The State of Virginia

AT A GLANCE

Name: Virginia was named for Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was known as the Virgin Queen because she never married.
Nicknames: Old Dominion, Mother of Presidents
Capital: Richmond
Size: 40,598 sq. mi. (105,149 sq km)
Population: 8,382,993 (2015 est)
Statehood: Virginia became the 10th state on June 25, 1788.
Electoral votes: 13 (2016)
U.S. representatives: 11 (until 2016)
State tree: dogwood
State flower: dogwood
State dog: American foxhound
Highest point: Mount Rogers, 5,729 ft. (1,746 m)

Virginia map

THE PLACE

Virginia is a southern state that is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. The Chesapeake Bay, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, divides Virginia’s coast into a western mainland and a peninsula called the Eastern Shore.

Virginia’s shore is called the Tidewater because ocean water sometimes flows up into the rivers that empty into the Atlantic. Land in this part of Virginia is marshy, with several swamps. The largest one is Dismal Swamp in the southeast.

Western Virginia is a series of plateaus and ridges formed by the Appalachian Mountains, which stretch from Alabama to Maine. Virginia’s Great Valley, a series of connecting river valleys, is part of this region. Many of the plateaus are sliced by deep gorges and covered with trees.

Between western and central Virginia are the Blue Ridge Mountains, also part of the Appalachian system. Central Virginia is made up of high, rolling plains that gradually become lower as they slope to the east. Many rivers in this area empty into the Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia’s climate is generally mild, but cooler in the mountainous western region, which receives the most snow. This area also has Virginia’s largest deposits of coal, the state’s most valuable mineral resource. Other minerals include granite, limestone, shale, soapstone, marble, gypsum, natural gas, and petroleum.

Facts and Firsts

  • Jamestown, founded in 1697, was the first successful English settlement in the American colonies. The site of the Jamestown settlement now lies on an island because, over time, it has been cut off from the mainland by water.
  • The College of William and Mary, founded in 1693, is the second-oldest college in the nation. Only Harvard University (in Massachusetts) is older.
  • Six first ladies were born in Virginia: Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson, Rachel Jackson, Letitia Tyler, Ellen Arthur, and Edith Wilson.
  • Kentucky and West Virginia were once part of Virginia.
  • Richmond, Virginia’s capital, was also the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. More Civil War battles were fought in Virginia than in any other state.
  • Today, Virginia is the home base for the U.S. Navy ‘s Atlantic Fleet.
  • The Pentagon, located in Arlington, is the world’s largest office building and has more than 68,000 miles (108,800 km) of internal telephone lines.

THE PAST

Virginia has played a central part in the history of the United States. In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to establish the first English settlement in North America at Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North Carolina. Although the settlement failed, King James I sent another group of colonists to Virginia. This second attempt was successful, and in 1607 the colonists founded Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America.

The colonists grew tobacco and shipped it to Europe. In 1624, King James I made Virginia a royal colony. Profitable trade stimulated population growth, and settlers began to move west and explore. As more colonists moved to western Virginia, Native Americans, aided by the French, began to retaliate by attacking settlements.

When the Revolutionary War began, many Virginia residents remained loyal to England. Others, however, wanted independent control of trade and economic affairs in the colony. Two of the most well-known supporters of American independence—Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson—were from Virginia. Virginia was the site of some of the most important battles of the American Revolution, including the final battle at Yorktown that led to England’s surrender. Four of the first five presidents of the United States—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe—were Virginians.

During the Civil War, Virginia initially did not want to secede (withdraw from the Union), but the state felt pressure from others in the South to defend a state’s right to pass its own laws. When Virginia decided to secede from the Union, many people in western Virginia refused and set up an independent government. In 1863, these independent counties were declared by President Abraham Lincoln to be the separate state of West Virginia.

The city of Richmond served as the capital of the South through much of the Civil War. Important battles were fought throughout the state at such places as Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg. The Civil War, like the American Revolution, ended in Virginia. In 1865, Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union general Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.

Virginia’s modern industries were established after the Civil War. During the 1880s, factories made cigarettes, cotton textiles, and ships. Progress was slow, however, especially during the 1920s and 1930s, when many Virginians moved to other states in search of better employment.

In the 1940s, government and military workers settled in Virginia, just outside of the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. The population boomed, tourism increased, and industry expanded.

Virginia, like most other states, had racial conflicts in the 1950s and 1960s. Some segregated school districts resisted compulsory integration, and even closed schools rather than end segregation.

By the 1970s and 1980s, the arrival of more people and businesses in Virginia began to threaten plants and animals in the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding areas. Virginia undertook efforts to clean polluted areas and protect wildlife.

THE PRESENT

Virginia’s location along the Chesapeake Bay has traditionally benefited the state’s economy. Good soil for tobacco planting, combined with access to the ocean, helped make the colony rich and continues to bring prosperity to the state.

Tourists spend millions of dollars every year to see sights such as Revolutionary and Civil War battlegrounds, Colonial Williamsburg, George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, and Arlington National Cemetery, where President John F. Kennedy is buried.

A number of government offices are located in Virginia because of the state’s proximity to Washington, D.C. The Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Department of Defense, and many military bases are located in northeastern Virginia.

Many people who work in the capital choose to reside in Virginia. Access to the Chesapeake Bay and the many rivers that flow into it has also helped ensure Virginia’s industrial success.

Businesses in Virginia manufacture products such as synthetic cloth, pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, peanut butter, soft drinks, boats and ships, automobile parts, and rubber. Rivers that flow into the bay also provide water for Virginia’s farms, which produce chickens, beef cattle, milk, turkeys, hogs, tobacco, potatoes, and apples.

Born in Virginia

  • Arthur Ashe, tennis player
  • Warren Beatty, actor and director
  • Richard E. Byrd, explorer
  • Henry Clay, statesman
  • Ella Fitzgerald, singer
  • William H. Harrison, U.S. president
  • Patrick Henry, statesman
  • Sam Houston, political leader
  • Thomas Jefferson, U.S. president
  • Robert E. Lee, Confederate general
  • Meriwether Lewis, explorer
  • Shirley MacLaine, actress
  • James Madison, U.S. president
  • John Marshall, jurist
  • Cyrus McCormick, inventor
  • James Monroe, president
  • Pocahontas (Matoaka), daughter of Native American chief Powhaten
  • Walter Reed, army surgeon
  • Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, dancer
  • George C. Scott, actor
  • James “Jeb” Stuart, Confederate army officer
  • Zachary Taylor, U.S. president
  • Nat Turner, leader of slave uprising
  • John Tyler, U.S. president
  • Booker T. Washington, educator
  • George Washington, U.S. president
  • Woodrow Wilson, U.S. president
  • Tom Wolfe, journalist