History of Virginia
Even though the first human presence in Virginia is believed to date back to 12,000 years ago, the first permanent habitats seem to have emerged some 5,000 years ago and the permanent farming began in 900 AD. The first Algonquian towns in the Tidewater region (in the eastern portion Virginia) were founded around 1500. In addition to the Algonquian-speaking tribes, the other large language groups of Native Americans in Virginia were the Siouan and the Iroquoians. Those other groups posed a threat to the Algonquian trade and prosperity, which is why the Algonquians united under the famous chief Powhatan.
The first European explorers in the region were the Spanish who traveled to the Chesapeake Bay. In 1584, with a charter granted by the Queen Elizabeth I of England, Walter Raleigh sent an expedition to the Atlantic region of North America, with the idea of founding a colony north of Spanish Florida. The name “Virginia” came either from Elizabeth’s status of “Virgin Queen” or from Native American phrases “Wingandacoa” and “Wingina”. The London Company participated in the colonization of the area (which initially included all of the land from Maine to South Carolina) and founded Jamestown, which was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.
The colony was in almost constant conflict with the native tribes, known as the Anglo-Powhatan Wars, from 1609 to 1677. Many settlers had died during this period but new settlers were sent in from Europe, mostly because of the tobacco demand. One way to solve the labor shortage in the colony was to import slaves from Africa, which started in 1619.
The House of Burgesses, the first assembly of elected representatives in English colonies in America was established in Jamestown in 1619.
The important events in the 17th-century Virginia also include Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 and the Treaty of 1677, with which the Native American tribes were allowed to live and hunt in their lands but had to swear fealty to the British crown. Williamsburg became the capital of the colony in 1699.
In the 18th century, a group of Virginians formed the Ohio Company with the idea of founding an English settlement in Ohio, where France had previously claimed the land, which consequently led to the French and Indian War (part of the Seven Years War). The Virginia Regiment during this war was led by George Washington.
The British Parliament started imposing new taxes to the colonies after the French and Indian War, which was not appreciated in the colonies, to say the least, and started organizing between themselves. The House of Burgesses was dissolved in 1774 and the opposition leaders had to act through different means, such as the Virginia Conventions. Virginia declared independence in 1776.
The colonial army during the Revolutionary War was led by George Washington, who was from Virginia. Another Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, drafted the Declaration of Independence, using some of the elements of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. The capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond. In 1781, the colonial army defeated General Cornwallis, which led to the negotiations in Paris and consequently to the independence. The United States Constitution was drafted with the help of several prominent Virginians, including James Madison, who drafted the Virginia Plan and the Bill of Rights. Virginia ratified the Constitution in 1788 and initially held the largest portion in the House of Representatives.
Virginia relied greatly on slave labor, not only for farming and plantations but also in mining and shipbuilding. In 1860, approximately 30% of all Virginia inhabitants were slaves. This created a large division between Virginia and the abolitionist states in the Union and eventually contributed to the beginning of the Civil War. Virginia declared the secession from the Union and jointed the Confederate States of America in 1861. West Virginia seceded from the state and joined the Union. Throughout the war, Virginia saw more battles than any other state, including Bull Run, Chancellorsville and the Battle of Appomattox Court House. Richmond was captured in 1865 and in 1870 Virginia returned to the Union.
Like in many other states in the US, especially the southern ones, when the white Democratic Party gained power in Virginia it adopted laws that basically disenfranchised African Americans and poor whites and stripped them of their voting rights. Schools in Virginia were segregated and lacked funding, but the African Americans still succeeded in creating their own communities.
In 1880s, the industrialized tobacco production led to an economic boom in Virginia. Shipbuilding was another important industry. Tourism became a significant source of income for Virginia after the 1920s, when many colonial-era buildings were reconstructed and tourists arrived from all across the nation to visit the important historical sites.
Segregation was a big issue during the mid-20th century. The segregationist doctrine in schools was rejected in 1954 but the proponents of segregation were still very strong so in 1958 the Commonwealth cut all the funding to the desegregated schools. In the 1960, the Civil Rights Movement grew strong and created the conditions for the passage of important legislative documents, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights act in 1965. Schools in Virginia were definitely integrated in 1964 and in 1967 the United States Supreme Court ordered the state to remove the interracial marriage ban.
Geography of Virginia
Virginia is a part of the South Atlantic region of the United States. It borders with Maryland, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina. The geography of Virginia is dominated by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Commonwealth is divided into five regions: Tidewater, Piedmont, Blue Ridge Mountains, Ridge and Valley and Cumberland Plateau. The Tidewater is the plain between the coast and the fall line. The Piedmont consists of foothills east of the mountains and includes the Southwest Mountains. Blue Ridge Mountains are basically a province of the Appalachian Mountains. West of the mountains is the Ridge and Valley region, which includes the Great Appalachian Valley. The Cumberland Plateau, as well as the Cumberland Mountains, are located in the southwest.
Major rivers in Virginia include James, Potomac, Shenandoah and Rappahannock rivers. Some of the largest lakes and bodies of water are the Lake Moomaw, Pound Lake, John F. Flannagan Reservoir and John H. Kerr Reservoir.
The highest point in Virginia is Mount Rogers, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Grayson and Smyth counties.
Virginia has a generally mild climate. The area east of the Blue Ridge Mountains has a humid subtropical climate while the mountainous areas to the west have humid continental and maritime temperate climate. The coastal area of Virginia, especially near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, is often exposed to hurricanes.
Northern Virginia recently started experiencing problems with heat, pollution and bad air quality, which is believed to be caused by the expansion of suburbs from Washington, D.C.
Roughly 65% of Virginia is covered in forests, primarily deciduous. The Commonwealth has many state and national parks, including Great Falls park, the Appalachian Trail and the Shenandoah Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the famous Skyline Drive. The Chesapeake Bay is protected by both federal and state laws.
Virginia has a rich fauna, dominated by black bears, white-tailed deer, beavers, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, foxes and rabbits, as well as hundreds of bird species, such as cardinals, barred owls, bald eagles, wild turkeys, the peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks and brown pelicans.
Population of Virginia
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011 Virginia had a population of 8,096,604. The most populous city is Virginia Beach, followed by Norfolk and Chesapeake. Fairfax County, the most populous county in Virginia, has more than one million residents.
The largest ethnic group in Virginia is non-Hispanic whites, who make up the 64.8% of the state’s population. The second most populous group are African Americans (19.4%), followed by Latinos or Hispanics (7.9%), Asians (5.5%) and American Indian or Alaska Natives (0.45%).
The largest ancestries in Virginia are African American, German, American, English and Irish.
Many (if not most) of the African Americans in Virginia are descendants of black slaves brought from Africa (mostly Angola and Nigeria) to work on the plantations. The number of African Americans was greatly reduced during the first Great Migration, but the migration then reversed and many started going back south after 1965.
The most recent immigration consists mainly of Hispanics and Asians. The majority of Hispanic and Asian population lives in Northern Virginia. Vietnamese Americans mostly came to Virginia after the Vietnam War, while the Korean Americans came more recently. Filipino Americans in Virginia are generally associated with Navy and armed forces in the Commonwealth.
The largest religious group in Virginia is Christian, namely Protestant. Baptists are the largest single group, followed by Catholics, Methodists and Lutherans. Other large Christian denominations in Virginia include Mormons, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Episcopalians and Congregationalists.
Other religions in the Commonwealth include Judaism (1%), Buddhism (1%), Hinduism (1%) and Islam (0.5%).
The main sources of income for the economy in Virginia include state and federal government, farming, business and military. One-third of the employees in the state work in the service sector. Virginia has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the USA. Northern Virginia has six of the 20 highest-income counties in the United States and the region is generally wealthy.
Virginia has recently become one of the nation’s centers for computer technology. Parts of the state that once relied on farming, dairy and tobacco, today are focused on software, communication technology, data centers and consulting. Computer chips surpassed tobacco and coal as the traditional top export products.
According to CNBC, Virginia was the top state for business in 2007, 2009 and 2011 and Forbes Magazine named it the best state for business for four consecutive years, from 2006 to 2009.
Approximately 900,000 people in Virginia work in the defense industry and there are 800,000 veterans in the state. Northern Virginia hosts several important federal agencies, including the CIA and the Department of Defense.
As for the agriculture, the most important crop in Virginia are tomatoes, followed by soy, peanuts, tobacco and hay.
Virginia Government and Legislation
The Virginia General Assembly is the oldest legislature not only in the USA but in the entire Western Hemisphere. The current Constitution of Virginia was adopted in 1971 as the Commonwealth seventh constitution.
The General Assembly consists of the House of Delegates with 100 members and the Senate with 40 members. The Governor and the Lieutenant Governor serve four-year terms. As of 2012, the Governor of Virginia was Bob McDonnell, elected in 2010.
Virginia has the oldest judicial system in the United States and its highest body is the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Commonwealth also has the oldest police department in America – the Virginia Capitol Police.
In the past, Virginia was a predominately rural, typically Southern and conservative state, but in the 20th century, with the urbanization, it shifted towards more moderate options. Until the 1970s, the state was dominated by the Byrd Organization, which was a strong proponent of segregation.
Today, Virginia is today divided between the Republicans in the mostly rural south and west of the state, while the eastern part, Northern Virginia, college centers and large urban areas support the Democratic Party.
Education in Virginia
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Virginia is one of the top ten states when it comes to quality of education. The Virginia Department of Education sets the standards and runs the assessment and accreditation regime for the schools. There are 1,873 schools in Virginia, divided into 182 school divisions. In addition, there are also Governor’s Schools for gifted students and magnet schools or public schools with special curricula.
As for the higher education, there are 176 colleges and universities in Virginia. The oldest college is the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, founded in 1693. This college, along with the University of Virginia (founded by president Thomas Jefferson), is considered to be among the best public institutions of higher education in the USA.
Other notable colleges and universities in Virginia include Virginia Commonwealth University, James Madison University, Virginia Military Institute, George Mason University, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. The top private institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth include the University of Richmond, Emory and Henry College, Washington and Lee University and Randolph-Macon College.
Transportation in Virginia
While in most of the US states the roads are controlled by the local authorities, in Virginia they are controlled by the state. The Virginia Department of Transportation owns 57,867 miles of roads in Virginia. The traffic in the state is generally good, with decent commute times, except for the parts of Northern Virginia that belong to the highly urbanized and densely populated Washington Metropolitan Area.
The most important east-west interstate highways in Virginia are I-74, I-64 and I-66, while the major interstate routs from north to south include I-73, I-77, I-81, I-85 and I-95. There are also ten three-digit interstate highways.
Amtrak has several railroad routes through Virginia. Another major railroad in the Commonwealth is the Virginia Railway Express, which provides commuter service from Manassas and Fredericksburg to Washington, D.C. The Washington Metro also services the entire Northern Virginia. Commuters can also take buses provided by Fairfax Connector and Shenandoah Valley Commuter Bus. Free ferries, such as the one from Jamestown to Scotland, are also available.
The largest airport in Virginia is Washington Dulles International with more than 23 million passengers every year. It is also one of the largest and the busiest airports in the United States. Other large airports in the Commonwealth include Norfolk International, Richmond International, Reagan Washington National and Newport/News International Airport.
The main seaports in Virginia are located in Hampton Roads.