Virginia State Study

VirginiaA state study is a learning unit about one of the United States.  During a state study you should learn a little about the history of the state, the natural features, the man made landmarks, and the people who live in the state.  You should also color a map and maybe do another project . . . our favorite is food.  Join us for a Virginia State study, activity ideas, map, history and all.

Brief History of Virginia

Virginia was settled in 1607 by the London Company. The agriculture of Virginia was based on the tobacco plantations.  In early colonial years these were worked by indentured servants, both black and white.  It wasn’t until 1661 that the first laws institutionalizing slavery of blacks were made.  The elite of Virginia were wealthy plantation owners, but more than 80% of the population was made up of poorer white and black indentured servants or former indentured servants.  These people moved west for land they could work themselves.  The government of Virginia failed to protect their settlements from Indian raids and so the frontiersmen rebelled in 1676 and marched on the capital at Jamestown, ultimately burning it to the ground.  The wealthy landowners became afraid at the cooperation between their black slaves and their former indentured servants and hardened the slavery laws, even though the rebellion was put down.

This is an 1857 illustration from a children’s history book depicting the burning of Jamestown.

During the War for Independence Virginia was integral to the success of the war and especially to the success of the persuading and teaching the colonists that freedom and self-rule were worth dying for.  Great thinkers and statesmen like George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson were from Virginia.  Many of these wealthy Virginians saw the sharp contrast between the freedom they desired for themselves and the institution of slavery.  They spoke out against slavery and for freedom for all.  But most enjoyed their power and wealth far more than they loved their fellow man and so the issue of slavery was put off to another day.  Later, during the Civil War Virginia seceded with the rest of the confederate states.  But 48 counties in northwest Virginia voted to remain loyal to the United States and secede from Virginia.  They became the new state of West Virginia.

After the South was defeated, slavery was outlawed and Virginian government was controlled by northerners for many years.  In 1883 the Democrat party regained control in Virginia and wrote the Jim Crow laws that segregated black from white and disenfranchised the black population.  During this time the Virginia economy was expanding into industry and ship building and in the early years of the Cold War, government agencies like the CIA found their homes in Virginia near Washington DC.  The Jim Crow Laws ended in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of the Civil Rights Movement.  Since then the state has expanded its economy into high tech and its leading export now is computer chips.

Geography

Virginia’s eastern border is the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, which is formed from the drowned river valleys of the James and Susquehanna Rivers.  Most of Virginia’s rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay including the Potomac and the Rappahannock.  The land near the coast is called the tidewater region because the water levels int he rivers are affected by the ocean tides.  This is the region where the early plantations were located.  Moving west, above the falls that mark the end of the tidewater is the Piedmont region, a plateau that extends to the next region, the Blue Ridge Mountains.  After the Blue Ridge Mountains we come to the Valley and Ridge region.  This is an area where long, north-south mountain ridges alternate with long valleys, creating an almost insurmountable boundary.  Even today there are only a few places where roads cross westward.  The final region in Virginia is the Cumberland Plateau, part of the Appalachian Range.

This is a view from the air of the ridge lines in the Appalachians that formed valleys between them. Image by Bantosh, CC license, Wikimedia.

The climate in Virginia is warm and humid, becoming cooler as you enter the mountains.  The coastal areas are hit with tropical storms and hurricanes from time to time and the mountains can receive severe snow storms.  Much of the state is covered with oak, hickory and pine forests.  Deer, opossums, crayfish, bear, beaver, fox, rabbits, falcons, crabs and hundreds of other species thrive.

Fabulous Facts

  • Richmond, the capital city, was changed from Jamestown during the Revolutionary War at the insistence of Thomas Jefferson who thought it would be safer from attack since it is much further inland.
  • The state bird is the cardinal.
  • Virginia’s economy once based almost totally on tobacco has expanded to include cattle, dairy, poultry, soybeans, hogs, transportation, government, textiles, food processing, printing, high tech, and chemicals among other things, but tobacco is still important after more than 400 years.
  • Virginia’s state flag bears its motto, Sic Semper Tyrannis, which means Thus Always To Tyrants.  On the flag is shown a woman, representing Virginia, standing above a defeated man, representing tyrants, specifically the British.
  • Eight US Presidents were from Virginia.
  • Virginia was named for Queen Elizabeth, the virgin queen.
  • Over half of the Civil War battles were fought in Virginia, more than 2000.
  • About one fourth of the population of Virginia works for the United States government.

Explorations

Visit Colonial Williamsburg, a restored and “working” colonial village.

Label and color a Virginia Map

Virginia Map

Make a timeline of significant dates in Virginia history.

Eat some good old Virginia cooking!

Additional Layers

  • Learn about the Great Dismal Swamp, an area of coastal swampland in Virginia that is being slowly restored to its original pristine state.
  • Slavery was supported by a few powerful men in early Virginia history, but the majority of the residents of Virginia, at least in the beginning, did not support or desire slavery.  Think about how a few powerful people can wreak so much destruction and how can they be stopped?  The republican form of the United States government was designed to rein in and control wicked minorities as well as foolish majorities.  But it doesn’t always work.  Why not?

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