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Virginia Genealogy & Ancestry
Bordered by Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Washington, District of Columbia, Virginia is the 35th largest state, with a land area of 42,769 square miles. Its capital is Richmond, and the official state website is www.va.gov/. As of 2017, it hosts a population of 8.4 million.
Its largest cities are Virginia Beach (437,994 residents), Norfolk (242,803 residents), Chesapeake(222,209 residents), Richmond (204,214 residents), Newport News (180,719 residents), Alexandria (139,966 residents), Hampton (137,436 residents), Roanoke (97,032 residents), Portsmouth (95,535 residents), Suffolk, (84,585 residents).
The state was named for Queen Elizabeth I of England, known also as The Virgin Queen. Rumor has it that the name was suggested by Sir Walter Raleigh around 1584. Virginia’s state nickname is “Old Dominion,” and the state motto is Sic Semper Tyrannis; “Thus Always to Tyrants.”
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As one of the first 13 colonies of the United States, Virginia has a rich history dating back to the early 1600s, when Jamestown was first settled. From 1653 to 1659, during the Puritan Commonwealth and Protectorate, Virginia was loyal to Charles II of England, who at the time had been exiled. That gave Virginia the nickname of “Old Dominion.”
The First Virginia Charter, signed in 1606, gave the state the rights to all the land from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River, along with any unexplored areas beyond. Virginia was also home to some of the biggest names in US history, people who played major roles in the birth of the country. These included James Madison, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.
Originally signed by King James I, the Virginia Company of London – known simply as the London Company – arrived at Point Comfort in 1607, led by Captain Christopher Newport. From Newport’s three ships (The Godspeed, The Discovery, and the Susan Constant), settlers elected a council of seven men, appointed using sealed orders.
This council then appointed Edward Maria Wingfield as president. Wingfield directed them to establish the first permanent English settlement in the Americas – Jamestown. Populated by laborers, craftsmen, and ‘gentlemen,’ Jamestown was a short-lived venture, and most of the original settlers wound up dead.
It was only through the efforts of one John Rolfe that the colony survived, even coming close to total abandonment in 1610.
Rolfe began tobacco-growing experiments in the area in 1612. Two years later, he began exporting tobacco to London, giving Virginia’s economy a significant boost. He also married the daughter of Native American Chief Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas.
Though this marriage contributed to a middling peace between the settlers and the Native Americans, this would not last. With Pocahontas’s death in 1617, relations between the two groups once more soured. This was only exacerbated as the English appropriated more and more land for tobacco farming.
In 1618, the London Company was reorganized through the Great Charter. Several significant events took place in the following years.
The House of Burgesses, the first American representative assembly was founded. Land was granted to settlers in an effort to bring more emigration, and a “Maides to Make Wives” program was kicked off in Great Britain in an effort to make the Virginia colony easier to sustain. Finally, African American colonists emigrated to Virginia with a Dutch trader in 1619, eventually becoming indentured servants.
This was the beginnings of slavery in the area, something which would eventually lead to the Civil War.
It all began with the London Company’s efforts to attract more settlers, which offered 50 acres of land to any man who paid his own way to the colony. If a prospective settler brought others with him at his own cost, he was granted an additional 50 acres per person. It was a system that lasted for nearly 100 years.
Powhatan’s son, Opechancanough, eventually led an attack on Jamestown on March 22, 1622. Nearly one-quarter of the settlers died, and Jamestown was very nearly abandoned once more. Opechancanough’s attack ultimately proved fruitless, however – the English were eventually victorious, with many Native Americans either slain or moved to reservations elsewhere.
In 1624, King James I revoked the Charter, giving Virginia status as a royal colony. From then on, it was run by governors appointed by the crown. However, these governors did not always operate in peaceful or widely-accepted ways, and their presence led to no small amount of friction amongst the colonists.
Realizing that laborers were in short supply and it was difficult to get anyone to agree to work for anyone but themselves, Virginia began practicing slavery in 1660. The next several decades were incredibly turbulent.
First came Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, the result of a conflict between colonists and their crown-appointed governors. Then, in 1682, a decline in the price of tobacco led to plant-cutting riots, which saw colonists destroy entire fields in an effort to reduce supply and increase demand. In 1699, Williamsburg was declared the capital of Virginia, shortly afterwards, 1705 saw racial slavery legally established in the state.
From there on, Virginia saw a great deal of expansion. Settlers began populating the Appalachian Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley. Many also came from Pennsylvania down the Great Wagon Road, while the discovery of the Cumberland Gap led to settlements in what would later become West Virginia and Kentucky.
On June 12, 1776, The Virginia Bill of Rights – an eventual model for the Federal Bill of Rights – was created by George Mason.
During the Civil War from 1861-1865, Richmond served as the Confederacy’s capital. Virginians like Robert E. Lee led many confederate troops from Richmond. Unfortunately, at the tail-end of the war, the city of Richmond was burned to the ground, destroying many genealogical and historical records.
Even after the war’s end, Virginia was still considered a bridge between the North and the South.
Virginia’s state flag was was designed by the Virginia State Convention in 1861. Quite similar to the current flag, it featured a white circle at the center surrounded by deep blue, imprinted with the Commonwealth’s great seal. The edge furthest from the staff of the flag was also adorned with a silk, white fringe.
The State’s seal depicts Virtus, a Roman Goddess. Clad in Amazonian garb and carrying both a spear and a sword in a sheath, she is depicted with Tyranny at one of her feet – a man with a scourge and a broken chain. The State’s motto appears on the bottom of this seal.
Virginia is presently one of the most prosperous southern states. The northern part of the state is mainly cosmopolitan, while agriculture flourishes in other parts of the state along with conservative views and traditions. Virginians are widely known for their southern charm, a reflection of refinement and gentility.
Owing to its natural beauty and historic landmarks, Virginia has a thriving tourism market. Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home), Williamsburg, Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home); and many other historical sites have been well-maintained or restored over the year. Many Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields also dot the state, attracting annual visitors.