Experts think the first people to live in what is now Virginia arrived as many as 18,000 years ago. Thousands of years later Native American tribes such as the Powhatan, Cherokee, Croatoan, and Tuscarora lived on the land.
In 1607, Jamestown—the first English colony in what would become the United States—was founded in Virginia. One of the Jamestown settlers, John Smith, was captured by the Powhatans. According to Smith, he was about to be killed when Pocahontas, the chief’s daughter, threw herself in front of him to save his life. (Though historians think this story is unlikely to have happened.)
In 1776 another famous Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Declaration of Independence. And in 1788, following the Revolutionary War, Virginia became the tenth U.S. state. But in 1861 Virginia seceded, or withdrew from the Union, what was then the United States. This came at the beginning of the Civil War, a conflict between southern states that wanted to pull out of the Union including Virginia and the states in the North. Virginia rejoined the Union in 1870, about five years after the Civil War ended.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Virginia was named after Queen Elizabeth I, who was called the Virgin Queen.
The area that’s now Virginia was home to the first English colony in North America, and Virginia was thought of as one of England’s dominions, or territory. That’s why it’s nicknamed the Old Dominion State.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Virginia is bordered by West Virginia and Maryland in the north; Maryland, Washington, D.C., and the Atlantic Ocean in the east; North Carolina and Tennessee in the south; and Kentucky and West Virginia in the west.
Travel the state from west to east, and you’ll pass through five different geographical areas. Farthest west is the Appalachian Plateau, which is covered in forests, winding rivers, and flat-topped rock.
Continue east, and you’ll cross the Appalachian Ridge and Valley, which is full of caverns, sinkholes, and natural bridges. It’s also where you’ll find Shenandoah National Park.
Farther east is the Blue Ridge, a steep part of the Appalachian Mountains with craggy peaks and deep ravines. It includes Virginia’s highest peak, Mount Rogers.
Next is the Piedmont, a plain that spreads across most of central Virginia. The Piedmont leads to the Atlantic Coastal Plain, a lowland with swamps and salt marshes that stretches to the ocean.
Black bears, Virginia opossums, Virginia northern flying squirrels, and Appalachian cottontails are among the mammals you might see in this state. Bald eagles, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons soar over the area’s mountains, while piping plovers and seagulls nest along the coast. Virginia’s 28 species of frogs include green tree frogs, mountain chorus frogs, and southern leopard frogs. The poisonous northern copperhead, bright red northern scarletsnake, and eastern glass lizard (a legless lizard that looks like a snake) are some of the reptiles that live in the state.
The state’s tree varieties include hickory, oak, maple, pine, and magnolia. Here, you can also see a dwarf pawpaw—a tree with fruit that tastes like a cross between a banana and a mango. Look for native flowers such as wild columbine, purple milkweed, wild geraniums, and coneflowers.
One of Virginia’s top natural resources is its forests, which cover 62 percent of the state. Virginia profits by selling timber, which generates about $17 billion each year. The region is also known for mining coal.
—Eight U.S. presidents were born in Virginia: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson.
—These presidents’ homes are open to visitors, including Washington’s home, Mount Vernon; Jefferson’s home, Monticello; Madison’s home, Montpelier; Monroe’s home, Highland; Harrison’s birthplace, Berkeley Plantation; and Tyler’s home, Sherwood Forest Plantation.
—Many words we use today came from Virginia’s Native American languages. Raccoon, moccasin, hickory, moose, skunk, and chipmunk are a few such words.
—Actors recreate life in Colonial Williamsburg, a working 18th-century village where blacksmiths work, colonial meals are served, and more. Many of the buildings here are the originals from the 1700s.