History of Virginia
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.