Geography and Landforms:

Virginia is made up of four distinct geographical regions: the Tidewater, Piedmont, Valley and TransAllegheny areas. The Tidewater is a level area of coastal plain which includes four great rivers: the Potomac, the Rappahannock, the York and the James, all of which empty into the Chesapeake Bay. The Piedmont is a rolling plateau region between the Tidewater and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Great Valley lies between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, and the TransAllegheny area includes portions of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountain ranges.

The climate of Virginia is mild and allows for a long growing season for farmers. The soil varies greatly throughout the state, ranging from very fertile in the Great Valley area to very sandy in the Tidewater area. Animal life is abundant and varied, and includes a variety of fresh and salt water fish and shellfish in the Tidewater area.


Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh were the first Europeans to attempt settlements in the area of Virginia beginning in 1606. The first 144 settlers left England in December of that year in the "Susan Constant," the "Godspeed," and the "Discovery" and arrived at Jamestown on May 13, 1607. At that time, the Protestant government of England thought it would be important to establish a strong colony in the "New World" to prevent the land from being taken entirely by the Roman Catholic government of Spain.

John Smith, one of the members of this first colony in Jamestown, was a leader in helping the colony grow. He explored the area, built relationships with the natives in the vicinity, and created an accurate map of the area. After John Smith returned to England, the colony fell on hard times and was nearly wiped out due to disease, starvation, and conflict with Native peoples.

However, the colony, now under the leadership of a governor, survived. In 1612, John Rolfe introduced the growing of tobacco in the colony, a product which remains important to the economy of the state even today. In 1619, the governor was replaced by a more democratic form of government, proving to be the first example of a representative English government in the New World. It provided for a General Assembly made up of the governor and 22 elected burgesses (representatives). The same year, 90 young women came to the colony from England for the purpose of beginning families in the new colony, and the colonists purchased the first African slaves from a Dutch trading ship.

By 1624, the English Crown recognized the importance of the growing colony and revoked its charter, making Virginia a royal colony under the direct control of the Crown. In 1690, the colony founded a college (The College of William and Mary) and in 1699, the capital of the colony was established at Williamsburg.

Throughout the 18th century, the colony grew stronger, and the people began to wish for more independence from England. During the second half of the century, many of the so-called "Founding Fathers" of the United States were already active in Virginia politics and calling for reform and more control over the future of the colony. By the 1760s the population of Virginia had grown to over 120,000 people, about half of whom were African slaves.

The colony of Virginia was a leader in the struggle for independence that became the American Revolution. As early as 1769, the colony called for a boycott of British goods that eventually caused England to repeal the unpopular Townshend Acts. The colony called for the first Continental Congress in 1776 and the president of that group was a Virginian. Thomas Jefferson, also a Virginian, was the author of the Declaration of Independence. George Washington, a Virginian, was the first general of the revolutionary army, and became the first president of the United States after the Revolution.

After the creation of the new nation, Virginia continued to play an important role in its expansion. George Rogers Clark led a group of Virginians in a conquest of the Northwest Territories beginning in 1778, and in 1781, the state turned over these conquered lands to the new government of the United States. In 1792, the westernmost part of the state became the new state of Kentucky.

During the early part of the 19th century, the state continued to grow, building roads, canals and railroads. By 1860, Virginia was the leading manufacturing state in the South. However, the issue of slavery continued to concern citizens who recognized the role that slave labor played in the economic success of the state. In 1861, the state of Virginia seceded from the Union, and Richmond became the capitol of the new Confederate States of America. In 1863, another large section of the western part of the state was lost and became the state of West Virginia. After the Civil War ended in defeat for the South, Virginia was readmitted to the Union in 1867 and was put under military rule.


The years following the Civil War were difficult for the state of Virginia, and interrupted what had been a strong economy from the earliest years of colonization. However, by 1930, the per capita income for the population of Virginia was above the national average.

Virginia's main industries include farming, (livestock, poultry and tobacco), manufacturing (chemicals, tobacco, textiles), minerals (primarily bituminous coal), fishing, trade, and transportation.

First Inhabitants:

Native people have inhabited the region now known as Virginia for thousands of years. Archaeologists believe that between 3,000 and 1,000 years ago, people first began to settle into villages. It was also about this time that people first began to clear sections of land by burning so that edible plants would continue to grow in those areas each year. We would consider this the earliest examples of farming. For example, we know these people ate sunflowers, ragweed, sumpweed, squash, gourds, and greens. They hunted deer, black bear, turkey, squirrel, rabbits, beaver, otter, muskrat and water birds. Particularly in the Coastal Plain Region of Virginia, the people fished for shad, herring, rockfish, and sturgeon. Oysters, clams, crabs and turtles were plentiful.

Archaeologists have also found evidence that these people used clay to make pottery and then traded that pottery with other people in nearby areas. Around 800 years ago, native people began to use bow and arrow to hunt. We also know that they took care in burying their dead in large mounds, and left them with items of importance, probably because they believed these people would need the items in the afterworld.

When Europeans first arrived in this region, they found a flourishing population of people who belonged to one of three main language groups. Most of the coastal plain was inhabited by an Algonquian empire, today collectively known as Powhatan. The southwestern coastal plain was occupied by Iroquoians, the Nottoway, and Meherrin. The Piedmont was home to two Siouan confederacies, the Monacan and the Mannahoac.

Once the English arrived in the early 17th century and began to settle in the area, the native people found themselves in competition for land for hunting and farming. They also were exposed to European diseases for the first time, and many died of diseases like smallpox, to which they had no immunity. While there was occasional fighting over the land, the increasing number of English settlers and African slaves, and the dwindling population of natives effectively pushed native groups into smaller and smaller settlements where they could barely farm enough land to stay alive.

Today, the state of Virginia formally recognizes two tribal reservations inhabited by native people: the Nansemond and the Monacans.

Books Related To Virginia

Blood on the River: James Town, 1607 - Elisa Carbone
(978-0142409329) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-8, Lexile: 820, ESL level: 3
Captain John Smith's young assistant, Samuel, keeps his ears and eyes open after arriving in the colony of Jamestown in order to learn what is safe and what is dangerous.

Deep Down Popular - Phoebe Stone
(439-802458) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-8, Lexile: 960, ESL level: 3 - 4
Jessie Lou makes friends with her crush after she is asked to help him with a problem.

Ghost Girl - Delia Ray
(978-0618333776) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-8, Lexile: 920, ESL level: 3 - 4
April longs to learn to read because of a wonderful new teacher, but family problems keep her out of school.

Give Me Liberty - Laura Elliot
(978-0060744236) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-8, Lexile: 810, ESL level: 3
As Nathaniel completes his indentureship to a teacher in Williamsburg, he finds himself in the middle of the misunderstandings between the two sides in the upcoming Civil War.

John's Story, 1775 - Joan Lowery Nixon
(978-0879352288) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-8, Lexile: 780, ESL level: 3
Eleven year old John must decide between his brother's revolutionary point of view and his father's tactic of moderation during the war with the British in the late 1700's.

Lady Margaret's Ghost - Elizabeth McDavid Jones
(978-1593694746) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-8, ESL level: 3
Felicity must take care of her household when her mother is away from their home in Colonial Williamsburg.

Light Years - Tammar Stein
(978-0440239024) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 720, ESL level: 3 / 4
Maya is still trying to come to terms with the her boyfriend's death in a suicide bombing back home in Israel as she matriculates as a student at a Virginia university.

Miz Berlin Walks - Jane Yolen
(978-0698118454) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-3, Lexile: 910, ESL level: 3-4
Mary Louise and her elderly neighbor have good times exchanging stories as they take walks together around the neighborhood.

O is for Old Dominion: A Virginia Alphabet - Pamela Duncan Edwards
(978-1585361618) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of Virginia.

Park's Quest - Katherine Paterson
(978-0440840671) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-12, Lexile: 710, ESL level: 3
Park discovers more about his dead father's history after he meets a Vietnamese American girl near his grandfather's farm; is she his sister?

The Search for Belle Prater - Ruth White
(978-0440421641) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-8, Lexile: 830, ESL level: 3
Three seventh grade friends decide to try and find one of their missing mothers in an adventurous quest.

Shades of Gray - Carolyn Reeder
(978-0689826962) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-6, Lexile: 800, ESL level: 3
After becoming an orphan, Will goes to live with his aunt and uncle in Virginia who do not appreciate his conscientious objector views of the war.

Taking Liberty: The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington's Runaway Slave - Ann Rinaldi
(978-0689851889) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 580, ESL level: 2 - 3
Martha Washington's slave decides she must run away from the home where she has served for many years.

Time's Memory - Julius Lester
(374-371784) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 870, ESL level: 3
A young slave recognizes the ancestral spirit within him as he goes through the months before the Civil War breaks out.

Who's Saying What in Jamestown, Thomas Savage? - Jean Fritz
(399-246444) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 2-5, Lexile: 810, ESL level: 3
Thomas Savage settled in Jamestown, Virginia and was able to be an interpreter for the Algonquins because of his linguistic gifts in this biography.

With the Might of Angels - Andrea Davis Pinkney
(978-0545297059) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-8, Lexile: 740, ESL level: 3
Dawnie Rae loves school and baseball, but her world becomes unfamiliar when she changes from a black school to an all-white one.

Famous Citizens:

William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison, the ninth president, was born into an aristocratic family in Charles City County, Virginia. His father, Benjamin Harrison, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a close friend of George Washington.
In 1801 he became Governor of the Indiana Territory and held that post for 12 years. In the War of 1812 Harrison was given the command of the Army in the Northwest. After leading the Army to victory in 1813, Harrison resigned from the military and returned to civilian life. He served terms in Congress and the Senate, was appointed minister to Colombia by President John Quincy Adams, and eventually retired to his farm in Ohio.
In 1840, The Whigs, in need of a national hero, nominated him for president. He won by a majority of less than 150,000, but swept the Electoral College, 234 to 60, becoming the ninth president of the United States.
Refusing to wear an overcoat on the cold and rainy day of his inauguration, Harrison caught a cold that developed into pneumonia. He died on April 4, 1841, exactly one month after becoming president.

Patrick Henry
Born in Hanover County, Virginia, and famous for his statement, "Give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry was one of Virginia's leading advocates for overthrowing English rule prior to the American Revolution.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary. At the age of 33, he drafted the Declaration of Independence. It was adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776. In 1779, Jefferson was elected governor of Virginia. Jefferson served as minister to France from 1785-1789 and was appointed secretary of state during President Washington's administration. He was elected vice-president of the United States under John Adams in 1797, and in 1801 became the third president of the United States. As President, he authorized the purchase of a tract of land from Napoleon that extended from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. This addition - the Louisiana Purchase - more than doubled the size of the country and opened up millions of new acres to settlers in the West. He also funded the Louis and Clark expedition that explored and surveyed the Northwest.

James Madison
James Madison was born in King George County, Virginia. Madison became a member of the Virginia legislature, participated in the creation of the Virginia Constitution, and in 1776, served in the Continental Congress. He played a leading role in the debates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and was instrumental in framing the Constitution of the United States. Although he was honored as the "Father of the Constitution," he was too modest to accept such a title, calling it the "work of many heads and many hands." When Madison entered the White House in 1809 as the fourth president of the United States, his wife Dolly quickly became a popular hostess know for her many gala parties.
During Madison's administration, friction between the United States and the British led to the War of 1812. During one raid on Washington, British marines set fire to the White House, forcing Madison and his wife to flee into the Virginia woods.

James Monroe
James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary, fought with distinction in the Continental Army, practiced law in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and served in the United States Congress. Monroe planned to retire from public life, but in 1811, he was asked by President Madison to serve as secretary of state. Three years later, he became secretary of war. His ambition and energy, together with the backing of President Madison, made him the Republican choice for the Presidency in 1816. He easily won re-election in 1820.

Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor, the nation's twelfth president was born in Montebello, Virginia. Although Taylor had little interest in politics, he was nationally recognized as a military hero after his valiant defeat of Santa Anna at Buena Vista during the Mexican War. Near the end of President Polk's term in office, Taylor became a prominent figure, admired by northerners who liked his long military record and supported by southerners because he owned 100 slaves. The Whig party nominated him to run against Lewis Cass, the Democratic candidate, in 1848. "Old Rough and Ready" won the election by a very close popular vote. He was inaugurated on in March of 1849 at the age of 64.
On a blistering Fourth of July in 1850, Taylor participated in ceremonies at the yet-unfinished Washington Monument. Returning to the White House after hours in the broiling sun, he became violently ill. Five days later, "Old Rough and Ready" was dead.

George Washington
George Washington was born into the family of a Virginia planter. His widowed mother could not afford to send him to college, so at the age of 15, young Washington became a surveyor.
Washington spent months surveying the vast estate of Lord Fairfax, which ran from the Atlantic coast to the Allegheny Mountains. At the age of 20, he joined the militia to guard Virginia against French and Indian raiders. When he was 27 years old, he married Martha Dandridge Custis and committed himself to a busy and happy life managing his farms and serving in the Virginia legislature. Washington soon joined with other prominent gentleman of Virginia to protest to the unjust restriction of the Stamp Act and other British regulations. At the spring 1775 meeting of the Second Continental Congress, Washington was unanimously elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.
After the Revolutionary War, Washington was asked to lead a Constitutional Convention in 1787. Under his guidance, the Constitution of the United States with its Bill of Rights was created. He was persuaded to serve as the country's first president and took the first presidential oath of office on April 30, 1789.
Washington retired at the end of two successful terms as President, and died at Mount Vernon on December 14, 1799.

Booker T. Washington
Born in Hales Ford, Virginia, Booker T. Washington founded Tuskeegee Institute, the first college for African Americans, in 1881 in Alabama. He was a leader in helping African Americans begin gaining equality with white people.

Capital: Richmond
Entered Union: June 25, 1788
Population: 8,326,289
Area 42,774
Bird Cardinal
Flower American Dogwood
Nickname: Old Dominion State, Mother State
Governor Terry McAuliffe

Places to Visit in Virginia: (Click the links to learn more.)

Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg was the first colonial capital of Virginia and is now a faithfully restored colonial town. Visitors can immerse themselves in the life of 18th century America, and learn about trades, politics, foods, and clothing.

Mount Vernon - Mount Vernon
George Washington became the owner of Mount Vernon after his marriage to Martha Custis, a wealthy widow. The plantation soon became a beloved home, to which he gratefully returned after the turmoil of the American Revolution and again following his two terms as president of the United States. He died there, probably of a throat infection.

Jamestown Colony - Jamestown
Site of the first successful European colony in the new world, this recreated town shows what life might have been like in the 17th century for the new settlers. Tour the site and learn about Jamestowne's European settlers, and about the Native inhabitants of the area, including one of its best known, Pocahontas.

Monticello - Charlottesville
Home of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States, Monticello demonstrates the contradictions of this early American leader. A slave owner, he opposed slavery as a politician. An inventor, his home shows the implementation of some of his genius. Separate tours of Monticello present the plantation from the perspectives of the owner, Jefferson, and of the Hemmings, one of the best known enslaved families in American history.

Natural Bridge - Natural Bridge
In 1750, young George Washington surveyed the Natural Bridge site for Lord Fairfax. Landmarks remain of the work and on the wall of the bridge where he carved his initials.

On July 5, 1774 just before the American Revolution and writing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson purchased 157 acres of land including the Natural Bridge from King George III of England for 20 shillings. It has remained privately owned.

Its development as a retreat began when Jefferson built a two-room log cabin - one room was reserved for guests. In 1833, Jefferson's heirs sold the site and the new owner erected the Forest Inn to accommodate the increasing number of people. During the 1880's Natural Bridge attained resort status.