Richmond is the capital of Virginia, which was one of the first 13 colonies in the United States. Maryland shares its northeast border, while the Atlantic Ocean shares its southeast border. The southern border is shared with both Tennessee and North Carolina. Kentucky borders it to the west. The Northwest border is shared with West Virginia.

From 1653 to 1659, during the Puritan Commonwealth and Protectorate, Virginia was loyal to Charles II of England, who had been exiled. That gave Virginia the nickname of “Old Dominion.” Virginia’s history dates all the way back to the early 1600s, which Jamestown was first settled. The state got its name from Elizabeth I, who was known as the “Virgin Queen.” The original charter gave Virginia the rights to all of the land from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River, as well as unexplored areas beyond the Mississippi. During the early days of the United States, several Virginia residents played major roles in how the country was created and run, including James Madison, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.

The Civil War ran from 1861 to 1865. During that time, Richmond, Virginia was the Confederacy’s capital. Virginians like Robert E. Lee led several of the Confederate troops. In the 1900s Virginia was considered to be a bridge between the South and the North. Virginia is presently one of the most prosperous southern states. The northern part of the state is mainly cosmopolitan, similar to Washington, D.C., which is just across the Potomac River from it. However, agriculture flourishes in other parts of the state, as do conservative views and traditions. Virginians are known for southern charms that reflect refinement and gentility.

Virginia has a thriving tourism market because of its natural beauty and its historic landmarks. Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home), Williamsburg, Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home), and other historic landmarks and areas have been well-maintained or restored over the years. There are also several Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields in the state, which attract annual visitors. The valleys and mountains in the western part of the state retain a natural beauty, while other parts of the state have been industrialized. The state as a whole measures about 40,599 square miles, which is 105,151 square kilometers. As of 2012 it had an estimated population of 8,185,867 people.

A Virginia state flag design was established by the Virginia State Convention in 1861. It was quite similar to the current flag, which has a white circle at its center surrounded by deep blue. The Commonwealth’s great seal is also imprinted on the flag. The edge furthest from the staff of the flag is also adorned with silky white fringe.

The spirit of the Commonwealth is represented by the depiction of Virtus, a Roman goddess, on the state’s seal. She is in amazonian garb and carrying both a spear and sword in a sheath. One of her feet is on Tyranny, who is depicted as a man with a scourge and a broken chain. The depiction represents overcoming great struggles. The state’s motto is on the bottom of the state seal. It says “Sic Semper Tyranni,” which means “Thus Always to Tyrants” in Latin.

The establishment of Virginia as a colony was a bit shaky. It began when Sir Walter Ralegh was given permission to create New World colonies by Queen Elizabeth I. However, his colonies kept disappearing between supply shipments because they were not properly established and able to flourish.

Twenty years later English entrepreneurs came to the area hoping to create a venture as prosperous as that of the East India Company from Great Britain. The New World lands showed exactly that kind of promise, as far as they were concerned.

The Virginia Company of London was chartered by King James I in 1606. It was generally known simply as the London Company. Captain Christopher Newport led an expedition of three ships, the Godspeed, the Discovery, and the Susan Constant, in April of the next year. Those ships came to Point Comfort. A Council of 7 men was then appointed using sealed orders. The council then appointed the President, Edward Maria Wingfield. He directed that the first permanent settlement be established at James Isle by laborers, craftsmen, and “gentlemen.” Unfortunately, they didn’t have much experience and were hit by several hardships.

Most of the original Jamestown settlers died. Today, almost nobody can trace their ancestry back that far. However, thanks to John Rolfe, the colony did survive, even though it was nearly abandoned in 1610.

Mr. Rolfe started tobacco-growing experiments in the area in 1612. Two years later he began exporting tobacco to London, which gave Virginia’s economy a major economic boost. He also married the great sub-chief (werowance) named Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas. So, peace was assured for some time between the Native Americans in the area and the white settlers.

In 1618 the Great Charter caused the reorganization of the London Company. From then to the end of the following year, several other major events took place. Fore example, the first American representative assembly, called the House of Burgesses, was founded. Also, land was granted to free settlers. Also, a “Maides to make Wives” program was started in Great Britain, sending several people to the New World and making the Virginia colony much easier to sustain. Also, African American colonists came to the area with a Dutch trader in 1619. They came from the West Indies and soon became indentured servants. Slavery itself wasn’t yet established in the area, but those events eventually led to slavery and then the Civil War conflict.

Opechancanough, the successor to Powhatan, led an attack on white settlers on March 22, 1622. About one-fourth of the white settlers died in the attack and the English settlers were nearly driven out of the area again. However, the English people soon fought back. Many Native Americans died and others were forced to move to reservations in other areas.

The carter was revoked by James I in 1624. At that point, Virginia gained its status as a royal colony. It was then governed by governors who were appointed by the Crown. They did not always govern in peaceful or widely-accepted ways. From 1652 to 1660 Virginia tried to self-govern. They Virginian colonists were not happy when they once again were controlled by a governor from England.

Skilled artisans, woodsmen, and merchants were definitely needed in the colony, and so were people to help harvest the large crops of tobacco. Unfortunately, the fields were full of swamps and insects. So, it was difficult to lure laborers to the area. The British law of primogeniture ensured that land passed from eldest son to eldest son and stayed under family control, allowing each family to establish methods of labor and farming. Virginia was also seen as a land of opportunity by younger sons in England. So, the London Company used that allure to get those people to travel to the new colony as laborers.

The London Company gave 50 acres of land to any man who paid his own way to Virginia. That land was given for “his owne personal adventure.” If the person brought other people with him at his own cost, he was given an added 50 acres per person. That headright system kept going, even after Virginia gained royal colony status. In fact, that system lasted for about 100 years. Nevertheless, the growing colony did experience some problems. It was hard to get laborers to agree to work. So, slavery was established in 1660. In 1676 Bacon’s Rebellion took place because of crown-appointed governors having conflicts with colonists. Then, in 1682, a decline in the prices of tobacco led to the Plant-Cutting Revolt. In 1699, the capital of Virginia became Williamsburg. In the 1700s the Slave Code of 1705 was established, but the 1700s also saw the American Revolution. Problems with slavery were growing, as the Virginia Declaration of Rights was created by George Mason. It was adopted on June, 12, 1776 and it became the model for the federal Bill of Rights, which was later established.

George Washington, the first U.S. President, was a native of the first North American colony at Virginia. He was a freedom lover, slave owner, and tobacco farmer, similar to many upper-class Virginians at that time.

There was a lot of expansion in Virginia during the 1700s. For example, settlers moved into the Appalachian Mountains, as well as the Shenandoah Valley. Many settlers also came from Pennsylvania down the Great Wagon Road. The second half of the 1700s saw the discovery of the Cumberland Gap. That led to settlements in what later became West Virginia and Kentucky. Both states started out as part of Virginia, but Kentucky gained its statehood in 1792 and West Virginia followed suit in 1863.

Various wars, fires, and the simple passage of time have caused many of the records for Virginia to be lost throughout the years. For example, Virginia’s original capital, Jamestown, was attacked several times. Many records were also lost during the Revolutionary War time frame. Most of the records that were lost were destroyed during the Civil War era, though. In 1865 the city of Richmond was burned, causing many records to be lost. Several courthouses were also damaged or destroyed over the years. However, there are many useful records that have survived to the present day.

Virginia Ethnic Group Research

City and county records relating to properties and estates are the most useful records for locating slave information. However, other records can also be quite helpful. Some of those records include: Lists of Free Persons of Color, Marriage Records, Slave Lists, Apprenticeship Bonds, Trial Dockets, Slave Owner Lists, Church Records, Family and Plantation Records, Account Books, Bills of Sale

The Library of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, the Virginia Historical Society, the University of Virginia, and the Williamsburg Institute of Early American History and Culture each hold many of those records, as well as others. However, not all of those records were recorded in every location. In fact, there are not nearly as many slave records available as there are records of white settlers and free people. The Library of Virginia’s website offers resources for locating African American records.

Virginia History Databases and other Helpful Links

The websites below will provide state-specific details to those in search of information for Pennsylvania genealogy work.

State Genealogy Guides

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