One of the 13 original colonies, Virginia was the first part of the country permanently settled by the English, who established Jamestown on the banks of the James River in 1607. The home state of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers, Virginia played an important role in the American Revolution (1775-83). During the Civil War (1861-65), the city of Richmond, Virginia, became the capital of the Confederacy, and more than half of the conflict’s battles were fought in the state. Today, many government institutions are headquartered in Virginia, particularly in Arlington, located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. In addition to eight presidents, famous Virginians include singer Ella Fitzgerald, tennis star Arthur Ashe, actress Shirley MacLaine and authors Willa Cather and Tom Wolfe.
Nickname(s): Old Dominion; Mother of Presidents; Mother of States; Mother of Statesmen; Cavalier State
Motto: Sic Semper Tyrannis (“Thus Always to Tyrants”)
Tree: American Dogwood
Flower: American Dogwood
Bird: Northern Cardinal
Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech before the second Virginia Convention at St. John’s Church (formerly Henrico Parish) in Richmond on March 23, 1775.
On October 19, 1781, following three weeks of continuous bombardment, British General Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington in the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia, essentially bringing the American Revolution to an end.
Virginia’s borders have expanded and contracted numerous times since its inception as the first of the 13 original colonies. In 1792, nine counties known as the Kentucky District of Virginia entered the union as the state of Kentucky, and in 1863, western counties of Virginia were approved to enter the union as the state of West Virginia.
The Arlington National Cemetery, one of America’s most renowned military cemeteries, was originally built in the early 19th century as a mansion by George Washington’s adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. Robert E. Lee, who married Custis’ daughter, Mary Anna, lived in Arlington House at various periods until 1861, when Virginia seceded from the Union and the couple vacated the estate. On June 15, 1864, the property was established as a military cemetery.
Virginia was the birthplace of more U.S. presidents than any other state: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Woodrow Wilson.
The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg is the nation’s second-oldest institution of higher education, after Harvard; King William III and Queen Mary II of England signed a charter for its creation on February 8, 1693. At the persuasion of Thomas Jefferson, the first law school in America was established there in 1779.