The History of Virginia began with settlement by eastern woodland Native Americans of the Algonquin language including the Powhatan and Rappahannock. Permanent English settlement began in Virginia with Jamestown in 1607. The colony nearly failed until tobacco emerged as a profitable export, grown primarily by indentured servants. Then following 1662, the colony hardened slavery into a racial caste by partus law. By 1750, the primary cultivators of the cash crop were West African descendants in hereditary slavery worked in the plantation agricultural system. Virginia and other southern colonies had become slave societies, with economies dependent on slavery and slaveholders forming the ruling class.
The Virginia Colony became the wealthiest and most populated British colony in North America, with General Assembly representatives from today’s West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois. The colony was dominated by elite planters who were also in control of the established Anglican Church. Baptist and Methodist preachers brought the Great Awakening, welcoming black members and leading to many evangelical and racially integrated churches. Virginia planters had a major role in gaining independence and the development of democratic-republican ideals of the United States. They were important in the Declaration of Independence, writing the Constitutional Convention (and preserving protection for the slave trade), and establishing the Bill of Rights. The state of Kentucky separated from Virginia in 1792. Four of the first five presidents were Virginians: George Washington, the “Father of his country”; and after 1800, “The Virginia Dynasty” of presidents for 24 years: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.
During the first half of the 19th century, tobacco declined as a commodity crop and planters adopted mixed farming, which required less labor. They sold surplus slaves "downriver" to the Deep South. The Constitutions of 1830 and 1850 expanded suffrage but did not equalize white male apportionment statewide. While population declined as people migrated west and south, Virginia was still the largest state joining the Confederate States of America in 1861. It became the major theater of war in the American Civil War. Unionists in western Virginia emerged as the separate state of West Virginia. Virginia was administered during early Reconstruction as Military District Number One. Virginia's economy was devastated in war and disrupted in Reconstruction. The first signs of recovery were seen in tobacco cultivation and the related cigarette industry. In 1883 conservative white Democrats regained power in the state government, ending Reconstruction and implementing Jim Crow laws. The 1902 Constitution limited the number of white voters below 19th-century levels and effectively disfranchised blacks until federal civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s.
From the 1920s to the 1960s, the state was dominated by the Byrd Organization, the “courthouse crowd,” with dominance by rural counties aligned in a Democratic party machine, but their hold was broken over their failed Massive Resistance to school integration. After World War II, the state's economy began to thrive, with a new industrial and urban base. Governor Mills Godwin, 1966–1970, 1974–1978, was the father of the statewide community college system. The first U.S. African-American governor was Virginia’s Douglas Wilder, 1990–1994. Since the late twentieth century, the contemporary economy has become more diversified in high-tech industries and defense-related businesses. Virginia’s changing demography makes for closely divided voting in national elections but it is still generally conservative in state politics.
Read more about History Of Virginia: Early European Exploration, Virginia Company of London, Royal Colony, Religion in Early Virginia, Early Republic and Antebellum Periods, Civil War, Reconstruction, Progressive Era, Interwar, WWII and Modern Era, Contemporary Commonwealth
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