State in eastern USA, bordered to the north by Maryland and the District of Columbia, to the west by Kentucky and West Virginia, to the south by North Carolina and Tennessee; area 102,548 sq km/39,594 sq mi; population (2010) 8,001,024; capital Richmond. It was named after Queen Elizabeth I of England, the virgin queen. In the east it occupies the southern tip of the Delamarva Peninsula and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. The state includes Chesapeake Bay and the Shenandoah Valley. The most important industries are the service and tourist industries. Virginia's industrial output includes textiles, chemicals, cars, and electrical equipment; agricultural products include tobacco, soybeans, peanuts, and apples. Coal is the most important mineral. Major towns and cities include Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Newport News, Arlington, Hampton, Alexandria, Portsmouth, and Roanoke. One of the Thirteen Colonies, the first permanent English settlement was made at Jamestown in 1607, and in 1619 the colonists established the first representative legislature in America. During the American Civil War, Virginia was the northeastern-most state of the Confederacy. Virginia ratified the US Constitution in 1788, becoming the 10th US state.
Physical Virginia lies midway on the Atlantic coast of the USA. The ocean advances deep into the mainland at Chesapeake Bay, whose rugged coastline is indented by the wide estuaries of several rivers. To the west, the landscape merges into the undulating Piedmont Plateau, rising gradually into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Further west are the valleys of Virginia, including the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Virginia can be divided into five main regions: the Appalachian Plateau, the Appalachian Ridge and Valley region, the Piedmont, the Atlantic Coastal Plain, and the Chesapeake Bay area.
The Appalachian Plateau in the southwest is covered with forest and has an average elevation of 600 m/2,000 ft. The area has valuable coalfields. In the far southwest of the state is the Cumberland Gap through the Appalachian Mountains, which was the ‘gateway to the west’ for early pioneers.
The Appalachian Ridge and Valley region is a series of parallel mountain ridges running northeast and southeast along Virginia's western border. The Great Valley, or Valley of Virginia, to the east consists of a number of river valleys, including the Shenandoah in the north. The Massanutten Mountain Ridge divides the Shenandoah valley in two for much of its length. The region has many caves and formations of geological interest. The Blue Ridge Mountains to the east are a major Virginian attraction, with Mount Rogers (1,746 m/5,729 ft) the state's high point, along with Whitetop Mountain (1,682 m/5,520 ft) to the south of the area.
The Piedmont in central Virginia is an elevated rolling plain running south to the North Carolina border. Its height varies, being 240–270 m/790–880 ft in the west and 60–90 m/200–295 ft in the east; it is 65 km/40 mi wide in the northeast, stretching to 225 km/140 mi wide at the border. Streams and rivers flow southeastwards across the plain, breaking into small waterfalls at the Fall Line, the point where it meets the Coastal Plain.
The Atlantic Coastal Plain is a lowland region, running north to south along the Atlantic. Tidal water flows up its inlets and rivers, and it is divided by Chesapeake Bay into a mainland section and the Eastern Shore, a peninsula. There are saltmarshes and swamps, the most famous being Dismal Swamp in the southeast. The coastline features several lagoons, sandbars, and islands, and a long sandy beach stretching south from Norfolk.
Several rivers flow from the Piedmont area into Chesapeake Bay, where they have divided the Coastal Plain into a series of peninsulas. The Roanoke River flows into North Carolina and the Shenandoah River flows north through the Great Valley until it reaches the Potomac, which empties into Chesapeake Bay. Other great river estuaries at Chesapeake Bay include the Rappahannock, James, and York rivers.
Virginia has an oceanic climate with warm summers.
Features Virginia's history as the site of first English settlement, the birthplace of eight presidents, and the site of a number of major battles, means that it has a wealth of heritage features.
Virginia is known for its stately old homes, especially the homes of the presidents. Most popular are Mount Vernon (1754), home of George Washington; Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's house at Charlottesville (a World Heritage Site), built 1769–1809 and containing many of Jefferson's inventions; Berkeley (1726), the home of William Henry Harrison; and Montpelier, home of James Madison, and in the 20th century of the du Pont family. The Woodrow Wilson House and the Museum of American Frontier Culture are at Staunton. George Washington's birthplace National Monument can be seen at Wakefield. Plantation houses include Shirley (1723, the oldest in Virginia); Carter's Grove Plantation (1750), one of the most beautiful of the old plantations along the James River; and Oatlands (1803).
Sites of historic interest include Jamestown Island, the first permanent English settlement in North America (1607), and Williamsburg, the state's second colonial capital, which has been restored to look as it did in the 18th century, and features a memorial stone commemorating the life of Pocahontas, who brought peace between the English and the American Indians by her marriage to the settler John Rolfe. In Old Town (1749), Alexandria, there are 18th- and 19th-century redbrick buildings, including the boyhood home of Confederate Robert E Lee (1795), Lee-Fendall House (1785), Christ Church, Gadsby's Tavern Museum (1770), and the George Washington National Masonic Memorial.
Fredericksburg has a National Historic District, including Kenmore (1750s), the home of George Washington's sister; the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop; and the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library. Old Richmond has the Virginia state capitol (designed by Thomas Jefferson, 1785); the Museum and White House of the Confederacy; and Agecroft Hall (a 15th-century house transported from Lancashire in 1925).
Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, DC, is the burial place of several US presidents, including John F Kennedy and veterans of 20th-century wars. Virginia is also the home of several government agencies and departments. The Pentagon, the headquarters of the US Department of Defense, is in Arlington, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is based in Langley.
The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg (1693) is the second-oldest college in the USA and the University of Virginia (a World Heritage Site) in Charlottesville was designed by Thomas Jefferson. The Booker T Washington National Monument in Franklin County celebrates the black leader and educator and is a museum of life under slavery.
Yorktown battlefield was the site of the last major battle of the American Revolution in 1781. Civil War battlefields include the Manassas National Battlefield Park (or Bull Run), Richmond Battlefield Park, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial, and Petersburg National Battlefield. Stratford Hall was the birthplace of Robert E Lee; Lexington is now home to the Lee Memorial Chapel and Museum. Military history exhibits from this era can be found at the Virginia Military Institute (1839), Stonewall Jackson House, and the George C Marshall Museum. Appomattox Court House was the site of Robert E Lee's surrender to Ulysses S Grant in 1865, ending the Civil War.
Virginia has 22 state forests, 36 state parks, an interstate park, and several other natural and recreational areas. Virginia's natural wonders include the Natural Bridge, Natural Chimneys, Natural Tunnel, and many large caves. Taking the Skyline Drive along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains, tourists can enjoy views of the Shenandoah Valley.
Culture About three-quarters of Virginia's total population live in the metropolitan areas. About one-fifth are African Americans (2010), and other large population groups include people of German, English, and Irish descent. There are many immigrants from Southeast Asia living in the north of the state. Much of the state has a traditional southern culture, but the northern area near Washington, DC, often referred to as Northern Virginia, is more diverse. Densely populated Fairfax and Arlington Counties are known for their excellent schools.
Steeped in history, Virginia's thriving heritage industry recreates the battlefields of the Civil War, and the lifestyles of planters, colonial governors, and slaves. Several museums hold valuable historical artefacts and papers. In Richmond, the Museum and White House of the Confederacy has a large collection of items relating to the Confederacy and the South; also in Richmond the Virginia Historical Society maintains a library and museum covering four centuries of history, and the Valentine Museum contains exhibits on urban and social history. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum has exhibits connected with the years the writer spent in Richmond.
Fox hunting was introduced to the colony by English settlers and is still popular today. Annual events include pony penning on Chincoteague Island in July. Wild ponies have roamed freely for centuries on Assateague Island, off the coast near Ocean City, and every year some are rounded up and driven across the shallow channel to nearby Chincoteague Island, where they are auctioned.
A Garden Symposium is held in Williamsburg in late March, and many of Virginia's old homes and gardens are open to the public during Historic Garden Week in late April. Recreational activities include boating, fishing, and beach sports on the Atlantic Coast and Chesapeake Bay. Virginia Beach is a popular resort and is host to a Boardwalk Art Show in June. The Hampton Jazz Festival takes place in late June.
GovernmentVirginia's state constitution Virginia's constitution became effective in 1971, with earlier constitutions adopted in 1776, 1830, 1869, and 1901. Constitutional amendments may be proposed in either house of the state legislature or by a constitutional convention called by the majority of the legislature with the approval of the majority of the state's voters.
Structure of state government Virginia's legislature, the General Assembly, is the oldest representative legislature in the USA. Its history can be traced to 1619. It comprises two chambers, an upper house, the Senate, with 40 members elected for four-year terms, and the House of Delegates, with 100 members, elected for two-year terms.
Two senators and 11 representatives are elected to Congress, and the state has 13 electoral votes in presidential elections. Virginia is a ‘swing state’ in US presidential elections, although the Republican party held most of the state's seats in the US House of Representatives (2014).
The governor and the lieutenant governor of Virginia are elected to a four-year term and cannot serve more than one term in a row. Democrat Terry McAuliffe took the governorship in January 2014. The governor appoints nearly all the senior state officials, including the secretary of the commonwealth, the treasurer, the adjutant general, and the comptroller. The voters elect the attorney general and the legislature elects the auditor, both for a four-year term. Virginia is one of five US states which elects its legislature and state officials in odd-numbered years.
Virginia has 95 counties, each governed by a board of supervisors, except Arlington, which has a county board. Voters elect most other officials and the clerk is elected for an eight-year term. A few counties have a county manager or county executive government, and Virginia is unusual in having 40 independent cities, all with council-manager governments, which are legally separate from their counties.
Economy The most important elements in the modern economy of Virginia are service industries and commerce, largely because of the number of government departments around the federal capital, Washington, DC. The aerospace industry is a major employer and contributor to the economy. Virginia's principal industrial products are computer hardware, textiles, chemicals, cars and car parts, and electrical and electronic machinery. The state is also a leading centre for internet technology and software development.
The main crops grown on the Piedmont Plateau are tobacco, soybeans, and peanuts. Apples are grown on the Blue Ridge Mountains, which also have a thriving dairy farming industry. Other important crops are sweet potatoes and maize. However, livestock and livestock products are the principal source of the state's agricultural income.
Coal, particularly bituminous coal, is Virginia's most important mineral, and there are deposits of anthracite in Montgomery and Pulaski counties. Crushed stone is the next most important mineral product, and other minerals include basalt, granite, limestone (from the Appalachians), clay, sand and gravel (from the Atlantic Coastal Plain), and natural gas, gypsum, kyanite, petroleum, and zinc.
The tourist and leisure industries are also among the major employers in the state, as is the federal government.
HistoryIndigenous inhabitants At the time of the arrival of the first British colonists, Virginia was home to a number of American Indian people from three major Indian language groups. The Powhatan, Algonquian speakers, lived by the coast; Monacan and Manahoac, Siouan-language speakers, lived in the Piedmont region. Other Siouans, the Nahyssan and the Occaneechi, lived on the James and the Roanoke rivers, respectively. The Susquehannock in the upper Chesapeake Bay area, the Cherokee in the southwest, and the Nottaway in the southeast were Iroquoian speakers.
European settlers The first European settlers were Spanish Jesuits who established a mission in 1570 around the York River and were wiped out by American Indians a few months later. In 1582, Queen Elizabeth I of England gave permission to Walter Raleigh to begin the colonial occupation of America. Raleigh and others sent expeditions, many of which failed for lack of supplies. Raleigh and the queen named the whole of the eastern USA Virginia, but it was not until 1607, in the reign of James I, that the first permanent English settlement in America was established, by a group of settlers led by Captain John Smith at Jamestown. Many settlers died in the first two years, of hunger, disease, and American Indian attacks, in what became known as the starving time, and others started to leave in the spring, until they met a new influx of settlers led by Thomas West de la Warr, who brought supplies.
Tobacco John Rolfe, one of the colonists, brought tobacco seeds from South America. A plantation economy quickly developed, with indentured European servants and, from 1619, African slaves brought by the Dutch to tend tobacco, indigo, and other crops. Virginia tobacco became popular in England and gave the colonists a way to support themselves. Exports and other trade with the West Indies and Europe grew.
John Rolfe's marriage in 1614 to Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan, chief of the Indian confederation at Jamestown, brought a period of peace and stability between the Indians and the colonists. In 1619, the same year that all free colonists had been granted a piece of land, the first black slaves were brought from Africa by the Dutch, and young women were sent from England to become wives for the lonely settlers.
Government and expansion The House of Burgesses, the first representative legislature in America, was elected by the planters in 1619 to govern the colony. The House of Burgesses and the governor of the English Virginia Company made the laws for the colony, and in 1624 Virginia became a royal colony.
Small farmers began to push westwards to the eastern edge of the Piedmont. By the beginning of the 18th century, Virginia was the largest North American colony, with a population of 58,000 settlers, taking up all the land along the tidal rivers and creeks, with many pioneers spreading west into the Great Valley and the mountains beyond. The agricultural prosperity that followed, and the relatively inactive colonial government, created a breed of fiercely independent farmers.
Leadership and the American Revolution Virginia provided many of the men who took the 13 colonies towards independence from Britain and filled early national leadership roles. Four of the first five presidents of the USA – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe – were born in Virginia.
During the American Revolution, Virginia provided a large proportion of the soldiers fighting in the Continental Army, as well as financial and other resources. The last battle of the war was fought in 1781 at Yorktown. In 1792, Virginians were prominent in establishing Kentucky as a state from three western counties.
Against slavery In 1831, Nat Turner, a black slave and preacher from Southampton County, led a slave rebellion in which 57 whites were killed. Although the revolt was quickly crushed, it was the most serious uprising in the history of US slavery. As a result, the national legislature discussed the abolition of slavery but all the bills presented in its favour were defeated and slavery was not abolished until 1863.
Civil War Although Virginia hesitated to join the Confederacy in 1861 when it seceded from the Union, it soon became the industrial and military leader of the Southern states, with Richmond as the capital. Much of the most serious action of the Civil War took place in Virginia, from Bull Run (Manassas) to Robert E Lee's surrender at Appomattox. By the end of the war, Virginia was devastated; it was not readmitted to the Union until 1870.
20th century The development of a coal and rail economy in the Appalachians brought some new wealth, and manufacturing gradually became central to Richmond, which produced tobacco products and chemicals; Danville, which produced textiles; Lynchburg; and other cities.
The conservative Democrat, Harry Byrd, who was governor of the state 1926–30 and US senator 1933–65, dominated state politics between the 1920s and 1960s through a rural-based political machine known as the Byrd Organization. In the early 1960s he advocated a policy of ‘massive resistance’ to racial desegregation of public schools that led to the closure of many schools.
World War II and the expansion of the federal government initiated a period of real change. Modern Virginia became concerned about its environment, especially industrial pollution in Chesapeake Bay, which threatens plant and animal life. Virginia's coal industry has also been affected by nationwide concern over air pollution caused by coal.
In 1990, Douglas Wilder was elected governor of Virginia and became the first African-American to be elected a state governor since Reconstruction.
On 11 September 2001, Virginia was affected by the Islamic terrorist attack on the US when American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon, in Arlington County, claiming 64 lives on the plane and 125 in the buildings.
Famous peoplesport Sam Snead (1912–2002), golfer; Arthur Ashe (1943–1993), tennis player; Curtis Northrup Strange (1955– ), golfer
the arts George Bingham (1811–1879), painter; Willa Cather (1873–1947), novelist; Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson (1878–1949), tap dancer; Joseph Cotten (1905–1994), actor; Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996), singer; Pearl Bailey (1918–1988), singer and actor; Russell Baker (1925– ), journalist; George C Scott (1927–1999), actor; Tom Wolfe (1931– ), journalist and novelist; Shirley MacLaine (1934– ), actor; Warren Beatty (1937– ), actor
science William Clark (1770–1838), explorer; Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809), explorer; Cyrus McCormick (1809–1884), inventor; Henry Draper (1837–1882), astronomer; Walter Reed (1851–1902), physician; Richard E Byrd (1888–1957), aviator and explorer
society and education Nat Turner (1800–1831), abolitionist leader; Booker T Washington (1856–1915), educationalist; Pat Robertson (1930– ), televangelist
politics and lawPowhatan (c. 1550–1618), American Indian chief; John Smith (1580–1631), English colonist; Matoaka Pocahontas (c. 1595–1617), American Indian princess; George Washington (1732–1799), first president of the USA; Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), third president of the USA; James Madison (1751–1836), fourth president of the USA; John Marshall (1755–1835) politician and jurist; James Monroe (1758–1831), fifth president of the USA; William H Harrison (1773–1841), 9th president of the USA; Henry Clay (1777–1852), politician; Zachary Taylor (1784–1850), 12th president of the USA; John Tyler (1790–1862), 10th president of the USA; Robert E Lee (1807–1870), Confederate general; ‘Stonewall’ Jackson (1824–1863), Confederate general; Jeb Stuart (1833–1864), soldier; Patrick Henry (1836–1799), patriot; Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), 28th president of the USA.
Virginia – flag
See also South Carolina (Federal Writers’ Project). We found shoal water, where we smelt so sweet and so strong a smell, as if...
State in E USA, on the Atlantic coast, the most northerly of the 'southern states'; the capital is Richmond . The coastal plain is low-lying....
A state on the mid-Atlantic coast of the USA. The low-lying coastal plain is separated from the forested Appalachian Mountains in the W by a...