William Opie Norris

Submitted to the West Virginia Biographies Project by:
Valerie & Tommy Crook
July 9, 2000

The History of West Virginia, Old and New
Published 1923, The American Historical Society, Inc.,
Chicago and New York, Volume III,
pg. 424-425

WILLIAM OPIE NORRIS, who for over twenty years has
been interested in a growing real estate business at Charles
Town, is member of a family that has been well known
in Jefferson County for over a century, and included men
of distinctive prominence in the affairs of the state as well
as in the immediate locality.

His grandfather was George Norris, a native of either
Northcumberland or Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There
is a well established tradition that two brothers named
Norris came from England to the colonies as early as 1750,
one of them settling in Virginia and becoming the ancestor
of the present line. The other brother settled in Camden,
New Jersey, where he established a foundry and machine
shop. In this plant his descendants made the first locomo-
tive engine that ever pulled a railroad train in this country.
Later the establishment was removed to Philadelphia, and
became the foundation of the present Baldwin Locomotive
Works. The name Norris is perpetuated by a street located
near the works.

While a branch of the family is thus permanently related
with big industrial enterprise, the grandfather of William
O. Norris was a planter, and devoted his life to the man-
agement of his large estate and to his responsibilities as a
leader in public affairs in Frederick County, Virginia, a
county that then embraced Clark County. He was a magis-
trate of Frederick County, and upon the organization of
Clark County, being the oldest magistrate, by provision of
the law of Virginia became automatically the first sheriff of
the new county. He married Jane Wormeley, who was
born at Rose Hill, near Urbana, in Middlesex County, Vir-
ginia. Her father, Ralph Wormeley, was secretary of the
Colony at the beginning of the Revolutionary war, and,
remaining loyal to the crown he returned to England, his
estate being confiscated. After the war he returned and
recovered his property and occupied it until his death.
This old Wormeley estate is on the Rappahannock River.

William H. Norris, father of William O. Norris, was
horn on the plantation known as Rosemont, near Berryville
in Clark County, about 1820. He was educated by private
tutors, and inherited a portion of his father’s estate. At
the time of his marriage he settled on a plantation in Kable-
town District of Jefferson County. This property was
his wife’s inheritance. He operated the estate with slave
labor, and continued there until his death in 1857, at the
age of thirty-seven years. He married Mary Opie, who was
born in Jefferson County. Her father, Hierome, owned
several thousand acres of land and hundreds of slaves, and
he represented his district in the Virginia Legislature for
thirty-five consecutive years. The maiden name of his wife
was Margaret Muse, also a life-long resident of Virginia.
Mary Opie Norris died at the age of sixty-four.

Her son, William Opie Norris, was born on a plantation
in the Kabletown District in Jefferson County, and finished
his education in the Virginia Military Institute. After
finishing his course he returned to the plantation, and was
active in its management until 1900. In that year he
removed to Charles Town and became associated with his
brother-in-law, Colonel Chew, in the real estate and loan
business. In 1872 Mr. Norris married Margaret B. Chew, a
sister of Col. R. P. Chew.