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Virginia State History

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1607—The first permanent settlement is established at Jamestown

1619—The House of Burgesses becomes the first representative legislature

1674—The Bacon rebellion fights for colonial rights in Western Virginia

1693—The College of William and Mary is founded

1776—Virginia adopts its first constitution and declares independence

1788—Virginia becomes the 10th state

1831—Nat Turner led a slave revolt

1861—Virginia secedes and joins the Confederacy; the Civil War begins

1863—West Virginia is formed from northwestern Virginia

1870—Virginia reenters the United States

1959—Integration began in public schools in Arlington and Norfolk

1964—The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel opens

When Spanish explorers entered the Virginia region in 1570, several Indian tribes inhabited the area.  Missionaries built a settlement along the York River, but were killed only a few months later.  English explorers also arrived in the late 1580s, but their expedition failed due to lack of supplies.

In 1607, Captain John Smith established the first permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown.  Many settlers died that winter from starvation; fortunately, ships bringing new colonists with food and supplies arrived early in the spring.

John Rolfe of Jamestown began planting tobacco in 1612.  He developed a method that enabled tobacco to be exported, allowing it to become the leading industry in Virginia.  In 1619, the House of Burgess became the first legislature in America.  This group and the governor met together to create laws for the colony.

During the 1660s, small farmers grew unhappy with the influence wealthy families had on the government.  Many resented the government’s restrictions on colonial trade.  After the French and Indian War (1754-1763), English Parliament passed many laws without the consent of the colonies.  A leader of Virginia, Patrick Henry, wrote resolutions that encouraged colonists to seek freedom from Great Britain.

In 1774, Lord Dunmore dissolved the House of Burgesses, but delegates met together secretly.  They established the First Continental Congress.  In 1775, the Second Continental Congress met in Richmond.  Patrick Henry gave his famous words, “Give me liberty or give me death!”  Virginia’s George Washington was chosen as head of the Continental Army.  The following year Virginia adopted its first constitution.

During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Thomas Jefferson of Virginia wrote the Declaration of Independence; it was approved on July 4, 1776.  In 1781, the last major battle was fought in Yorktown and Great Britain surrendered.  Virginian James Madison helped to write the Constitution of the United States.  Virginia approved the Constitution and became the 10th state on June 25, 1788.

George Washington served as the first president of the United States.  Eventually eight presidents would come from Virginia.  In 1830, Virginia adopted a new constitution providing better representation for all counties in the state.  Other needed reforms encouraged another constitution in 1851.  It gave all white men the right to vote and required an election for many state government officials by popular vote.

As other southern states withdrew from the Union in 1860, Virginia chose to wait for a compromise that would prevent war.  Virginia joined the Confederate States of America as the Civil War began in 1861.  Some of the counties stayed loyal to the Union and established their own government in northwestern Virginia.  These counties became the state of West Virginia in 1863.

Many Virginians, including Robert E. Lee, became leading war generals for the Southern army.  More battles were fought in Virginia than in any other state.  Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy.  The war also destroyed much of Virginia’s cities, farms, and railroads.  The Reconstruction Act of 1867 placed Virginia under military rule and required that a new constitution be written giving blacks the right to vote.  Virginia then reentered the Union on Jan. 26, 1870.

During the 1880s, new industries opened in Virginia.  Textile, furniture, cigarette, and shipbuilding plants were built.  Coal was discovered in southern Virginia.  Many people left the state for better jobs during the early 1900s.  During the Great Depression (1929-1939) the state worked hard to create jobs and keep people from leaving the state.

World War II brought new industries to Virginia in 1941.  Many government workers of Washington D.C. chose to live in the suburbs of Virginia.  A large population increase during the 1950s required several new schools to be built.  In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.  Virginia passed laws that closed any school ordered to integrate.  Many of the schools closed.  Not until the late 1960s, did integration completely occur within the state.

Recently, pollution has become a problem in the Chesapeake Bay.  State leaders area striving to protect the water and wildlife of the bay.  Virginia continues to maintain a strong diversified economy.  Industrial growth has expanded into many areas such as chemical, clothing, and computers.