By Mallory Brown


Virginia is located on the East Coast, south of Maryland and West Virginia and north of North Carolina. Although there are a large number of rivers in the state, it is most known for four of them: the James River, the York River, the Rappahannock River, and the Potomac River. Virginia’s most notable mountain ranges are the Blue Ridge Mountains, which reach a maximum height of 5,729 feet. A section of the Appalachian Mountains is also located in Western Virginia. Its south eastern border runs along the Atlantic Ocean. There is a coastal plain located next to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, which reaches a minute elevation of only 60 feet above sea level. This coastal plain is also known as the Tidewater, and is a very swampy area. A region of Virginia known as the Piedmont is located further to the West, and provided the settlers with rich agricultural land (they originally tried to farm in the Tidewater, but were driven away by its unfertile soil and swamp-borne diseases.) Due to the fact that the Piedmont provides the most fertile land in the state, the English settlers decided to establish Jamestown along the James River. Farming was successful for these settlers as Virginia’s warmer climate provided a long, warm growing season. Eventually, almost one third of the land in Virginia was turned into farm land. (Crawford, ABC CLIO)


In 1607, John Smith led the first English settlers to the James River to establish the first colony in the New World: Jamestown. The area in which they resided was actually occupied by an Algonquian-speaking group known as the Powhatan Confederacy. (Virginia: History, ABC CLIO) They were directed to settle in Virginia for two reasons; to find gold and look for a water route to the Orient (Historic Jamestowne, Preservation Virginia). The English were also looking for new markets; they assumed that the Native Americans would be interested in trading and purchasing their goods (Cayton et al., 36). The settlers were not, however, looking for religious or political freedom, as most were very loyal supporters of the King and the church in England (Virginia: History, ABC CLIO).


In the beginning of its existence, Jamestown suffered from starvation and disease, because the colony was low on supplies and the winter was harsh. However, the settlers managed to push through this difficult time and began to thrive off of farming. They learned to cultivate crops such as beans, corn, squash, and other vegetables. In 1612, the Jamestown colonists learned to grow tobacco, which developed a basis for their main source of income. High demands for tobacco in Europe helped the colony to profit and flourish. Another large source of income in Virginia was fishing: the Chesapeake provided, and still does provide, a treasure trove of fish. This vast amount of labor provided a great need for workers, so in 1619 the African Slave trade was introduced to the English colonies of North America. Slaves were hugely important to a successful economy in the south. (Virginia: History, ABC CLIO)


Since the settlers in Virginia were almost entirely English, the main language spoken was English. The Native American language, Algonquian, was also commonly among the Indians of the region. In the beginning of the 17th century, Virginia was inhabited mostly by white Anglicans. The majority of the settlers were loyal supporters of the monarch in England, as well as the Anglican Church. When the puritans came to power in England in the 1640s, they also attempted to take over Virginia, but the original monarchy was restored in 1660 and Puritanism was eliminated. (Virginia: History, ABC CLIO) Women in Virginia had more rights than women in most other colonies, largely due to a system known as the “widowarchy” that developed. It allowed women to reach higher positions in society; an idea that did not exist in England. Many historians believe that women in Virginia were granted more rights because there were so few of them compared to other colonies in the North. Epidemics of small pox and brutal fevers, malaria, and poor water quality held the population in Virginia to a small number, which may have helped the few amount of women in the colony to gain some amount of status. (Colonial Society, ABC CLIO)


In 1606, King James I granted a joint stock charter to the Virginia company to establish an English colony in the Chesapeake region of the New World. The Virginia Company was composed primarily of London entrepreneurs. (Historic Jamestowne, Preservation Virginia) Although the colony was at first run by this joint-stock company, England turned it into a Royal colony in 1624 when it was beginning to fail as a settlement (Cayton et al., 39). The government that the colonists in Virginia established has become one of the most well-known governments of early America. This representative government they established in 1619 was known as the House of Burgesses. The House of Burgesses was, in essence, a legislative assembly that acted as the parliament of Virginia. Each county sent a representative to each meeting, and it worked to translate the power and law of the crowns to the colonies. (Virginia House of Burgesses, ABC CLIO)


  1. The plantations in Virginia played a major role in contributing to the goods traded on the Triangular Trade route. Tobacco from Virginia was one of the most valuable products shipped to England and the Caribbean. Plantation owners in Virginia were also a large percentage of the buyers of slaves coming from West Africa. (Colonial Society, ABC CLIO)
  2. In a policy that is referred to as Salutary Neglect, England knowingly ignored the colonies’ violations of the navigation acts. As long as Virginia was providing the necessary amount of Tobacco to England, the British turned their heads at any violations or trades with other groups.
  3. At the start of the 17th century, when Jamestown was first founded, this first colony existed purely to benefit England. In this policy known as mercantilism, colonies work to provide the mother country with new resources; in this case, the Jamestown settlers arrived in the New World to search for gold and make England rich. (Cayton et al., 36)
  4. By the mid 18th century, it was evident that many British colonies were straying from the religious values and morals of their mother country. Revolutionary leaders were looking more towards intellectual beliefs, such as Thomas Jefferson from Virginia. The Great Awakening was instituted in the 1730s in order to revamp religious attitude in the colonies that were thinking less and less of England. (Cayton et al., 79)
  5. Virginia’s most essential cash crop was Tobacco; the climate in Virginia provided a perfect growing location, and a high demand for tobacco in Europe brought in much revenue. (Virginia: Government and Economy, ABC CLIO)

French and Indian War:

In the mid 18th Century, some Virginians were making money off of speculation of land in the western part of Virginia. This Westward movement (the English moving towards what was supposedly “French Territory”) actually contributed to the start of the French and Indian War. Virginia, being a British colony, fought against the French and Native Americans in the war when it began in 1754. Unfortunately, the British did win the war but the Virginian settlers were no longer allowed to claim land further than the main ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. (Virginia: History, ABC CLIO) The colonists in Virginia lost almost all loyalty to England by the time the Revolution began. In fact, some of the most famous patriots, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, are from Virginia. A man named Patrick Henry was a famous orator and an inspiration to many of the colonists. George Washington, a man from Virginia and our first president, led the Colonist Forces, and Thomas Jefferson was one of the most important scholars and contributors to the Declaration of Independence. Virginia was a strong advocate of independence from Britain, an ironic fact considering how loyal the settlers were when the Virginia Company arrived at Jamestown. (Virginia: History, ABC CLIO)


Four of the most vital men to the American Revolution came from Virginia: Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and James Madison. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and George Washington led the first American forces and became the first president. Patrick Henry was a famous orator of the time period, and James Madison was an essential contributor the ideas of the United States Constitution. These four men were not only extremely influential to inspiring the colonists to fight for independence, but they were also the ones to take substantial action. Although Virginia began as a very loyal, English colony, became extremely patriotic and the home of so many vital Revolutionary leaders. During the war, Virginia was known for being a refuge of religious freedom. Norfolk, Virginia was burned by the British in 1776, but a more major invasion occurred in 1779 when the British forces captured Portsmouth and Suffolk. In fact, the Revolutionary War actually came to an end in Yorktown, Virginia in 1781, when the Americans and the French forced British general Charles Cornwallis to surrender. Although it may have been damaged a bit by the war, Virginia held strong against the British forces and helped to lead the Colonists to victory. In the early years of America, Virginia continued to be a dominant force in the republic. It was the 10th state to ratify the U.S. constitution, which occurred on January 26, 1788. Virginian leaders such as Jefferson and Madison were huge proponents of the constitution and every idea it was advocating for America. (Virginia: History, ABC CLIO)

Works Cited
1) "Virginia: Overview." United States Geography. ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.
2) Crawford, Mark. "Virginia: Geography." United States Geography. ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.
3) "Virginia: History." United States Geography. ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.
4) Preservation Virginia. "History of Jamestown." Historic Jamestowne. Preservation
Virginia, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2010. <
5) Cayton, Andrew, et al. "The Jamestown Colony." America; Pathways to the Present. 2000. Print.
6) "colonial society." United States Geography. ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.
7) "Virginia House of Burgesses." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. 30 Sept. 2010.
8) "Virginia: Government and Economy." United States Geography
. ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. 30 Sept. 2010.