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Virginia (VA) Fast Facts
Location and Geography: Virginia, which is not only one of the Thirteen Original Colonies but also the oldest English-speaking colony in the nation, is located on the eastern coast of North America. It is directly between the geographical and socio-political regions of the North and the South, and has been something of a crossroads between cultures since the beginning.
Counties and Regions: Virginia has 95 counties, but in addition to this has 39 independent cities. It is unique among all the United States for having independent cities that the state treats no differently from the county governments. The more general regions of Virginia can be described as follows:
- Eastern Shore
- Hampton Roads
- Historic Triangle
- King George County
- Middle Peninsula
- New River Valley
- Northern Neck
- Northern Virginia
- Richmond-Petersburg Metropolitan Area
- Shenandoah Valley
- South Hampton Roads
- Southside Virginia
- Southwest Virginia
- Tri-Cities Area
- Virginia Peninsula
Population: The state of Virginia has more than 8 million people living there, many of them in its largest metropolitan areas. With the District of Columbia located right on its border, many people who work in the nation’s capital city actually make their homes in Virginia.
Major Cities: The largest metropolitan area in Virginia actually belongs to Washington, D.C., located right on its border. More than 2.6 million Virginians live in this area. The state capital of Richmond has more than a million people in its metropolitan area as well.
Story Behind the Name: The colony of Virginia is the oldest English place-name in the United States. It was possibly named by Queen Elizabeth I (known as the “Virgin Queen”), when her explorers told her what they thought was the Native American word for the area (“Wingina”) and she noticed that it sounded similar.
History and Colonization: Virginia is the location of the first English ambitions in the New World. A colony was founded there in the late sixteenth century in order to compete with Spain’s growing New World empire, although it was not a successful venture for a long time. The English colonists relied on the local natives to survive at first, although over the decades their relationship deteriorated into one of suspicion and hostility. In order to keep receiving their valuable tobacco crop, however, England continued to send more colonists, and eventually brought in African slaves to work the fields. This proved to be the roots of a later America’s slave-based, agricultural society.
Few present states are as important to the birth of the United States as Virginia. It was home to many of our Founding Fathers (including the legendary George Washington), and the stable government of the Commonwealth of Virginia served as one of the major models for the framing of the U.S. Constitution. In the eighteenth century, Virginia was in many ways the focal point of the American Revolution. The capital city of the newly formed nation was founded in part on Virginian soil (the other part being carved out of the state of Maryland). As it was the oldest British colony in the United States, several later states were created out of land that was originally part of Virginia.
As it had been central to the American Revolution in the eighteenth century, Virginia would also be the crux of the American Civil War in the nineteenth century. The state joined the Confederacy amid much controversy, while several of its own counties split off to form West Virginia, which joined the Union. The Confederacy made its capital the city of Richmond in Virginia, and more battles than anywhere else were fought on Virginian soil as the North and the South struggled to take one another’s capitals.
After the war, Virginia struggled with the issues of segregation and disenfranchisement. Caught between the North and the South both geographically and in terms of cultural values, the state would become a battleground of the Civil Rights movement during the twentieth century. Today, it is still known as one of the areas of the United States most closely associated with the complexities of history and government.