Virginia’s first European colony was at Jamestown in 1607. These first colonists had a difficult time and struggled for existence. At that time, Native Americans living in what is now Virginia included the Cherokee, Chesepian, Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Meherrin, Monacan, Nansemond, Nottoway, Pamunkey, Pohick, Powhatan, Rappahannock, Saponi, and Tuscarora.
As time went on, tobacco became a major crop in Virginia creating large plantations. Many plantation owners in this colony used African natives that had been kidnapped and brought over to work the cotton and tobacco fields in slavery.
One of the original 13 colonies to declare war on Great Britain, Virginia gave many leaders to the American Revolution including the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States, George Washington, along with others that are considered founding fathers of our country.
By the end of the Revolutionary War, the new American states had joined together under the Articles of Confederation. The Confederation granted very little power to the federal government. Virginia helped begin the move to stronger union by meeting with representatives from Maryland to discuss trade and navigation issues in 1785. Madison designed something called the Virginia Plan calling for a stronger national government with representatives assigned proportionally by population size within a state. Some of the ideas of the plan were adopted, but smaller states did not like having proportional representation, so compromise was struck and each state received two Senators in the upper house.
The Virginia delegates also pushed for a bill of rights. Most agreed to sign the United States Constitution on the promise that a bill of rights would be quickly adopted. It is interesting to note that many of the founding fathers from Virginia and other states wanted to abolish slavery but felt that they could not accomplish that yet and gain all the territories and states into a newly forming Union. It was hoped that slavery would be abolished soon after the forming of the new country.
Madison wrote several of the Federalist papers and took other measures to push for ratification of the Constitution. Mason and Patrick Henry led the political opposition. Many in southwest Virginia opposed ratification because slavery was still allowed. Virginia narrowly ratified the Constitution on June 25, 1788, and became the tenth state to enter the Union of the United States of America.
Virginia and the Civil War
Unfortunately, by the mid 1800’s the issue of slavery was still not decided. With such a great dependence on slave labor to maintain the affluence of the Virginia plantations, Virginia ended up seceding from the Union with the Southern states during the Civil War in 1865 when the country divided over the issue of slavery. Many of the major battles of the Civil War were fought on Virginia soil. In this, as in other states, often brother fought against brother each taking a moral stand.
Virginia has a long history of claiming very intelligent, very articulate politicians that were on both sides of the slavery and cession issue as well as helped to form our national government. Today they continue to have intelligent, articulate people on both sides of current political issues. Virginia is still a mainstay in our country.