Virginia: The Old Dominion State
Geography and Industry
Virginia is a very large state now, but in the past it was even larger. Virginia once claimed all of the land that now makes up two different states, West Virginia and Kentucky, in addition to its present territory! In 1792, Congress created the state of Kentucky in the west, and in 1863, northwestern Virginia seceded from the rest of the state to form West Virginia.
Eastern Virginia is made up of the southern tip of the Del-marva Peninsula (named for the three states that share it: Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia) and a few islands in between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. This region is also called the Eastern Shore.
The central part of Virginia includes two types of country. The tidewater section, which is right on the shore of Chesapeake Bay, is flat, humid, and very swampy in many places. Four big rivers run through the tidewater section: the James (where Jamestown is), the York, the Rappahannock, and the Potomac.
The other type of country in the central part of Virginia is called the Piedmont. The Piedmont is hillier than the flat tidewater section, and has a lot of fertile soil. Everything from wheat to gourds like squash and pumpkins to tobacco is grown in the Piedmont. Cattle are also raised there. The Piedmont rises higher and higher as it goes west, until it becomes the mountains of the Blue Ridge. The western part of Virginia is very rugged.
ALL ABOUT Virginia
LARGEST CITY: Virginia Beach
POPULATION: 7,078,515 (2000 Census)
STATE BIRD: Cardinal
STATE TREE: Dogwood
STATE FLOWER: Dogwood
STATE MOTTO: “Sic Semper Tyrannis (Thus Always to Tyrants)”
STATEHOOD: June 25, 1788
POSTAL ABBREVIATION: VA
Many Native American tribes lived in Virginia before Europeans visited the region. The Powhatan confederacy was the largest group of native tribes in the area when English settlers landed at what is now Jamestown in 1607. They took their name from their leader, Powhatan. You have heard of Pocahontas, haven't you? Well, Pocahontas was Chief Powhatan's daughter.
When English ships first landed in Virginia in 1607, most of the men who came as part of the expedition were interested in one thing: gold! They had heard that in the New World, gold and silver were just lying around on the ground, waiting to be picked up.
At first, the members of the tiny new colony were only interested in finding the kind of treasure the Spanish had found in Mexico and Peru. They were so busy looking for it that they didn't bother to farm, trade for food, or raise livestock. As a result, they nearly starved to death.
But later generations learned a lesson from what the original settlers called the “starving time.” They came to realize that in Virginia, it was easier to grow tobacco than to find gold. They could also grow wheat that would sell for good prices. By the time the American Revolution started, Virginia was a very prosperous colony.
Can you tell the difference between a pumpkin and a squash?
The plants themselves, not their fruit! Both plants are members of the gourd family. The next time you go to pick out a pumpkin for Halloween, ask the farmer if you can see his pumpkin patch. What types of plants are pumpkin plants? Are they bushes or vines? And what about squash? If you can't go to the country to try this, you can always look on the Internet.
Four of the first five presidents of the United States were Virginians! These great men were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. All of these future presidents contributed to the American cause of getting independence from the British during the Revolution. Washington was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. He is largely credited with keeping his army going during the early years of the Revolution, when they were losing battle after battle.
Jefferson served in the Continental Congress, and wrote most of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was also America's first secretary of state (an official who takes care of this country's relationships with other countries), and also served as vice president before he became president in 1801.
Madison also served in the Congress, and was largely responsible for the U.S. Constitution (the system of government we still have in this country today). Madison is the man who came up with the idea of making the president, the Congress, and the Supreme Court equal branches of government, in order to make sure that one person didn't have too much power and become a tyrant.
Monroe served as an officer under Washington's command in the Continental Army, and later as a diplomat in Europe, negotiating treaties and trade agreements with other countries for the new American government.
WORDS TO KNOW
The powerful chief of the Pow-hatan confederacy of Native American tribes, this man was also the father of the famous Pocahontas. Actually, “Powhatan” was a title, like “king.”Powhatan's real name was Wahunsonacock.
When the English first landed in Virginia, they named their new colony in honor of their ruler, Queen Elizabeth I. People called Elizabeth I the Virgin Queen, which is how the settlers came up with the name Virginia.
Virginia and the Civil War
Virginia's location played a big part in the state's being the site of many of the major battles of the American Civil War. This was partly because Virginia was the northernmost state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy, and partly because it was across the Potomac River from the Union capital of Washington, D.C. Also, after Virginia seceded, the Confederate capital moved to its largest city, Richmond. This placed the capital cities of both sides in the war within 100 miles of each other.
Many men from Virginia served on both sides during the Civil War. One of them was General Robert E. Lee, who resigned from the Union Army and went on to command the Confederate Army. Before he resigned his commission, he turned down President Lincoln's offer of command of the Union Army. When asked why he did not take the president's offer, Lee said, “I cannot go against my country.” By that he meant Virginia.