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The first settlers in Virginia were Spanish Jesuits, who established a mission in 1570. A few months later, it was destroyed by Indians. The first English settlers were sent by Sir Walter Raleigh, but those efforts failed as well. Successful settlement began with the establishment of Jamestown in 1607. By 1612, the colonists had learned to cultivate tobacco, which was exported to Europe. The House of Burgesses, the first representative legislature in America, was formed in 1619.
Local government in Virginia often depended on politics in England. James I revoked the colony's charter in 1624 and placed it under royal rule. From 1652 to 1660, while Cromwell ruled in England, Virginia enjoyed a large measure of autonomy. The restoration of the monarchy also meant the restoration of royal rule in Virginia.
Along with Massachusetts, Virginia provided the greatest source of support for the American Revolution. Such Patriots as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson stirred the colonists with their words. General George Washington led the Continental Army in its campaigns against the British.
On June 28, 1776, a convention in Virginia adopted the state's new constitution, without submitting it to a referendum. The legislature was given a near monopoly of governing powers, which chose the leaders of the other two branches of government.
The Virginia Ratifying Convention in June 1788, support for the constitution finally obtained the support of 89 delegates against 79 opposed. Among those opposed was George Mason, who worried about the power to levy direct taxes:
The assumption of this power of laying direct taxes, does of itself, entirely change the confederation of the States into one consolidated Government. This power being at discretion, unconfined, and without any kind of control, must carry every thing before it. The very idea of converting what was formerly confederation, to a consolidated Government, is totally subversive of every principle which has hitherto governed us.
In this objection, Mason must be credit with getting his facts largely straight. One of the primary arguments used by the Federalists was that the Articles of Confederation did not provide the national government with enough tools to collect taxes for the national welfare. Changing this situation was their clear intent. Mason's fear that the constitution would put the states out of business, on the other hand, was exaggerated.
On June 25, 1788, Pennsylvania voted to ratify the constitution. In response to objections from Patrick Henry, the ratification came with the stipulation that certain amendments would be immediately considered. A number of the amendments that Virginia suggested were later incorporated into the Bill of Rights.
Following the war, Virginia was the largest state in the nation and four of the first five presidents hailed from there.
In January 1861, Virginia joined the secession of Southern states that produced the Confederate States of Ameria. During the Civil War, support for the Confederacy was concentrated in the eastern portions of the state. Areas of the west, where the economy did not depend on slaves, wanted to remain with the Union. In 1863, 50 western counties declared their independence from the rest of Virginia and were admitted to the Union as West Virginia. There was some controversy over the actions of two of these, Berkeley and Jefferson counties, and after the war, Virginia sued in the U.S. Supreme Court to have them returned. In 1871, the Supreme Court ruled 7-3 against Virginia's claim.
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The Navy Capital of the World Hampton Roads by Amy Waters Yarsinske.
From the famous Civil War ironclads that clashed in its waters to the great battleships that gathered off Norfolk’s Sewell’s Point as part of Presiden...
The Battle of Brandy Station North America’s Largest Cavalry Battle by Eric J. Wittenberg.
Just before dawn on June 9, 1863, Union soldiers materialized from a thick fog near the banks of Virginia’s Rappahannock River to ambush sleeping Conf...
Yorktown by Kathleen Manley.
Yorktown, Virginia, first came to prominence in American history when the Revolutionary War brought the final battle to the city. Once a battlefield a...
The Enduring Journey of the USS Chesapeake by Chris Dickon.
As the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 is observed in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, one of its most important artifacts sits relat...
George Washington's Westchester Gamble The Encampment on the Hudson and the Trapping of Cornwallis by Richard Borkow.
During the summer of 1781, the armies of Generals Washington and Rochambeau were encamped in lower Westchester County at Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley, Hartsda...
Blue Ridge Chronicles A Decade of Dispatches from Southwest Virginia by Rex Bowman.
Many of the highlanders in Virginia's western mountains live in small communities with names such as Stonebruise, Novelty and Wangle Junction, and her...
Chesterfield County Chronicles Stories from the James to the Appomattox by Diane C. Dallmeyer.
With four hundred years of history, the land between the James and Appomattox rivers is one of the most storied tracts in Virginia. Originally part of...
The Elizabeth River by Amy Waters Yarsinske.
This definitive volume traces more than four centuries of the Elizabeth River's history. From the Great Bridge Lock to the Norfolk Naval Station, the ...