I have the pleasure to assure you I never saw your Father in better health in my Life - your Mother has been but in an different state of health all the Winter, but think she looks vastly better since she came into the Country, but she will not be prevail'd upon to Continue in it, but from Saterday to Tuesday ; your poor unhappy Brother Harry unhinges all the family & for what I can see is likely to Continue a living Sorrow -
The Frere family are all well ; Cousin John has had three Sons, the last is Dead, a loss I make no doubt will soon be made up - there is many alterations in the Neighbourhood of Putney since you left us, but still we keep up an agreeable Society, & have had several Mondays at our House this Summer, sometimes twenty & sometimes thirty people ; which is very agreeable to Mr. Turner who loves a Game at Cards for a Couple of hours in an afternoon, & we always part at Nine O'Clock ; he is I thank God Chearfull & well, devides his Morning time, in Gardening, & riding on Horseback, & doing kind offices to his Relations & friends ; indeed I do not know a more happy Man then he appears to be ... your Cousin Baylor is gone home full fraighted but not gluted with all these pastimes that are now in Vogue ; indeed he has drank so plentifully of Comus' Cup that I wish he does not thirst after more Draughts of the same sort in his own Country ; therefore in my Opinion, England has render'd him an unhappy Man ; it is a lucky Circumstance that the Certainty of his Father's Death did not Arrive before he sail'd, if it had, no one cou'd have prevail'd on him to have quited England & all its alluring temptations - as Mr. Turner has so great a friendship for your Father that it gives him a sensible pleasure to be of service to him ; you may easily suppose that it is an inexpressable satisfaction to me, that my family employs his Nephew Mr. John Turner, which is so pleasing to all the Brother, that it gives me an advantage of being look'd upon of some Consequence in the family, which I sincerely wish to preserve, for the honour of the Nortons in general ; which in fact is inseparable from my own. - this paragraph is between you & I only, therefore take no Notice of it in your Letter to me, as I dont choose your Uncle shou'd know what I have wrote on that subject.
The banking crisis of 1772 prompted George Norton to write to his brother to say that Norton and Son had no connection with any of the failed banks. Many families were "reduced to want & Beggary", and bankers were committing suicide ; but when one, Mr Bogle junior of Messrs Bogle and Company, "threw himself out of a window on the Second Story (in a phrenzy) he happily fell in such an attitude as only to bruise his latter end". John Norton, writing in August, was more concerned, "Credit being so precarious and Trade so stagnated". The London tobacco buyers were cannily waiting for bargain prices, and he was being forced to sell low simply to dispose of his stock. Lord Botetourt's statue, in "a Block of fine Marble", as yet unfinished, was already a very good likeness.
The firm's customers in Virginia were understanding, as William Nelson wrote to John Norton in the same month : "all reasonable Men will make Allowance for the Difference of Circumstances, and the unreasonable are not to be satisfied with any Thing". Robert Nicholas, whose 1772 crop had been short of expectations, was buying tobacco from other planters in order to make up Norton's consignments and to give himself credit in London ; he told John Norton that he would try not to draw on the credit if possible. Later the same year, he wrote : "I have lost considerably by my last Consignment of Tobo, but this I know you could not help."
On 19 November 1772 William Nelson, John Norton's close friend and regular correspondent, died after a long illness. Robert Nicholas told Norton that Colonel Thomas Nelson hoped to be appointed in his father's place as President of the Governor's Council, the higher body of the Virginia Assembly, and Nicholas asked Norton to "use your Interest & Influence with your Friends to accomplish his Wishes" - the appointment being made in London. Earlier in the year Martha Goosley's son William, formerly a ship's captain in the Nortons' service, had published a statement denigrating the Nortons after what seems to have been a disagreement with Hatley Norton over providing security for a shipment of tobacco. John Norton had responded to this with an affidavit explaining the circumstances, and Robert Nicholas hastened to assure him that Goosley was beneath contempt and not taken seriously in Virginia. George Goosley, still one of the Nortons' captains, had disassociated himself from his brother's conduct. Nicholas wrote : "if the universal good Character which you establish'd by so many years Residence in Virginia, & which has been confirm'd by repeated Instances since your Return to & Residence in London, can be sullied by the dirty Breath of any impertinent Chap, the Friendship of any Man, who will suffer it to make the smallest Impression upon his Mind, in my Opinion, is not worth being solicitous about."
Apart from the order for copper money for the colony, which had encountered problems but was now being sorted out, the Treasurer asked Norton to obtain paper to print notes. Virginia had suffered from a series of clever forgeries, and Nicholas wrote in February 1773 that there was only about £98,000 of paper money in circulation ; he was sceptical whether any paper would be forgery-proof, but asked Norton to investigate and report back. The copper halfpennies, which weighed five tons, eventually arrived in Virginia in February 1774.
During 1772 Norton had built another ship, the London, in partnership with the Turner family, Jack Frere and others. It was launched on 8 February 1773, and Fanny described the event to her brother Hatley : "We all went except my Mother & my poor Brother ... we were very merry & had a Dance in the afternoon. Mr. Frere was God Father". Reverend Fludger had completely recovered from his stroke, and Fanny was about to begin music lessons ; she scolded Hatley for not writing to their uncle Michael Turner. The London had been intended for Captain George Goosley, but he was now talking of going into the West Indies trade on his own account, and eventually Moses Robertson, the Nortons' senior captain, took charge of the new ship.
On 4 March 1773 the House of Burgesses appointed a Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry in response to the situation in Boston, and as part of the new network of communication and co-operation between the colonies. The Committee included Peyton Randolph, Robert Nicholas and Thomas Jefferson, and they appointed John Norton their London agent. Lord Dunmore promptly dissolved the Assembly.
The Nortons were suffering from the credit crisis, and John wrote to Hatley in March to urge him to return to London with Sally to see the situation for himself and discuss ways of dealing with it. John had put "every shilling I have in the World" into the business, as well as borrowing from friends, and declared "if it was not for my Family's sake I wou'd not continue the Trade at the expense of my own peace of mind, but wou'd retire to some cheap place to reside without running the risque of the little I have work'd so hard for". The problems were essentially in the flow of payments, with Norton struggling to collect debts owed him, and therefore unable to meet his own ; the company was, though, far better placed than many traders, and eventually survived the crisis which wrecked many businesses in 1772 and 1773. John, an inveterate worrier, suffered heavily throughout this period, and his letters to Hatley were full of pessimistic outpourings and instructions to limit consignments of tobacco while the planters were still in debt to the company, and to avoid creating new business : at one point during 1773, the Nortons were owed £64,000 by Virginians.
Lord Botetourt's statue had been completed, and was shipped in March aboard the Virginia. Norton was pleased with the result, but felt it necessary to send one of Hayward's masons, John Hirst, with the statue to ensure its safety on board and help erect it in Virginia. It arrived on 20 May, and was placed in the Capitol at Williamsburg. Robert Nicholas wrote to thank Norton, saying that Hirst had done an excellent job and that the statue was "universally admired". After the seat of government moved to Richmond, in 1780, the statue was vandalised ; in 1801 it was moved to the college of William and Mary in Williamsburg, where it stood in front of the Wren Building for many years. It is now in the Swem Library, and a new bronze statue of Lord Botetourt has taken its place in the College Yard.
Susanna Turner, who had been ill with St Anthony's Fire (probably erysipelas), wrote from Putney in May with news of the family and changes in Putney : "Our town is made quite elegant by being quite new paved Barrel fashion according to the mode of London with Scotch Stones ; & a paved foote path on the righthand side of the way from the Waterside to the top of the town. The other side remains as it was, only young trees planted which when they grow large will make the vilage beautifull". She confirmed that John Fludger had recovered and was "able to do duty as usual" ; the Freres' first daughter Jane had been born in March, and Susanna was her Godmother.
As agent to the Virginia Committee of Correspondence, John Norton sent a report from London on 6 July 1773 :
I have within these few days been honoured with your letter of the 6th April and think myself under great obligation for the confidence you are pleased to repose in me, by thinking me a proper person to correspond with on the subject matter recited in your letter.
In consequence thereof I have procured and sent under favour of my worthy friend Mr. Benjamin Harrison, The Act of Parliament For Preserving His Majesty's Dockyards, Magazines, ships, etc ; also, The Journals of The House of Commons from the period of time you mention as far as can at present be had, which shall be continued, and you may be assured I will be diligent in my inquiries after all other Acts or Resolutions of Parliament or proceedings of Administration lately passed or entered into, or which may hereafter take place, and that may in any degree affect any of the colonies of America and like a faithful watchman acquaint you therewith. Our present Parliament who are Prorogued have made such strides towards despotism for some time past, with respect the East India Company as well as America, that we have too much reason to dread bad consequences from such proceedings. Some of my friends in the India Direction tell me that they have thoughts of sending a quantity of tea to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Virginia and South Carolina, which Government seems to approve, but they suspect their motives are to make a cat's paw of the Company, and force them to establish the 3d per lb American duty. I advised the gentlemen not to think of sending their Tea till Government took off the duty, as they might be well assured it would not be received on any other terms, what their Resolution will be, time only will discover.
When anything offers worthy your notice I shall take the liberty of advising you again, at present, remain with great respect, Gentlemen, your very obedient servant
The question of when or whether Hatley would return to London was still raised frequently, but his brother George wrote to him in August 1773 to say that his presence in Virginia was probably necessary for the time being in order to protect the firm's interests against the agents of bankrupt British companies who were busy collecting their own Virginian debts. He added that he hoped his sister-in-law was "safe in the Straw" - Hatley and Sally were expecting their first child. She was born in Winchester around the beginning of October and christened Courtenay Tucker Norton. Her grandfather Robert Nicholas reported to John Norton, "Our Son & Daughter are both extremely well ; Sally about a Fortnight ago presented us with a Jolly Girl, who is named after yr. Lady ; I find I grow old very fast." He thanked Norton for sending paper for Virginia's currency, and asked him to procure copper plates for a lighthouse to be erected on Cape Henry.
John Fludger's health had deteriorated again ; George reported to Hatley in November that their uncle was "in the last Stage of Consumption", and expressed his concern that Rebecca might not be provided for, although "my Uncle's Circumstances are good". Reverend Fludger died in Putney on 18 December, leaving no will, but three testamentary notes : he directed that the several annuities held in trust by John Norton and John Williamson, constituting Rebecca's jointure, should be sold and the money raised given partly to Rebecca and partly to his administrator - and as Rebecca Fludger was duly granted administration, George's fears were not realised.
Two days before John Fludger died, a group of citizens dressed as native Americans boarded three merchant ships at Griffin's Wharf in Boston and threw their cargoes of tea overboard. In March 1774 the British government passed the Boston Port Bill, which closed Boston to commerce from 1 June or until the "ill-affected persons" of Boston should make reparation and pay their taxes. The Virginia House of Burgesses responded by appointing the 1st of June a day of prayer and fasting. Lord Dunmore reacted predictably by proroguing the Assembly ; the Burgesses met privately in the Raleigh Tavern, designating themselves the Virginia Convention, to discuss how "to secure our dearest rights and liberty from destruction by the heavy hand of power now lifted against North America"5. Billy Reynolds, who had married Nancy Perrin in April, told John Norton that the new Association had resolved not to import any British goods from August. He was optimistic that this would enable Norton's Virginian customers (of whom he was now one) to pay off their debts. He supposed that Robert Nicholas would "acquaint you fully of the spirited resolves the united Americans have enter'd into and wch I sincerely hope they will attend to, untill they convince the Ministry of their Error". The Association was renewed in August, agreeing to stop importing tea and slaves, as well as all British-made goods, from November. The non-importation resolution was to be enforced by county committees, and defaulters' names would be published as "inimical to America". As well as the committees, Virginian counties now began recruiting their own militia in anticipation that the British operations in New England would escalate.
George Flowerdewe Norton, aged 23, was formally made a full partner on 1 July, and the firm became John Norton and Sons.
Courtenay Norton gave her own succinct comment on the political situation in a letter to Hatley dated 30 August : "the dye seems now to be cast for America a gold chain or a wooden leg the latter of which I hope never will be the case". She asked after her granddaughter, and was not surprised that Hatley thought his first-born beautiful - "I dont wonder as I thought the same of you when you were of her age". Rebecca Fludger had sent Hatley some of her husband's sermons. Fanny wrote a few days later to say that their brother Harry had had a long remission from his fits, and seemed much better.
A huge step towards an independent American administration was taken on 5 September when the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. Peyton Randolph of Virginia was appointed President, and the Congress adopted a united Association for non-importation of British goods from December : for two months shipments were to be sent back or disposed of by local committees, and thenceforth invoices would be returned unopened. Billy Reynolds told John Norton that he hoped the Virginia, which left London at the beginning of September, would arrive before 1 November, when the Virginia Association's boycott took effect - his concern seems to have been for Captain Robertson rather than any order of goods for himself. But the Virginia did not reach the York River until 4 November, and Norton and Sons inadvertently provided Virginia with an opportunity for their own Tea Party. A Williamsburg customer had forgotten to cancel his order of tea, and this was duly thrown overboard by local patriots. Robert Nicholas, at the same time, was accused of stockpiling tea against the importation ban, and was driven to make a public statement defending himself and John Norton.
By 1775 there was a polarisation of feeling in Virginia between those like Peyton Randolph and Robert Nicholas, who wished to keep the peace with Britain while forcing the British government to give the colonists trading parity, and radicals like Courtenay Norton's cousin George Wythe and Patrick Henry who wanted independence at any cost. In March, at the second meeting of the Virginia Convention in Richmond, Henry proposed arming the colony, with the stirring words, "Give me liberty or give me death!" ; the resolution was passed, but only by a narrow margin. The trade sanctions were beginning to bite, and the City of London sent a petition to the king asking him to meet the colonist's demands. The first blood between Britain and America was shed at Lexington and Concord on 20 April. The British parliament declared Massachusetts in a state of rebellion ; in Virginia, Lord Dunmore had the stores of ammunition removed from the magazine at Williamsburg, causing a public outcry. The second Continental Congress in May created a Continental Army, and named Washington its Commander-in-Chief.
Despite the presence of British ships in Chesapeake Bay, Norton's vessels were still managing to deliver their cargoes and collect new consignments of tobacco. Captain Robertson told John Norton in June that he had been afraid of being prevented from loading, but Peyton Randolph, returning from the Congress, had clarified the situation ; exports would be stopped from the 10th of September. Many of Norton's customers were now selling their tobacco in Virginia, preferring under the circumstances to guarantee their returns rather than risk sending consignments. Robertson reported that "the Tea Affair" had blown over, and "I make no Doubt but your interest will be Established as Firm as Ever when the Exports ReOpen again". Lord Dunmore, whose emptying of the Williamsburg magazine had put the final nail in the coffin of any popularity he may have achieved in Virginia, had now fled Williamsburg and taken refuge aboard a British warship, the Fowey, in the York River. Captain Robertson wrote again at the beginning of August to say that there was a fine crop of tobacco, but prospects of resuming their normal trade were bleak.
John Norton seems never to have doubted where his own loyalties lay. On 1 July 1775 the third Virginia Convention voted to purchase gunpowder for the new militia, and Norton advanced the state of Virginia, through Robert Nicholas, £5,600 for that purpose. At the same time the Convention issued £350,000 of currency, using the paper originally chosen and supplied by Norton. That John Norton was treading a fine line is made clear by the proclamation published in London in August that it was "treason to aid, abet or correspond with the Rebellious Americans". His regular correspondent Thomas Everard, one of the moderate Virginians, sent him news in August of the Richmond Convention and the next Continental Congress, and added, "Nothing can give all America more real Pleasure than a Reconciliation with Great Britain but rather than submit to an illegal and unjust Claim of Taxation the whole Continent are determined to defend their Rights to the last extremity." Letters between Virginia and London were now liable to interception, both by the Committee of Safety set up by the Virginia Convention and by the British or by sympathisers with the British government ; several of Norton's letters were diverted, and the fact that no action was taken against him in England is perhaps more indicative of the fact that English sympathies with the Americans ran high rather than any special immunity on his part.
Hatley, whose second daughter Nancy (Ann Cary) Norton had been born in Winchester in August, was elected a Captain of the Williamsburg militia on 14 September. A fortnight later he wrote to his father (a letter intercepted by British sympathisers) that "the whole Continent from one end to the other is making every preparation for self Defence. Our Regular Forces are raised, some arrived in this City, & the remainder daily expected". He mentioned the difficulty in communicating now that so few ships were getting in and out of Virginia, "for without Intelligence from you we shall be made very uneasy". In December he wrote more fully of the political situation (and once again the letter was intercepted) :
They [the British] make a Pretence of leaving the Mode to our Country Men when at the same time their own Determination is fixed invariably, & their Troops & Fleet ready at Hand to enforce their Measures, it appears to me that they will loose the Colonies unless a Speedy Accommodation takes Place ; Our Colonies are as Loyal as any of his Majesty's Subjects, & wou'd go great lengths in Support of his Crown & Dignity, but so soon as they find themselves wounded by the hand of Oppression & Tyranny, Common Justice to themselves & Posterity recommends a very natural & necessary expedient ... All your Letters have been opened in Convention now sitting here, & give general Satisfaction to our Frds. The Sentim.ts of many were found inimical to the grand Cause. A Scotch Gentleman writes to his Fr'd at Norfolk to purchase for him a handsome Seat on James River which he expects may be had cheap all the Lands will be forfeited to the Crown. Some pretty Discoveries were made last Week by intercepted Letters from the Tories to their Friends in Britain which must render them forever odious to the Country, A Letter of mine of the 30th Sepr. was among them, how it got there I cannot imagine ...
A month later, after a disastrous battle with Virginian troops, Lord Dunmore attacked Norfolk, with the result that the whole town was eventually burned to the ground, most of it on the orders of the Continental Congress to prevent the British from using Norfolk as a base. The state of war had reached Virginia, and trade was at a standstill, although Norton's customers still wrote to him when they could and Hatley continued to solicit consignments of tobacco. In May, Hatley advanced £2,000 to the Committee of Safety to buy ammunition.
The Virginia Convention met again in Williamsburg that month, and created a new body, the House of Delegates, to replace the old House of Burgesses. They declared themselves independent of Britain, and Patrick Henry was elected the first Governor of the Virginia Commonwealth ; the Union Flag of the American States was hoisted at the capitol. Despite the traditionally hierarchical Virginians' reservations about the New Bill of Rights' assertion that "all men are born free and equal", they instructed their delegates to the Continental Congress to propose American independence.
After America's declaration on 4 July, the people of Williamsburg celebrated with a parade of continental troops, but the war with Britain had only just begun, and life in Virginia would be difficult for several years. The Committee of Safety were still examining all business correspondence with Britain, and in December all British merchants were ordered to leave Virginia, except those (like Hatley Norton) with family attachments in America. The fledgling economy could not yet replace the wealth of goods that Virginians had been used to importing, and one of Norton's customers told him that year that there was a shortage of many articles. The British military and Naval presence intensified along America's east coast, and although occasional tobacco consignments were getting out (mostly via the West Indies), the British troops were burning warehouses when they could. The Virginian Navy (which now included Norton's ship the Virginia) did its best to protect vessels importing goods for the Continental Army. The House of Delegates placed the property of exiled British subjects in the hands of commissioners for safekeeping. Lord Dunmore's property was confiscated and sold.
Norton and Sons were forced to adapt to the new circumstances. A major problem was the remaining debt owed by Virginian planters. The Virginian paper currency had depreciated in value, so anything Hatley could recover on the spot was virtually worthless. To keep himself and his family, he expanded his own trading, and by 1777 was importing a variety of goods from Europe via the West Indies. Among his consignments were 200 barrels of gunpowder for the Virginian Commonwealth, although this contract was terminated after October because Norton's price was too high. John Norton continued to operate a reduced trade with Virginia, also using the West Indian route, and sometimes shipping from Holland ; privately-owned British ships had been authorised in February to capture American vessels.
Hatley's third daughter, Sarah, was born in Winchester, probably not long before her grandfather John Norton died in London, on 25 October 1777, aged sixty. He was buried in St Olave's Church, Hart Street. He was no doubt worn out by his own tendency to worry and the escalating political and trading problems of the past few years. In his will, written in June 1776, he left recently acquired properties in Putney to Courtenay, and after her death to his children. The rest of his estate he divided in two : half was to go to a trust fund for his son Harry's maintenance, the other half divided between his children - the trustees were Courtenay, George and Jack Frere. A few days later he added an unwitnessed codicil giving £50 each to his two sisters and surviving brother-in-law Michael Turner ; James Withers, gentleman, of the London office was called upon to swear the usual affidavit for such notes. Concerning the Nortons' future in London and in business, John wrote6 :
I desire that my House in London may be kept for twelve Calendar Months after my decease at the expence of my Estate before which time I direct that no division be made thereof. And as I hope an Accomodation will soon take place between Great Britain and her Colonys in America whereby the Trade and Intercourse with that Country will be renewed I desire that my present Trade may be carried on jointly by my said Wife and two Sons John Hatley Norton and George Flowerdewe Norton and for their benefit and advantage in equal shares and proportions for the Term of seven Years or such other Term as they shall agree upon in order that my said Wife may be thereby better enabled to maintain hereself and my three youngest Children.
His death marked the effective end of the company as it had been established by his uncle George Hatley and Thomas Flowerdewe forty years earlier, although George Norton continued to run the London office with the help of the long-serving Withers. Billy Reynolds wrote to George in October 1778, referring to John Norton's death, and saying that if George intended to continue in business "perhaps it may be in my power to introduce some in your hands. Your Brother has been very successfull this War & must have made something very clever".
Fanny Norton married her cousin John Baylor at St Olave's on 18 November 1778. A history of the Baylor family7 states that she brought a dowry of $350,000 ; this, however, was probably in Virginian dollars and worth rather less than it looks. Three days after the wedding, the Baylors left London for Virginia, travelling via Holland, the Leeward Islands and Barbados, where they stayed with her Tucker relatives. The state of war made travel unpredictable, and it took them seven months to reach Virginia and the Baylor home, New Market.
By January 1779 George Norton had decided to leave England at the first opportunity. His health was suffering, and he could "hardly scrape enough together to defray our own Family Expences, so scarce is the Article of Money everywhere". Debts between London and Virginia were irrecoverable, and he still had stockpiles of tobacco which could not be sold. George Walker, Courtenay's brother, wrote to her from Virginia in February, offering condolences for John Norton's death : "I respected him for his care of my Youth, I esteemed him for his humanity to his slaves, I lov'd him as a brother." He noted that Hatley was in good health, but his wife Sally was "a sickly delicate Woman". By now Hatley was extending his own separate business activities in partnership with Samuel Beale, selling a variety of European dry goods and West Indian rum, and chartering boats for the West India trade. His fourth child, and first son, John Hatley Norton junior, was born during 1779.
By September the Nortons had succeeded in leaving London : Courtenay, with her two youngest sons, was in Barbados with her Tucker cousins ; George was at St Eustatia in the Leeward Islands, hoping to get passage to Virginia. Tory refugees were being banished by order of the Virginia House of Delegates and British sympathisers were not allowed to re-enter Virginia. Debts to British merchants were confiscated, along with loyalists' estates. All of this not only made resumption of the Nortons' former tobacco trade impossible, but complicated George's chances of joining his brother in Virginia. In October he left St Eustatia for Barbados, and told James Withers in London that his mother was well, having recovered from a fever, and that the Baylors had reached Virginia and had a visit from Hatley. Withers had been trying to let the Norton properties in London and Putney, but with no success. George sympathised with him, and suggested that he sell bank stock in order to pay off some of the firm's immediate debts. Fanny Baylor wrote late in 1779 to report the birth of her daughter Frances. She hoped to see her mother soon in Virginia and worried about her well-being in Barbados.
Still finding it impossible to enter Virginia, George did his best to continue the Nortons' business from the West Indies, corresponding regularly with Withers and spending his time between Barbados and the Antilles. He was at St Kitts early in August 1780 when he received word that his mother was ill and wanted him to return at once. She hoped to recover quickly and then sail for America - New York was a possibility - with her three sons and her cousin Mary Tucker. George arrived in Barbados on the 13th August to find that Courtenay had died five days earlier. She was 57 when she died, and was buried in the churchyard at Bridgetown. George wrote to Withers in September - "altho my health & low Spirits scarcely allow me to hold a pen or to attend to any business whatsoever" - to ask him to inform his aunts and uncle in Putney of his mother's death. There was no need to have her will proved : "All the Effects shall be carefully packed up & whenever it shall please God to restore peace in America they shall be shiped to her children." The whole family had been suffering from "the contageous disorders of this place", and shortly after George's letter his invalid brother Harry died, aged 26, and was buried with his mother.
Robert Carter Nicholas, Virginia's Treasurer, John Norton's old friend, and father of Sally Norton, died in Virginia, aged 52, a month after Courtenay Norton's death.
Billy Reynolds sent his condolences in December 1780, and told George "let me conjure you by all the ties of affection to come to Virginia without delay". It was nearly two years, however, before he was allowed to return to the country of his birth. In 1781 the British captured St Eustatia, the hub of the Nortons' West Indian business. Local merchants' goods were confiscated and sold off at low prices, and the West Indies trade was drastically affected. George left Barbados, probably together with his youngest brother Daniel, who was now seventeen, on 1 March 1782 ; two days later their cousin John Tucker's house, where the family had been staying, burned down. Again, it was necessary to take a circuitous route because of the presence of the British Navy. They travelled via St Thomas, where they stayed for a while in June, and Bermuda, eventually arriving in September or October. In November George Norton, "a British subject from Barbados", was forced to write a letter of apology to the Governor of Virginia, to whom he had failed to pay his respects on arrival, as required by law. The Governor at the time was Benjamin Harrison, whose daughter had married the Nortons' former captain and later adversary, William Goosley. George pleaded ignorance of the law and his state of health, which had led him to travel immediately to Winchester, in the north of the state, where Hatley and his family were living. Hatley's numerous business activities were by now in some disarray ; he had just returned from a trip to Philadelphia and Baltimore, where he was probably seeking new trading opportunities. The family engaged Charles Minn Thruston, the "fighting parson", to disentangle Hatley's affairs and wind up his partnership with Samuel Beale.
Susanna Turner wrote to Hatley in October 1783 with news of Putney and the family. She and her husband were in good health, although Michael had lost the sight of one eye ; Rebecca was "but indifferent, every week her Legs swell & is inclined to a Dropsie". Her cousin John Forbes, Fifth Lord Pitsligo, was dead (he had died in 1781) and the title extinct. They had heard a rumour that Fanny's husband John Baylor was dead, and had put on mourning - only to find that he was still alive. She mentioned several Putney friends, including Mrs D'Aranda, who had died two years earlier, aged 85 : Elizabeth D'Aranda's daughter Martha had married Dr William Coxe, Susanna's second cousin, and both must have been aware of the connection, although Susanna did not refer to it in her letter.
The peace treaty between Britain and the United States of America, signed on 3 September 1783, included an agreement that creditors on both sides would be honoured in sterling, and all debts paid, but although Tories were now allowed to return to Virginia, the Virginia Assembly had not yet repealed its own anti-debt acts. Now began a long struggle by companies like Norton and Son to recover debts dating back almost ten years, with Charles Minn Thruston continuing to act on the Nortons' behalf. In 1784 George petitioned the House of Delegates, stating that on behalf of John Norton and Sons he "had been compelled to pay many debts due from the said company, but he has been unable to collect any due to them, in consequence of the laws prohibiting recovery of British debts ; by which he has been reduced to the greatest extremes". In the summer Hatley asked Michael Turner for a loan of £6,000, which his uncle regretfully declined.
Rebecca Fludger died in Putney in September 1784, and her sister Susanna Turner in October 1788, surviving her husband by three years. Rebecca left £100 each to Hatley and Fanny, and £500 each to George and Daniel ; the bulk of her estate went to John Turner, probably a nephew of her brother-in-law Michael Turner. Susanna's estate was divided between her three nephews and her niece Fanny Baylor, with an extra trust fund for Daniel and a legacy of £500 for George.
Daniel and Hatley were now in partnership together, and although the saga of trying to recover debts continued for many years, all three brothers quickly re-established themselves in business. In December 1784 George married Charles Minn Thruston's daughter Sarah, two days after her eighteenth birthday. Hatley's wife Sally Norton died in childbirth in May 1787 ; their son George survived. In October of that year their daughter Sarah Norton died, aged ten, and in 1788 her sisters Courtenay and Nancy were placed in charge of Sally's sister Betsy Randolph. Betsy's husband Edmund was Peyton Randolph's nephew, and in 1789 was appointed Attorney-General of the United States ; the Norton girls revelled in the Philadelphia social life. Hatley Norton married again in 1790 ; the youngest brother, Daniel, had married his second cousin Caroline Tucker two years earlier.
The continuing story of the Nortons of Virginia can be found elsewhere ; this book is concerned mainly with John Norton's lifetime, and the transition of the family, through John's marriage to Courtenay Walker, from London shopkeepers to prominent Virginians. The family's wealth was founded on the tobacco trade and the exploitation of slave labour, which - while taken mostly for granted in John Norton's day - cannot help tarnish their activities with the retrospect of 250 years. But the success of John Norton and Sons was also due in large part to John's hard work, his integrity, his absolute loyalty to his acquired Virginian relations, friends and customers and his love of a country in which he spent what were almost certainly the happiest years of his life. The trust placed in him by the most powerful men in Virginia, and particularly by the Treasurer, Robert Carter Nicholas, during the period leading up to the revolution testifies to his trustworthiness and his ability to inspire friendship. He responded unhesitatingly to that trust, as a Virginian and a British subject, and when the battle of wits with Britain for trading parity became an armed struggle for American independence - against Norton's own inclinations - he continued to respond, almost certainly at great risk to himself as in effect a supplier of arms to the Virginian rebels.