History of Virginia

Juan Caboto, in 1497, sailed along the coasts of Virginia and presumably landed there. The first Europeans who settled in this region were the Spaniards who in 1570 founded a mission near the York River, this mission did not prosper due to the opposition of the Indians and months later it was abandoned. In 1584, Walter Raleigh was the first to lead a series of expeditions supported by Queen Isabel of England. However, the first permanent settlement was established in 1607 and was called Jamestown, the first British settlement built by one hundred men of the London Company (also known as the Virginia Company of London). To this company, King James I had granted the exploitation and defense of the territory of Virginia which at that time covered all the territories between the French possessions in Canada and the Spanish ones in Florida. The borders were changed in the following years although during the first years, this territory theoretically ranged from the Bermuda Islands to the Pacific coast, and from Maine to the territories claimed by Spain.

The Jamestown settlers, led by Captain John Smith, had numerous difficulties during the first years to the point of wanting to abandon the settlement. However, the arrival of Thomas West, Baron Di La Warr, (who was later granted the title of Lord Delaware), as governor of Virginia in 1610 prevented abandonment of the colony. During those years agreements were sought with the Indian tribes of the area. Thus, in 1614, the daughter of the chieftain Powhatan, Pocahontas, married John Rolfe, which led to a successful signing of a pact between the settlers and the Indians. In 1619 the colony prospered to the point that the Virginia Company sent a group of women from England to marry the colonists.

In 1624, King James I regained control of the colony without extending the concession to the Virginia Company. The monarch exercised his power over the colony through a governor, although during the rule of Oliver Cromwell (1652-1660), the colony of Virginia governed itself through the Burghers’ chamber. When Charles II regained power after the fall of Cromwell, the king granted Virginia the title of Dominion for her loyalty. However, the king appointed William Berkeley as governor (a position he had previously held), whose control measures after the period of self-management caused great discontent among the colonists. Thus, in 1676 there was a rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon.

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The westward expansion of the state took place in the early 18th century, with the government of Alexander Spotswood moving with a group of settlers to the lands of the Blue Ridge. This group opened the doors to new groups of farmers, many of them Irish, Scottish and German. The new settlements created friction with the Indian tribes which resulted in the War of Lord Dunmore. In this conflict, soldiers sent by the governor of Virginia, the Earl of Dunmore, defeated the Shawnee Indians in 1774, which ensured the safety of the new settlements in West Virginia.

After the Seven Years War (1756-1763), the British crown intensified the tax burden to cope with the heavy costs that the war brought and ensure the defense of its territories. The claim to collect new taxes from the settlers caused huge protests in the colonies, as they did not enjoy the right to have representatives in the legislative chamber of London. Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and George Masón were some of the Virginians who stood out most in opposition to these new taxes. The new active taxes from 1765, (British Stamp Act and Townshend Acts), brought about the union of the representatives of the colonies, to organize joint actions which materialized in 1769 with the decision to boycott British products. The Bourgeois chamber, dissolved by the Earl of Dunmore years earlier, met in 1774 in Williamsburg, known as the First Virginia Convention, and served to choose representatives for the First Continental Congress which was convened in Philadelphia.

In the Second Continental Congress, held in Philadelphia in May 1775, the colonies decided to choose George Washington, a native of Virginia, as chief of the continental army. This decision was the first step towards the War of Independence. Since then, the colonies declared themselves independent states. Virginia made this decision in June 1776, when a constitution was drafted that included a bill of rights, written by George Masón. The capital of Virginia became Richmond from where Patrick Henry ruled as the first president. Later, on July 4, 1776 in the Second Continental Congress of Philadelphia, the representatives of the thirteen colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson. In July 1778, Virginia ratified the articles of the Confederation, a clay institution to unite the thirteen colonies that had declared independence from Great Britain. In order for Maryland to agree to join the Confederacy, Virginia gave up reclaiming the Northwest Territories which, once independence was consolidated, were administered by Congress. The articles of the Confederation were modified to eliminate those that were found to be ineffective, ambiguous or contradictory. James Madison drafted the United States Constitution which was ratified by Virginia in 1788, making it the 10th state of the Union. Virginia retained enormous weight within the nation’s political system during the nation’s early years, as Virginians George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe held the post of president during the nation’s consolidation years. During the war Virginia was the scene of numerous battles, among them that of Yorktown, where George Washington managed the surrender of the troops of Lord Cornwallis, in October 1781.

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When the Civil War broke out in 1860, there was no agreement in Virginia as to whether or not to support the secessionist states. However, sending federal troops to crush the rebellion encouraged Virginia representatives to sign up for membership in the Confederacy. The inhabitants of the region west of the Appalachians disagreed with this decision, so they declared their independence from Virginia, and West Virginia (West Virginia), was immediately admitted as a new state in the Union. General Robert Edward Lee, a native of Virginia, took charge of the Northern Virginia Army, and later assumed the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Confederacy Army. Other soldiers engaged in the Civil War, originally from this state, were Jackson, Stuart, Johnston and Hill in the Confederate troops, and George H. Thomas, in the Feds. Richmond was elected capital of the Confederacy in 1861. Numerous battles took place in Virginia including the triumphs of General Lee at Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and the defeat by Grant’s troops at Appomattox. After the war, the painful period of reconstruction began, with the state occupied militarily until 1867. In 1870, Virginia was readmitted to the United States.

During the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century, agriculture continued to be the basis of the economy of the state of Virginia that fed the mighty tobacco industry and textile factories, although there were important arms industries and shipyards. Starting from 1920, Virginia suffered serious problems deriving from the great dependence on the agricultural sector, and from the problems encountered having to face the necessary industrial reconversion. Thus, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Virginia had to receive substantial federal aid to mitigate the effects of the severe crisis that had left thousands of workers unemployed. World War II was the key moment that allowed Virginia, as happened in the rest of the United States, to forget the crisis for good. The proximity of the US capital, Washington DC, was one of the reasons for this economic growth, as during and after the war, the capital experienced unprecedented population growth that affected its neighboring areas, namely the states of Maryland and Virginia. Thus, the term Greater Washington identifies an enormously populated geographical area that includes the Federal District of Columbia, a part of northern Virginia and southern Maryland.

Virginia State Flag

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