The Commonwealth of Virginia is a Southeastern state on the Atlantic Coast of the United States of America. Virginia is the 12th-most populous state in the U.S. with over 7.7 million residents and the 35th largest in area.
It is named after Queen Elizabeth I of England, who was known as the ‘Virgin Queen’ as she never married. The Virginia Company of London founded the Virginia Colony in 1607 as the first permanent New World English colony, with the hemisphere’s oldest legislature.
Virginia was one of the thirteen colonies in the American Revolution and part of the Confederacy in the American Civil War.
The capital of the commonwealth is Richmond, though Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. Virginia’s cities are connected by the third largest highway system in the nation.
While Virginia’s population is primarily white and of Northern European ancestry, over one-fifth of residents are African American. The largest religious denomination is Baptists.
Although traditionally conservative and historically part of the Southern United States, Virginia is a politically competitive state with both conservative and liberal areas.
Virginia is known as the “The Old Dominion” and sometimes “Mother of Presidents”, because it is the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents.
Virginia has a diverse economy with several important industries, from the federal government in Northern Virginia and military bases in Hampton Roads to the many agricultural areas.
The Historic Triangle includes Jamestown, Yorktown and the living museum of Colonial Williamsburg. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
The growth of the technology sector has made computer chips the state’s leading export, with the industry based on the strength of Virginia’s public schools and universities, some of which are at the top of national rankings.
University sports teams attract large followings in national competition.
Virginia has an area of 42,774 square miles (110,784 km²) making it the thirty-fifth largest state.
Virginia is bordered by Maryland and the District of Columbia to the north and east; by Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean to the east; by North Carolina and Tennessee to the south; and by Kentucky to the west and by West Virginia to the north and west.
Due to a peculiarity of Virginia’s original charter, its boundary with Maryland does not extend past the low-water mark of the southern shore of the Potomac River, meaning Maryland the District of Colombia possess the whole width of the river rather than its being split between them and Virginia.
Virginia has many National Park Service units, including one national park, the Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah was established in 1935 and encompasses the scenic Skyline Drive.
Almost forty percent of the park’s area (79,579 acres/322 km²) has been designated as Wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Other parks in Virginia, such as Great Falls Park and Prince William Forest Park are included in the many areas in the National Park System. Additionally, there are thirty-four Virginia state parks, run by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Department of Forestry.
The Chesapeake Bay, while not a national park, is protected by both state and federal legislation, and the jointly run Chesapeake Bay Program which conducts restoration on the bay and its watershed. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is protected by both Virginia and North Carolina.
Most of the state east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, plus the southern part of the Shenandoah Valley, has a humid subtropical climate. In the mountainous areas west of the Blue Ridge, the climate becomes humid continental.
Many variations occur because of the state’s significant relief. Elevations in Virginia vary from sea level to Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet (1,746 m) above sea level, with major gradations occurring at the edges of the Atlantic Ocean, the end of the Piedmont, and the Blue Ridge and Allegheny chains of the Appalachian Mountains.
The moderating influence of the ocean from the east, powered by the Gulf Stream, also creates the potential for hurricanes near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
Cold air masses arriving over the mountains, especially in winter, can lead to significant snowfalls, such as the Blizzard of 1996. The interaction of these elements with the state’s topography creates micro-climates in the Shenandoah Valley, the mountainous southwest, and the coastal plains that are noticeably distinct.
In recent years the expansion of the southern suburbs of Washington into northern Virginia, has created an urban heat island due to the increased energy output of more densely used areas.
Severe weather is a concern in Virginia. Hurricanes make the coastal area of Virginia vulnerable, but it is rare for a major hurricane to threaten the Virginia coast. Hurricanes this far north tend to become somewhat weakened, though Hurricane Gaston in 2004 inundated Richmond.
Remnants of systems which hit further south sometimes bring torrential rain to the state. Thunderstorms are an occasional concern, with the state averaging from 35-45 days of thunderstorm activity annually.
The area of most frequent occurrence is in the west.
The state averages more than 85 tornadoes per year, though most are F2 and lower on the Fujita scale. Eastern Virginia has a lower rate of tornadoes than western parts of the state.
At the time of the English colonization of Virginia, Native American people were living in what now is Virginia. Native American tribes in Virginia included the Cherokee, Chesepian, Chickahominy, Chiskiack, Mattaponi, Meherrin, Monacan, Moobs, Nansemond, Nottoway, Pamunkey, Povic, Powhatan, Occoneechees, Rappahannock, Saponites and others. The natives are often divided into three groups, based to a large extent upon language differences.
The largest group are known as the Algonquian who numbered over 10,000, most of whom were united in the Powhatan Confederacy led by Chief Powhatan. The other groups are the Iroquoian (numbering 2,500) and the Siouan.
In 1583, Queen Elizabeth I of England granted Sir Walter Raleigh a charter to explore and plant a colony in North America north of Florida. In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh explored the Atlantic coast of North America.
Raleigh, or possibly the Queen herself, named the area “Virginia” after Queen Elizabeth, known as the “Virgin Queen” because she never married. The name eventually applied to the whole coast from South Carolina to Maine, and included Bermuda. The London Virginia Company was incorporated as a joint stock company by the proprietary Charter of 1606, which granted land rights to this area.
The Company financed the first permanent English settlement in the New World, at Jamestown, named for King James I.
The settlement was founded on May 13, 1607 by Captains Christopher Newport and John Smith.In 1609 many of the early colonists died during the “starving time.”
The House of Burgesses was established in 1619 as the colony’s elected governance.Enslaved Africans were first brought to the colony the same year, and indentured servants, laborers contracted for a fixed period of time, were brought in numbers after Virginia introduced the headright system in 1683, in which settlers received fifty acres for each colonist they transported.
The capital was moved in 1698 to Middle Plantation, renamed Williamsburg for King William III, where the College of William and Mary had been founded in 1693.
Virginia was given the title, “Dominion”, by King Charles II of England at the time of The Restoration, because it had remained loyal to the crown during the English Civil War. The present moniker, “Old Dominion” is a reference to that title.
The House of Burgesses was temporarily dissolved in 1769 by the Royal governor Lord Botetourt, after Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee led committee speeches on the distresses of the British taxation without representation.
In 1773 Henry and Lee formed a committee of correspondence, and in 1774 Virginia sent delegates to the Continental Congress.
On May 12, 1776, the Virginia Convention called for independence from the British Empire. Shortly thereafter, the Virginia Convention adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights written by George Mason, a document that influenced the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
Then on June 29, 1776, the convention enacted a constitution, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, that formally declared Virginia as an independent commonwealth.
During the American Revolutionary War, the capital was moved to Richmond at the urging of Governor Thomas Jefferson, who feared that Williamsburg’s location made it vulnerable to British attack.
In 1781, the combined action of Continental and French land and naval forces trapped the British on the Yorktown peninsula, where troops under George Washington and French Comte de Rochambeau defeated British General Cornwallis in the Battle of Yorktown.
The British surrender on October 19, 1781 so shifted British public opinion that it led to the end of major hostilities and secured the independence of the former colonies.
Virginians were instrumental in writing of the United States Constitution. James Madison, considered the Father of the Constitution, drafted the Virginia Plan in 1787, and the Bill of Rights in 1789.
Virginia ratified the Constitution on June 25, 1788. The three-fifths compromise ensured that Virginia initially had the largest bloc in the House of Representatives, which with the Virginia dynasty of presidents gave the commonwealth national importance.
In 1790, both Virginia and Maryland ceded territory to form the new District of Columbia, though in 1847, the area south of the Potomac was retroceded to Virginia.
The area of Kentucky was first part of Virginia, but it successfully petitioned for separation and was admitted to the Union as a state in 1792. Virginia is sometimes called “Mother of States” because of its role in being carved into several mid-western states.
Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831 and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 showed deep social division and discontent over the issue of slavery in Virginia and its role in the plantation economy.Slave labor was increasingly used profitably not only in agriculture, but also in mining, shipbuilding and other industries.
By 1860, almost half a million people, roughly thirty-one percent of the total population of Virginia, were enslaved.
Virginia seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861 following Lincoln’s call for volunteers to attack the Confederate States of America (CSA) after its attack on Fort Sumter. Virginia turned over its military and ratified the Constitution of the Confederate States in June 1861.
The CSA then moved its capitol from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond. In 1863 forty-eight counties in the northwest of the state separated from Virginia to form the State of West Virginia, an act which was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 1870.
Virginia in the American Civil War saw more battles fought than anywhere else, including the First Battle of Bull Run, Second Battle of Bull Run, the Seven Days Battles, the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Chancellorsville.
After those major battles and the capture of Richmond, the confederate capitol was moved to Danville, Virginia. With the work of the Committee of Nine during Reconstruction, Virginia formally rejoined the union on January 26, 1870, and adopted a constitution which provided for Negro suffrage, a system of free public schools, homestead exemption and guarantee of civil and political rights.
By 1902, the Jim Crow era had taken root in Virginia, and the Constitution of Virginia was rewritten to include a poll tax and other measures that effectively disfranchised African Americans and reversed the progress they had made after the Civil War.
In 1950 the first black students attended the University of Virginia School of Law and in 1952 they gained admission to Virginia Tech.Despite the determination of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Virginia declared in 1958 that desegregated schools would not receive state funding, under the policy of “massive resistance” spearheaded by Senator Harry F. Byrd. In 1959 Prince Edward County closed their schools rather than integrate them.
The subsequent lawsuit to open the schools, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, was led by Richmond natives Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill. Their success followed a series of legal setbacks, and the proponents of massive resistance were forced to concede defeat and Virginia schools began to very slowly integrate.
The Civil Rights Movement gained many participants in the 1960s and achieved the moral force to gain national legislation for suffrage and civil rights for African Americans in Virginia and throughout the South.
In 1971, state legislators rewrote the constitution, after goals such as legal integration and the repeal of Jim Crow laws had been achieved. On January 13, 1990, Douglas Wilder was elected Governor of Virginia and became the first African American to achieve that office since Reconstruction.
World War II and the Cold War led to massive expansion of government programs in the areas near Washington, including the record-breaking rapid construction of the Pentagon, United States Department of Defense headquarters.
These programs became the basis of the Northern Virginia economy, based on well-educated, professional work force. Subsequent growth of defense projects has also generated a local information technology industry.
The Hampton Roads region has also grown due to government and military expansion. Northern Virginia was targeted in the September 11, 2001 attacks because of the Pentagon site, where one hundred eighty-five people died.
In 1926, Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Williamsburg’s Bruton Parish Church, began restoration of colonial era buildings in the historic district with financial backing of John D. Rockefeller Jr. The resulting Colonial Williamsburg project is a major part of the Historic Triangle and Virginia’s top tourist destination.
At Jamestown 2007, Virginia marked its quadricentennial year, celebrating four hundred years since the establishment of the Jamestown Colony.
The far-reaching social changes of the mid- to late-20th century were expressed by broad-based celebrations marking contributions of three cultures to the state: Native American, European and African.
Virginia’s economy is well balanced with diverse sources of income. In 2006, Forbes Magazine named Virginia the best state in the nation for business.
As of the 2000 census, Virginia had the highest number of counties and independent cities, fifteen, in the top one-hundred wealthiest jurisdictions in the United States based upon median income. In addition, Virginia tied with Colorado as having the most counties, ten, in the top one-hundred based on per capita income.
As of 2007, seven Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in the Richmond area. Virginia has seventeen total Fortune 500 companies, making it rank tenth nationwide.
Additionally, ten Fortune 1000 companies are in Northern Virginia, with a total of twenty-nine in the state.
From the Hampton Roads area to Richmond and down to Lee County in the southwest, the economy is based on military installations, and cattle, tobacco and peanut farming in Southside Virginia.
About twenty percent of Virginian jobs are in agriculture, with 47,000 farms, averaging 181 acres (0.28 sq mi/0.73 km²).Tomatoes recently surpassed soy as the most profitable crop in Virginia. Tobacco, peanuts and hay are also important agricultural products.
Oysters are an important part of the Chesapeake Bay economy, but declining populations due to disease, pollution, and overfishing have diminished catches.
Wineries and vineyards in the Northern Neck and along the Blue Ridge Mountains also have begun to generate income and attract tourists.
Northern Virginia, once considered the state’s dairy capital, now hosts software, communication technology, and consulting companies. Loudoun and Fairfax counties in Northern Virginia have the highest and second highest median household income, respectively, of all counties in the United States as of 2006. Virginia has the highest concentration of technology workers of any state.
Computer chips became the state’s highest-grossing export in 2006, surpassing its traditional top exports of coal and tobacco, combined. The Dulles Technology Corridor near Dulles International Airport has a high concentration of Internet, communications and software engineering firms.
Many of Northern Virginia’s well-educated population work directly for Federal agencies.
Many others work for government contractors, including defense and security contractors. Well-known government agencies headquartered in Northern Virginia include the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense, as well as the National Science Foundation, the United States Geological Survey and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The Hampton Roads area has the largest concentration of military bases and facilities of any metropolitan area in the world. The largest of the bases is Naval Station Norfolk.
The state is second to Alaska and ahead of North Dakota and New Mexico in per capita defense spending.
Virginia collects personal income tax in five income brackets, ranging from 3.0% to 5.75%. The sales and use tax rate is 5%.
The tax rate on food is 2.5%. There is an additional 1% local tax, for a total of a 5% combined sales tax on most Virginia purchases and a combined tax rate of 2.5% on food. Virginia’s property tax is set and collected at the local government level and varies throughout the commonwealth.
Real estate is taxed at the local level based on one-hundred percent of fair market value. Tangible personal property also is taxed at the local level and is based on a percentage or percentages of original cost.