Lincoln, Nebraska 2002

A History of Virginia Literature
edited by Kevin J. Hayes
Cambridge University Press - New York, New York 2015