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Commonwealth of Virginia
State flag of Virginia State seal of Virginia
(Flag of Virginia) (Seal of Virginia)
State nickname: Old Dominion
Map of the U.S. with Virginia highlighted
Other U.S. States
Capital Richmond
Largest city Virginia Beach
Governor Mark R. Warner (D)
Senators John Warner (R)

George Allen (R)

Official language(s) English
Area 110,862 km² (35th)
 - Land 102,642 km²
 - Water 8,220 km² (7.4%)
Population (2000)
 - Population 7,196,750 (12th)
 - Density 69.03 /km² (14th)
Admission into Union
 - Date June 25, 1788
 - Order 10th
Time zone Eastern: UTC-5/-4
Latitude 36°31'N to 39°37'N
Longitude 75°13'W to 83°37'W
Width 320 km
Length 690 km
 - Highest point 1,746 m
 - Mean 290 m
 - Lowest point 0 m
 - ISO 3166-2 US-VA
Web site

Virginia is one of the original 13 states of the United States that revolted against British rule in the American Revolution and is part of the South. Its official name is the Commonwealth of Virginia; it is one of four states which use the name commonwealth. Virginia was the first part of the Americas to be colonized by England.

Kentucky and West Virginia were part of Virginia at the time of the founding of the United States, but the former was admitted to the Union as a separate state in 1792 while the latter broke away from Virginia during the American Civil War.

Virginia is known as the "Mother of Presidents," as more U.S. Presidents (8) were born in this state than in any other. Five of them were re-elected to a second term: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Woodrow Wilson. William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and Zachary Taylor round out the list of American Presidents from the Commonwealth of Virginia. (Historical footnote: both Harrison and Taylor died while in office.)



Main article: History of Virginia

Native Americans

At the time of the English colonization of Virginia, among Native American people living in what now is Virginia were the Cherokee, Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Meherrin, Monacan, Nansemond, Nottaway, Pamunkey, Pohick, Powhatan, Rappahannock, Saponi, and Tuscarora. The natives are often divided into three groups. The largest group are known as the Algonquian who numbered over 10,000. The other groups are the Iroquoian (numbering 2,500) and the Siouan. [1]

Virginia Colony: 1607-1776

At the end of the 16th century when England began to colonize North America, "Virginia" was the name Queen Elizabeth I of England (who was known as the "Virgin Queen" because she never married) gave to the whole area explored by the 1584 expedition of Sir Walter Raleigh along the coast of North America, eventually applying to the whole coast from South Carolina to Maine. The London Virginia Company became incorporated as a joint stock company by a proprietary charter drawn up on April 10, 1606. It swiftly financed the first permanent English settlement in the New World which was at Jamestown, named in honor of King James I, in the Virginia Colony in 1607, founded by Captain John Smith. Its Second Charter was officially ratified on May 23, 1609.

Jamestown was the original capital of the Virginia Colony, and remained as such until the State House burned (not the first time) in 1698. After the fire, the colonial capital was moved to nearby Middle Plantation, which was renamed Williamsburg in honor of William of Orange, King William III. Virginia was given its nickname "The Old Dominion" by King Charles II of England at the time of the Restoration for remaining loyal to the crown during the English Civil War.

A new state

In 1780, during the American Revolutionary War, the capital was moved to Richmond at the urging of then-Governor Thomas Jefferson, who was afraid that Williamsburg's location made it vulnerable to a British attack.

Patrick Henry served as the first Governor of Virginia, from 1776 to 1779, and again from 1784 to 1786. On June 12, 1776, the Virginia Convention adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a document that influenced the Bill of Rights added later to the United States Constitution. On June 29, 1776, the convention adopted a constitution that established Virginia as a commonwealth independent of the British Empire. In 1790 both Virginia and Maryland ceded territory to form the new District of Columbia, but in an Act of the U.S. Congress dated July 9, 1846, the area south of the Potomac that had been ceded by Virginia was retroceded to Virginia effective 1847, and is now Arlington County and part of the City of Alexandria.

American Civil War

Virginia is one of the states that seceded from the Union to become the Confederacy during the Civil War. When it did, some counties were separated as Kanawha (later renamed West Virginia), an act which was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 1870. Virginia formally rejoined the Union on January 26, 1870, after a period of post-war military rule.

20th century

When Douglas Wilder was elected Governor of Virginia on January 13, 1990, he became the first African-American to serve as Governor of a U.S. state since Reconstruction.

Law and government

The capital is Richmond: the current Governor is Mark Warner, a Democrat. Previous capitals included Jamestown (1609–1699) and Williamsburg (1699–1780). The Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond was designed by Thomas Jefferson and the cornerstone was laid by Governor Patrick Henry in 1785.

In colonial Virginia, the lower house of the legislature was called the House of Burgesses. Together with the Governor's Council, the House of Burgesses made up the General Assembly. The Governor's Council was composed of 12 men appointed by the British Monarch to advise the Governor. The Council also served as the General Court of the colony, a colonial equivalent of a Supreme Court. Members of the House of Burgesses were chosen by all those who could vote in the colony. Each county chose two people or burgesses to represent it, while the College of William and Mary and the cities of Norfolk, Williamsburg, and Jamestown each chose one burgess. The Burgesses met to make laws for the colony and set the direction for its future growth; the Council would then review the laws and either approve or disapprove them. The approval of the Burgesses, the Council, and the Governor was needed to pass a law. The idea of electing burgesses was important and new. It gave Virginians a chance to control their own government for the first time. At first the burgesses were elected by all free men in the colony. Women, indentured servants, and Native Americans could not vote. Later the rules for voting changed, making it necessary for men to own at least fifty acres (200,000 m²) of land in order to vote. Founded in 1619, the Virginia General Assembly is still in existence as the oldest legislature in the Western Hemisphere. Today, the General Assembly is made up of the Senate and the House of Delegates.

Like many other states, by the 1850s Virginia featured a state legislature, several executive officers, and an independent judiciary. By the time of the Constitution of 1901, which lasted longer than any other state constitution, the General Assembly continued as the legislature, the Supreme Court of Appeals acted as the judiciary, and the eight elected executive officers were the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of the Commonwealth, State Treasurer, Auditor of Public Accounts, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Commissioner of Agriculture and Immigration. The Constitution of 1901 was amended many times, notably in the 1930s and 1950s, before it was abandoned in favour of more modern government, with fewer elected officials, reformed local governments and a more streamlined judiciary.

Virginia currently functions under the 1971 Constitution of Virginia. It is the state's ninth constitution. Under the Constitution, the State Government is composed of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.

The legislative branch or state legislature is the Virginia General Assembly, a bicameral body whose 140 members make all state laws. Members of the Virginia House of Delegates serve two-year terms, while members of the Virginia Senate serve four-year terms. The General Assembly also selects the state's Auditor of Public Accounts.

The executive branch comprises the Governor of Virginia, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, and the Attorney General of Virginia. All three officers are separately elected to four-year terms in years following Presidential elections (1997, 2001, 2005, etc).

The Governor serves as chief executive officer of the Commonwealth and as Commander-in-Chief of the State Militia. State law forbids any Governor from serving consecutive terms. The Lieutenant Governor serves as President of the Senate of Virginia and is first in the line of succession to the Governor. The Attorney General is chief legal advisor to the Governor and the General Assembly, chief prosecutor of the state and the head of the Department of Law. The Attorney General is second in the line of succession to the Governor. Whenever there is a vacancy in all three executive offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General, then the Speaker of the House of the Virginia House of Delegates becomes Governor.

The Office of the Governor's Secretaries helps manage the Governor's Cabinet, comprised of the following individuals, all appointed by the Governor:

  • Governor's Chief of Staff
  • Secretary of Administration
  • Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry
  • Secretary of Commerce and Trade
  • Secretary of the Commonwealth
  • Secretary of Education
  • Secretary of Finance
  • Secretary of Health and Human Resources
  • Secretary of Natural Resources
  • Secretary of Public Safety
  • Secretary of Technology
  • Secretary of Transportation
  • Assistant to the Governor for Commonwealth Preparedness

The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Virginia Court of Appeals, the General District Courts and the Circuit Courts. The Virginia Supreme Court, composed of the chief justice and six other judges is the highest court in the Commonwealth (although, as with all the states, the U.S. Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over decisions by the Virginia Supreme Court involving substantial questions of U.S. Constitution law or constitutional rights). The Chief Justice and the Virginia Supreme Court also serve as the administrative body for the entire Virginia court system.

The 95 counties and the 39 independent cities all have their own governments, usually a county board of supervisors or city council which choose a city manager or county administrator to serve as a professional, non-political chief administrator under the council-manager form of government. There are exceptions, notably Richmond, Virginia, which has a popularly-elected Mayor who serves as chief executive separate from the city council.

Political control

After William Mahone and the Readjuster Party lost control of Virginia politics around 1883, the Democratic Party held a strong majority position of state and federal offices for over 85 years. In 1970, Republican A. Linwood Holton Jr. became the first Republican governor in the 20th century. In the years thereafter, Republicans made substantial gains, and for a time, controlled both houses of the Virginia General Assembly, as well as the Governorship from 1994 until 2000.

As of October 2005:

Incumbent Virginia governors cannot run for reelection under the state constitution. In the November 2005 election, the race to succeed Democratic Governor Mark Warner will be between Democratic Lieutenant Governor Timothy M. Kaine (Richmond), Republican Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (Scott County), and State Senator Russ Potts (Winchester) (long a Republican) running as an independent.


Map of Virginia
Map of Virginia
Virginia - topographic map
Virginia - topographic map

Virginia is bordered by West Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia (across the Potomac River) to the north, by Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, by North Carolina and Tennessee to the south, and by Kentucky and West Virginia to the west.

The Chesapeake Bay divides the state, with the eastern portion (called 'the Eastern Shore of Virginia'), a part of the Delmarva Peninsula, completely separate (an exclave) from the rest of the state.

Geographically, Virginia is divided into the following 5 regions:

Virginia's long east-west axis means that metropolitan northern Virginia lies much closer to New York and New England than to the rural western panhandle of its own state. Conversely, Lee County, at the tip of the panhandle, is closer to 8 state capitals than it is to Richmond.


Historical populations

1790 691,737
1800 807,557
1810 877,683
1820 938,261
1830 1,044,054
1840 1,025,227
1850 1,119,348
1860 1,219,630
1870 1,225,163
1880 1,512,565
1890 1,655,980
1900 1,854,184
1910 2,061,612
1920 2,309,187
1930 2,421,851
1940 2,677,773
1950 3,318,680
1960 3,966,949
1970 4,648,494
1980 5,346,818
1990 6,187,358
2000 7,078,515

As of 2004, Virginia's population was estimated to be 7,459,827. The state had a foreign-born population of 679,500 (9.1% of the state population), of which an estimated 100,000 were illegal aliens (15% of the foreign-born).

The state's population increased by 1.3 million between 1990 and 2004, a growth of 21%

Race and Ancestry
The racial makeup of the state:

The five largest reported ancestry groups in Virginia are: African American (19.6%), German (11.7%), American (11.2%), English (11.1%), Irish (9.8%).

Historically, as the largest and wealthiest colony and state and the birthplace of Southern and American culture, a large proportion (about half) of Virginia's population was made up of black slaves who worked the state's tobacco, cotton, and hemp plantations. The twentieth century Great Migration of blacks from the rural South to the urban North reduced Virginia's black population to about 20 percent.

Today Blacks are concentrated in the eastern and southern tidewater and piedmont regions where plantation agriculture was most dominant. The western mountains are populated primarily by people of British and American ancestry. People of German descent are present in sizable numbers in the northwestern mountains and Shenandoah Valley. And due to recent immigration, there is a rapidly growing population of Hispanics (particularly Central Americans) and Asians in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC.

6.5% of Virginia's population were reported as under 5, 24.6% under 18, and 11.2% were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 51% of the population.


The religious affiliations of the people of Virginia are:


Virginia's economy has long been regarded as one of the better-balanced in the United States with diverse sources of income, including military installations concentrated in the Hampton Roads area, tobacco and peanut farming all through Southside Virginia, manufacturing and transportation, and the location of Northern Virginia as a bedroom community for the federal government and its vendors.


Recent Virginia license plate
Recent Virginia license plate
Main article: Transportation in Virginia

Virginia is served by a network of Interstate Highways, arterial highways, several limited access tollways, bridges, tunnels, and three bridge-tunnel complexes. The Springfield Interchange Project (also known as "The Mixing Bowl") and the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, two of the country's largest highway improvement projects, are taking place in the state ten miles apart.

Major airports are located in these areas: Northern Virginia (Reagan-National and Dulles), Richmond-Petersburg (Richmond), Virginia Peninsula (Newport News), South Hampton Roads (Norfolk), and the Roanoke Valley (Roanoke).

Virginia has extensive waterways. In addition to the lower portion of the Chesapeake Bay, navigable rivers include the Elizabeth River at Hampton Roads, the James River, the York River, the Rappahannock River, and the Potomac River. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway passes through eastern Virginia.

Virginia has Amtrak passenger rail service along several corridors and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) maintains two commuter lines into Washington, D.C. The Washington Metro serves Northern Virginia as far west as Fairfax County.




Ice hockey

Indoor football


Important cities and towns

Under the laws in effect in Virginia, all municipalities incorporated as cities are independent of any county. Of the 43 independent cities in the United States, 39 are in Virginia. The complete list of Virginia independent cities follows:

Some other municipalities incorporated as towns, which are not independent of a county, include:

Finally, Arlington County, which lies across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is a completely urbanized community, but has no incorporated area within its borders.

Colleges and universities

Miscellaneous information

USS Virginia was named in honor of this state.

See also

Other places

There are also places named Virginia in the States of Illinois and Minnesota: see

External links

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