Virginia State History
Modern-day Virginia has been inhabited for a little over 8,000 years. Of the many peoples who lived in Virginia before England colonized the area, the most influential were the Powhatan Confederacy. The Powhatan controlled much of the Tidewater region of Virginia, where they developed a complex agricultural state. The Powhatan are most remembered for their interactions with early colonists.
Virginia has had a major impact on the course of U.S. history. Jamestown was the first permanent settlement in the original Thirteen Colonies. Virginia struggled until colonists began cultivating tobacco—the growth of cash crops around the Chesapeake Bay would define much of America's history, creating economic divides between the North and South and prompting the introduction of African labor to the colonies in 1619. The first Africans brought to Virginia were indentured servants, like many of the white laborers, but unequal treatment and racial bias against the black workers would lead to the implementation of chattel slavery by the 1660s. Virginia would have the highest slave population in the country.
The colonial government would establish the House of Burgesses in 1619. This bicameral legislature would influence later forms of colonial government. The burgesses would also see one of the most dramatic episodes of colonial history—Bacon's Rebellion. Western settlers felt neglected by the government as they weren't receiving due protection in their conflicts with the local native groups. Nathaniel Bacon led illegal sorties against the natives, which carried him on a wave of popularity into the House of Burgesses. There he clashed with the governor of Virginia, escalating to full-blown rebellion. Bacon assumed control of government, and ran the colony until his death. He burned the capital at Jamestown, leading to the creation of the new capital at Williamsburg.
Virginians would lead the colonies into the French and Indian War that preceded the American Revolution; Virginia businessmen drove the push into the Ohio Territory, and the Virginian George Washington would be the representative of English interests against the French. And, though the Revolution began in New England, it ended in Virginia at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. During and after the Revolution, many of the country's most influential figures were from Virginia: Presidents Washington and Jefferson, and Patrick Henry to name a few. The state is called the "Mother of Presidents" because eight U.S. presidents were born there.
The slavery issue would define much of Virginia's history for the ninety years after independence. Virginia planters played a major role in keeping slavery legal in the country. They formed a firm political bloc throughout the numerous crises and debates that led up to the Civil War. Once the war began in 1861, Virginia sided with the Confederacy. The Confederate capital was moved to the present-day capital of Richmond. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was the Confederate force at Gettysburg, and at the final major battle of the war in Appomattox, Virginia. The state of West Virginia broke away during the conflict.
After the war, Virginia was the heart of the movement to create "the New South." The New South was a push away from the traditional cash-crop agriculture of the region toward industrialization and integration into the national economy. Virginia's economy recovered the fastest among the devastated former Confederate states. The New South, however, did not necessarily break with the Old South attitudes toward race. Many of the racist laws that would spread nationwide in the 1900s found an early home in Virginia.
Heading into WWII, Virginia saw an economic boom due to its proximity to D.C. Many essential government offices (and defense contractors) are located in Virginia. This would be the seed of Virginia's tech industry, which would also later play an important role in developing and commercializing the Internet.
Points of interest include Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington; Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson; Stratford, home of the Lees; Richmond, capital of the Confederacy and of Virginia; and Williamsburg, the restored Colonial capital. Other attractions are the Shenandoah National Park, Colonial National Historical Park, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, the Booker T. Washington birthplace near Roanoke, and Arlington House.
Virginia Culture and Interesting Facts
Home of the Internet
The Internet may have been invented by Timothy Berners-Lee in Europe, but the Internet found a home in Virginia. The tech businesses in the Old Dominion host nearly three-quarters of all web traffic—that means that if you're reading this page right now, this data is probably coming to you by way of Loudoun County, VA. Data farms cover over 10 million square miles of Virginian soil. The state has deepened its ties to the Internet with initiatives like mandatory web-safety education in schools.
A Seat of Government
Although the capital of the United States is Washington, D.C., many of the most important government offices are located in Virginia. This includes the largest office building in the world, the Pentagon. The U.S. Navy Atlantic fleet is also housed in Virginia, home to the world's most productive shipyard. The federal government is the largest employer in Virginia, with a full 1/4 of Virginians working for the government.
Virginia is for Lovers
The state slogan "Virginia is for Lovers" (meant like "Virginia is for Mountain Lovers" or "Virginia is for Art Lovers") refers to the wide range of tourist attractions in Virginia. The state has culture museums, historical sites, beaches, hiking, and more. The tourism industry is a growing and important part of Virginia's economy.
Famous Virginia Natives and Residents
Richard Arlen actor;
Arthur Ashe tennis player;
Pearl Bailey singer;
Russell Baker columnist;
Warren Beatty actor;
George Bingham painter;
Richard E. Byrd polar explorer;
Eric Cantor political leader;
Willa Cather novelist;
Roy Clark country music artist;
William Clark explorer;
Henry Clay statesman;
Clarence Clemons musician;
Joseph Cotten actor;
Katie Couric TV newscaster;
Ella Fitzgerald singer;
William H. Harrison president;
Patrick Henry statesman;
Sam Houston political leader;
Thomas Jefferson president;
Robert E. Lee Confederate general;
Meriwether Lewis explorer;
Shirley MacLaine actress;
James Madison president;
Moses Malone basketball player;
Aimee Mann musician;
John Marshall jurist;
Cyrus McCormick inventor;
James Monroe president;
Opechancanough Powhatan leader;
John Payne actor;
Walter Reed army surgeon;
Matthew Ridgway general;
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson dancer;
George C. Scott actor;
Sam Snead golfer;
J. E. B. Stuart Confederate general;
Thomas Sumter general;
Zachary Taylor president;
Nat Turner leader of slave uprising;
John Tyler president;
Michael Vick football player;
Booker T. Washington educator;
George Washington first president;
Woodrow Wilson president;
Tom Wolfe journalist.
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