In 1583, Queen Elizabeth I of England granted Walter Raleigh a charter to establish a colony north of Spanish Florida and the next year, Raleigh sent an expedition to the Atlantic coast of North America. The area was called “Virginia,” most commonly thought to be in honor of Elizabeth’s status as “the Virgin Queen.”
In 1606, The London Company (also known as the Virginia Company) was incorporated as a joint stock company (it also included the Plymouth Company) by King James I of England (who succeeded Elizabeth in 1603) as part of the Charter of 1606. The purpose of the Company was to assign land rights to colonists for the express purpose of propagating the Christian religion. The land itself would remain the property of the King, with the London Company and the Plymouth Company as the King’s tenants, and the settlers as subtenants. The Company financed the first permanent English settlement in the “New World” in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.
Jamestown was intended to be dedicated to silk cultivation. After blight fungus destroyed the mulberry trees (silkworm food), the colonists tried tobacco.
With the bankruptcy of the London Company in 1624, the settlement was placed under royal authority as an English crown colony.
In 1619, colonists took greater control with an elected legislature called the House of Burgesses. A council chosen by the Virginia Company as advisers to the governor served as the “upper house.” Together, the House of Burgesses and the Council were known as the Virginia General Assembly. On July 30, 1619, the first legislative assembly in the Americas convened for a six-day meeting at the church on Jamestown Island, Virginia, but the meeting was cut short because of an outbreak of malaria. Nevertheless, the Virginia General Assembly stayed in existence, and is now the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World.
As colonization continued, Tidewater Virginia became a new home for many of the English upper class. These colonists were staunch royalists, Anglicans, and had a strong belief in their own elitism. For them, liberty meant the freedom to pursue their rich lifestyles. These colonists were predominantly from the south and west of England, from whence came the “southern drawl.”
Slavery first appears most notably in Virginia statutes in 1662, when Virginia adopted the Roman legal doctrine of partus sequitur ventrem, establishing that the legal status of the mother, not the father, determined the legal status of the child. This ensured that white masters could retain the popular option of using female slaves for sex, as well as retaining the value of “increase” when these female slaves gave birth.
Virginians, instrumental in contributing to the United States Constitution, were the largest beneficiaries of the “three-fifths” rule of counting slaves for state representation in Congress, which gave Virginia the largest bloc at that time in the House of Representatives.
Virginia voted to secede from the United States on April 17, 1861, and joined the Confederate States of America one week later. Richmond, Virginia was chosen as the capital of the CSA. During the Civil War, more battles were fought in Virginia than any other state. Virginia was formally restored to the United States in 1870.
Eight U.S. Presidents were born in Virginia, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson. In addition, six presidents’ wives came from the state: Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson, Rachel Jackson, Letitia Tyler, Ellen Arthur, Edith Wilson.
Virginia is also home to the largest low-rise office building in the world, The Pentagon. Built in just 16 months, it boasts nearly 17 and one half miles of corridors, yet due to it’s unique design, movement between any two opposite points takes as little as seven minutes.
The Pentagon has approximately 23,000 employees, both military and civilian, sixteen parking lots, 131 stairways, 19 escalators, 691 water fountains, 284 rest rooms, 1 dining room, 2 cafeterias, 6 indoor snack bars, and one outdoor snack bar.
As of March, 2017, Virginia also has an Official State Whiskey. George Washington was once the largest whiskey producer in America. Today, George Washington’s Rye Whiskey® is made from Washington’s original recipe at Mount Vernon’s reconstructed distillery. The distillery opened in 2007 thanks in part to a $2.1 million grant from Distilled Spirits Council of the United States which allowed Mount Vernon to excavate, research, and reconstruct the site.
The recipe for Washington’s whiskey was discovered by researchers examining the distillery ledgers from 1798 and 1799. His whiskey consisted of 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley. The records also indicate that George Washington’s whiskey was distilled at least twice before being sent to market. During Washington’s lifetime whiskey was not aged and was sold in its original form.