At the time of the great northern glaciers, Native Americans followed the game they hunted to Virginia. Ten thousand years later, as the cold of the Ice Age gave way to a warmer, drier climate, they relied also on foraging and farming. After about 900 CE they settled into villages that united into chiefdoms. In 1607, in pursuit of opportunity in a new world, English settlers intruded into an eastern Virginia chiefdom of thirty-two tribes (15,000 to 20,000 people). Its leader then was Wahunsenacawh, whom the new settlers called by his title, Powhatan.
The colony prospered. Tobacco—grown by indentured servants and enslaved Africans—sustained the economy. The first popularly elected legislative body in the New World was established. Following the failed Indian uprising in 1622 and on orders from London, the native peoples were “removed” and reduced in number to 3,000 by a “War of Extermination.” During the next hundred years, the remainder of Virginia’s population expanded a hundred fold. Social inequalities, however, and frontier conflicts with the French and with Indians made this distant dominion increasingly difficult to govern from London.
British taxation—introduced to pay for a British military presence in America—was unexpected by the Virginia gentry and resented. Those Americans began to view British policy as a plot against their liberty. They played leading roles in the Continental Congresses that debated independence, in the fighting of the American Revolution, and in the conception and implementation of a new government. Virginia also provided four of the new nation’s first five presidents. Virginia leaders advocated equality for all but they never considered extending it to women and African Americans.
The decades following the presidency of Virginian James Monroe (1817–1825) saw populations shift, the economy expand, and attitudes about slavery harden. More and more families migrated from the soil-depleted Tidewater and Piedmont, while new and diverse peoples in the Shenandoah Valley prospered. The beginnings of the Industrial Revolution encouraged the growth of industry, urban centers, and “internal improvements” (transportation by road, rail, and canal). Those “improvements”––funded by taxes––became a subject of political debate. Slavery was as vehemently attacked by abolitionists as it was defended by proponents.
Becoming a Homeplace Gallery
Virtual tour of Becoming a Homeplace
Take a virtual tour of the Becoming a Homeplace gallery in The Story of Virginia.
An early hunter of the Clovis culture, c. 9000 B.C., flaked distinctive fluted grooves in this point. He then was able to create a knife or spear by inserting the point into the split end of a wooden shaft. (Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources)
Native Americans fished using a variety of techniques, including hooks and lines, nets, spears, and traps. This bone fishook, found at the Crab Orchard site in Tazewell County, dates from the contact period. (Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources)
Captain John Smith's map of Virginia was first published in 1612 and later appeared in his Generall Historie of Virginia in 1624. A number of European cartographers drew heavily from Smith's work to create their own maps, such as this 1644 version by Dutch map-maker Willem Blaeu. Jamestown and several capes are the only place names that appear in English. Large letters spelling Powhatan show the extent of his dominions. (VHS call number: Map F221 1644:1)
Playing card depicting a Virginia Indian, printed in Paris in 1644 as part of "games devised for the instruction of Louis XIV as a child." The text explains that Virginia is next to new France. (VHS accession number: 1985.127)