State of Virginia

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   Introduction    Virginia Top of Page
At the time of the English colonization of Virginia, Native American people living in what now is Virginia were the Cherokee, Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Meherrin, Monacan, Nansemond, Nottaway, Pamunkey, Pohick, Powhatan, Rappahannock, Saponi, and Tuscarora. The natives are often divided into three groups. The largest group are known as the Algonquian who numbered over 10,000. The other groups are the Iroquoian (numbering 2,500) and the Siouan.

At the end of the 16th century, when England began to colonize North America, Queen Elizabeth I of England (who was known as the "Virgin Queen" because she never married) gave the name "Virginia" to the whole area explored by the 1584 expedition of Sir Walter Raleigh along the coast of North America. The name eventually applied to the whole coast from South Carolina to Maine. The London Virginia Company became incorporated as a joint stock company by a proprietary charter drawn up on April 10, 1606. The charter granted lands stretching from approximately the 34th parallel (North Carolina) north to approximately the 45th parallel (New York) and from the Atlantic Ocean westward. It swiftly financed the first permanent English settlement in the New World, which was at Jamestown, named in honor of King James I, in the Virginia Colony, in 1607. The settlement was founded by Captain Christopher Newport and Captain John Smith. Its Second Charter was officially ratified on May 23, 1609. The Virginia Company was also left in control of Bermuda from 1609, when its flagship was wrecked there en route to Jamestown. Its Royal Charter was extended to include the Islands of Bermuda, alias The Somers Isles (sometimes known as Virgineola), in 1612. Bermuda remained part of Virginia until 1614, when its administration was handed to the Crown (although a spin-off of the Virginia Company, the Somers Isles Company, would oversee it from 1615 to 1684).

Jamestown was the original capital of the Virginia Colony, and remained so until the State House burned (not the first time) in 1698. After the fire, the colonial capital was moved to nearby Middle Plantation, which was renamed Williamsburg in honor of William of Orange, King William III. Virginia was given its nickname, "The Old 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.

Patrick Henry's speech on the Virginia Resolves.In 1780, during the American Revolutionary War, the capital was moved to Richmond at the urging of then-Governor Thomas Jefferson, who was afraid that Williamsburg's location made it vulnerable to a British attack. In the autumn of 1781, American troops trapped the British on the Yorktown peninsula in the famous Battle of Yorktown. This prompted a British surrender on October 19, 1781, formally ending the war and securing the former colonies' independence, even though sporadic fighting continued for two years.

Virginia is one of the states that seceded from the Union (on April 17, 1861) and operated independently until it joined the Confederacy during the Civil War when it turned over its military on June 8 and ratified the Constitution of the Confederate States on June 19.

   Geography    Virginia Top of Page
Geographic coordinates:
36°31'N to 39°37'N
75°13'W to 83°37'W
total: 42,769 sq mi
land: 39,568 sq mi
water: 3,171 sq mi
coastline: 112 mi
shoreline: 3,315 mi
Bordering States:
Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Lake Champlain 0 ft
highest point: Mount Rogers 5,729 ft
The Chesapeake Bay divides the commonwealth, with Virginia's Eastern Shore, a part of the Delmarva Peninsula, completely separate (an exclave) from the rest of the Commonwealth.

Geographically, Virginia is divided into the following five regions:

  • Ridge and Valley—between the Appalachian Plateau and Allegheny Plateau to the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east. Sometimes referred to as Valley and Ridge.
  • Shenandoah Valley—located within the Ridge and Valley Region; it is referred to geographically—and culturally— as its own region.
  • Blue Ridge Mountains—between the Ridge and Valley Region to the west and the Piedmont region to the east.
  • Piedmont—between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and the Tidewater region to the east.
  • Tidewater—between the fall line to the west and the Atlantic coast to the east; it includes the Eastern Shore.
  • Virginia's long east-west axis means that metropolitan northern Virginia lies as close to New York City and New England as to its own rural western panhandle. Conversely, Lee County, at the tip of the panhandle, is closer to eight other state capitals than it is to Richmond, Virginia's own capital.

       People    Virginia Top of Page
    7,567,465 (2000)
    Largest City:
    Virginia Beach: 447,000 (2005)
    Age structure:
    0-5 years old: 6.7%
    <18 years old: 24.2%
    65 years and over: 11.4%
    Male: 49.2% Female: 50.8%
    Population growth rate:
    6.9% (2000-2005)
    Population density:
    178.8 per sq mi
    Race(2000 Census):
    White non-Hispanic: 68.7%
    Hispanic: 5.7%
    Black: 19.9%
    Asian: 4.4%
    Native American: 0.3%
    Multi-Race: 1.5%
    Christian: 84%
    Other: 4%
    Non-Religious: 12%
       Government    Virginia Top of Page
    June 25, 1788 (10th State)
    Local and County Government:
    In colonial Virginia, the lower house of the legislature was called the House of Burgesses. Together with the Governor's Council, the House of Burgesses made up the General Assembly. The Governor's Council was composed of 12 men appointed by the British Monarch to advise the Governor. The Council also served as the General Court of the colony, a colonial equivalent of a Supreme Court. Members of the House of Burgesses were chosen by all those who could vote in the colony. Each county chose two people or burgesses to represent it, while the College of William and Mary and the cities of Norfolk, Williamsburg, and Jamestown each chose one burgess. The Burgesses met to make laws for the colony and set the direction for its future growth; the Council would then review the laws and either approve or disapprove them. The approval of the Burgesses, the Council, and the governor was needed to pass a law. The idea of electing burgesses was important and new. It gave Virginians a chance to control their own government for the first time. At first, the burgesses were elected by all free men in the colony. Women, indentured servants, and Native Americans could not vote. Later the rules for voting changed, making it necessary for men to own at least fifty acres (200,000 m²) of land in order to vote. Founded in 1619, the Virginia General Assembly is still in existence as the oldest legislature in the New World. Today, the General Assembly is made up of the Senate and the House of Delegates.

    Like many other states, by the 1850s Virginia featured a state legislature, several executive officers, and an independent judiciary. By the time of the Constitution of 1901, which lasted longer than any other state constitution, the General Assembly continued as the legislature, the Supreme Court of Appeals acted as the judiciary, and the eight elected executive officers were the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of the Commonwealth, State Treasurer, Auditor of Public Accounts, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Commissioner of Agriculture and Immigration. The Constitution of 1901 was amended many times, notably in the 1930s and 1950s, before it was abandoned in favor of more modern government, with fewer elected officials, reformed local governments and a more streamlined judiciary.

    Virginia currently functions under the 1970 Constitution of Virginia. It is the Commonwealth's ninth constitution. Under the Constitution, the government is composed of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.

    The legislative branch or state legislature is the Virginia General Assembly, a bicameral body whose 140 members make all laws of the Commonwealth. Members of the Virginia House of Delegates serve two-year terms, while members of the Virginia Senate serve four-year terms. The General Assembly also selects the Commonwealth's Auditor of Public Accounts. The statutory law enacted by the General Assembly is codified in the Code of Virginia.

    The executive branch comprises the Governor of Virginia, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, and the Attorney General of Virginia. All three officers are separately elected to four-year terms in years following Presidential elections (1997, 2001, 2005, etc) and take office in January of the following year.

    The governor serves as chief executive officer of the Commonwealth and as commander-in-chief of its militia. Virginia law forbids any governor from serving consecutive terms. The lieutenant governor serves as president of the Senate of Virginia and is first in the line of succession to the governor. The attorney general is chief legal advisor to the governor and the General Assembly, chief lawyer of the Commonwealth and the head of the Department of Law. The attorney general is second in the line of succession to the governor. Whenever there is a vacancy in all three executive offices of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, then the Speaker of the House of the Virginia House of Delegates becomes governor.

    State Tree:
    Flowering Dogwood
    State Bird:
    State Flower:
       Economy    Virginia Top of Page
    Economy - overview:
    According to the 2004 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report, Virginia’s gross state product was $326.6 billion. The per capita personal income was $35,477 in 2004. In 2006 Forbes Magazine voted Virginia the number one state in the USA with the best economy for business.

    Virginia's economy is well balanced with diverse sources of income. From the Hampton Roads area to Richmond and down to Lee County in the southwest it includes military installations, cattle, tobacco and peanut farming in Southside Virginia. Northern Virginia (once the dairy capital of Virginia) hosts software, communications, consulting, defense contracting, diplomats, and considerable components of the professional government sector.

    Virginia, arguably the wealthiest southern state before the Civil War, recovered from the Civil War and the Great Depression much faster than the rest of the South. Today, it is still significantly wealthier than the rest of the South, although much of that is from the northern influence around Washington D.C.