Virginia History

Virginia Pioneers

During the early 1700s, English settlers, encouraged by Gov. Alexander SPOTSWOOD, migrated from the coastal towns westward across the Piedmont, where they met Scots-Irish and German immigrants moving southward from Pennsylvania through the Great Valley. The westward movement helped focus attention on the conflicting land claims of Virginia and France, and Gov. Robert DINWIDDIE dispatched George WASHINGTON to expel the French from FORT DUQUESNE, now Pittsburgh. Washington’s mission failed, as did the disastrous expedition of Gen. Edward BRADDOCK in 1755, but the FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR (1754-63) eventually resolved the matter in favor of the British.

The American Revolution

British success against France did little to aid Virginia, however, because the western lands subsequently were closed to further settlement by the Proclamation of 1763. Friction with Britain increased, especially over the STAMP ACT and the TOWNSHEND ACTS. After the Boston Tea Party, Virginia’s governor, Lord DUNMORE, dissolved the House of Burgesses to prevent its use as an antigovernment forum, but the members reassembled in Raleigh Tavern to call for a convention of all the colonies.

The First Continental Congress, as the convention was called, met in Philadelphia on Sept. 5, 1774, with Peyton Randolph (see RANDOLPH family) of Virginia presiding. A later state meeting that convened in Richmond to approve the actions of the congress received a motion from Patrick HENRY to call up the militia. The governor seized the available arms and retreated to a British warship. At the Second Continental Congress, Richard Henry Lee (see LEE family) of Virginia moved “to declare the United Colonies free and independent states,” and Thomas JEFFERSON wrote the Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 4, 1776. The congress appointed Washington commander in chief of the Continental Army; it also passed a bill of rights and a preliminary constitution, both composed by George MASON.

Virginia’s chief military contribution to the American Revolution was to be the provision of men and supplies to the army, although a small force under George Rogers CLARK secured the Northwest Territory in 1778-79. In 1781, Benedict Arnold laid waste to Richmond, but in May of that year Gen. Charles CORNWALLIS entered the state from the south for an unsuccessful campaign against the marquis de Lafayette, which ended with the British surrender at Yorktown on Oct. 19, 1781 (see YORKTOWN CAMPAIGN).

Virginia Bibliography

Ashe, Dora, ed., Four Hundred Years of Virginia, 1584-1984: An Anthology (1985); Ayers, E. L., and Willis, J. C., eds., The Edge of the South (1991); Billings, Warren M., ed., The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606-1689 (1975); Buni, Andrew, The Negro in Virginia Politics, 1902-1965 (1967); Dabney, Virginius, Virginia: The New Dominion (1971; repr. 1983); DeLorme Staff, Virginia Atlas and Gazetteer (1989); Dowdey, Clifford, The Virginia Dynasties (1969) and The Golden Age (1970); Federal Writers’ Project, Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion (1940; repr. 1980); Fishwick, Marshall W., The Virginia Tradition (1956); Moger, Allen W., Virginia: Bourbonism to Byrd, 1870-1925 (1968); Morgan, Edmund S., American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975); Morris, Thomas R., and Sabato, Larry, eds., Morton, Richard L., Colonial Virginia, 2 vols. (1960); Noel-Hume, Ivor, Here Lies Virginia: An Archaeologist’s View of Colonial Life and History (1963); Rubin, Louis D., Virginia: A Bicentennial History (1977; repr. 1984); Sutton, Robert P., Revolution to Secession (1989); Tate, Thad W., et al., Colonial Virginia: A History (1986); Vaughan, Alden T., American Genesis: Captain John Smith and the Founding of Virginia (1975).


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