History and Facts on Virginia

Capitol Building, Richmond

In 1607, the first permanent English settlement in America was established at Jamestown. The Jamestown colonists also established the first representative legislature in America in 1619. Virginia became a colony in 1624 and entered the union on June 25, 1788, the tenth state to do so. Virginia was named for Queen Elizabeth I of England, the “Virgin Queen” and is also known as the “Old Dominion.”  King Charles II of England gave it this name in appreciation of Virginia’s loyalty to the crown during the English Civil War of the mid-1600s. Virginia is designated as a Commonwealth, along with Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. In 1779, the capital was relocated from Williamsburg to Richmond.

The cornerstone for the Virginia Capitol Building was laid on August 18, 1785, and the building was completed in 1792.  Modeled after the Maison Carrée at Nîmes, France, the Capitol was the first public building in the United States to be built using the Classical Revival style of architecture.  Thomas Jefferson designed the central section of the Capitol, including its most outstanding feature: the interior dome, which is undetectable from the exterior. The wings were added in 1906 to house the Senate and House of Delegates.  In 2007, in time to receive the Queen of England during the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement, the Capitol underwent an extensive restoration, renovation and expansion, including the addition of a state of the art Visitor’s Center that will ensure that it remains a working capitol well into the 21st Century.  The Virginia state Capitol is the second oldest working capitol in the United States, having been in continuous use since 1788.

More information on the Capitol building can be found at http://www.virginiacapitol.gov.

Eight U.S. Presidents were born in Virginia: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson, giving Virginia the nickname the “Mother of Presidents.”

Virginia is also known as the “Mother of States.”  All or part of the following eight states were formed from western territory once claimed by Virginia:  Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.


Why Virginia is a Commonwealth

Virginia was first designated a Commonwealth during the Interregnum (“between reigns”) while Oliver Cromwell was the Lord Protector of England.  Under Cromwell’s leadership, the colony of Virginia enjoyed greater freedom in self-government than it had before.  From 1660 until the end of the American Revolution in 1781, Virginia was considered a royal British colony along with the other twelve colonies established in North America before the English Civil War.

Virginia’s first constitution was passed on June 29, 1776.  The constitution directed that “Commissions and grants shall run, in the Name of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and bear teste by the Governor with Seal of the Commonwealth annexed.”   It also states “Government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people…” and “That all power is vested in and consequently derived from, the people…” These statements are the foundation and heart of the meaning of the “Commonwealth of Virginia.”  The delegates at the Williamsburg convention decided to name their new form of government the Commonwealth of Virginia, probably in deference to the rebellion against the Crown and the relative freedom they had enjoyed as a colony over one hundred years before and during the Interregnum.

While Virginia was the first Commonwealth, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania became Commonwealths after the War of Independence.  Kentucky, formerly part of Virginia, kept the Commonwealth distinction when it was formed in 1792.

This piece is a compilation of texts written by Thomas M. Moncure, Jr. of George Mason University and Louise A. Arnatt, Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia for Governor Mark Warner. Both texts were compiled by Anne Forsythe.

Information accurate as of December 2021