The War of 1812 didn’t officially start in Norfolk, Virginia, but what occurred there in 1807 just a few miles off shore was a harbinger of things to come. On the hunt for Royal Navy deserters, the British frigate Leopard fired on and then boarded the American frigate Chesapeake, fueling American hostility toward the British.
During the war, although Norfolk was the best-defended city in Virginia with four forts, the British Royal Navy used nearby Lynnhaven Bay as a primary anchorage for their ships. From there, the British conducted their blockade at the mouth of the Bay.
The British had their eye on several prime military targets in this region: the American naval shipyard at Portsmouth, the city of Norfolk, and the American frigate Constellation, which was anchored in the Elizabeth River. The British made only one attempt to threaten these targets, and American forces scored a rare early victory at the Battle of Craney Island. However, the British blockade bottled up the Constellation in the Elizabeth River, where it remained for the rest of the war.