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- Introduction & Quick Facts
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Virginia, constituent state of the United States of America, one of the original 13 colonies. It is bordered by Maryland to the northeast, the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast, North Carolina and Tennessee to the south, Kentucky to the west, and West Virginia to the northwest. The state capital is Richmond.
Virginia was nicknamed the Old Dominion for its loyalty to the exiled Charles II of England during the Puritan Commonwealth and Protectorate (1653–59). It has one of the longest continuous histories among the American states, dating from the settlement of Jamestown in the early 17th century. It was named for Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, and under its original charter was granted most of the lands stretching westward from the Atlantic seaboard settlements to the Mississippi River and beyond—territories yet unexplored by Europeans. The contributions of such Virginians as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were crucial in the formation of the United States, and in the early decades of the republic the state was known as the Birthplace of Presidents.
Although during the American Civil War (1861–65) Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy and Virginian Robert E. Lee and other generals led Confederate forces, the state developed in the 20th century into a bridge state between the North and the South. By the early 21st century Virginia was among the most prosperous states in the South and in the country as a whole. Its northern counties reflect the cosmopolitan character of the country’s capital, Washington, D.C., which lies across the Potomac River to the north. Other areas of the state retain the tinge of conservatism developed over centuries of agricultural life and through aristocratic traditions that made the term a Virginia gentleman synonymous with gentility and refinement.
History and nature make Virginia a leading tourist centre. Within its borders lie many important historical monuments. They include colonial restorations and reconstructions, such as those at Williamsburg; the homes of Washington (Mount Vernon), Jefferson (Monticello), and other noted Virginians; and many of the battlefields of the American Revolution and Civil War. Although it is increasingly an industrialized and urbanized state, much of Virginia’s land remains under forest cover as it descends from the mountains and valleys in the west to the beaches of the Atlantic shore. Area 42,775 square miles (110,787 square km). Population (2010) 8,001,024; (2019 est.) 8,535,519.
Western Virginia comprises three physiographically defined mountain provinces. From west to east, the first of these is the Appalachian Plateau, the smallest of the provinces, located in the southwestern tip of the state. The next two provinces run from northeast to southwest, generally paralleling the state’s western boundary. The Valley and Ridge province consists of linear ridges in its western segment and the Great Appalachian Valley (also known as the Great Valley) in its eastern region. The Blue Ridge province is mostly a region of rugged mountains, part of a range stretching southwestward from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. The state’s highest point, Mount Rogers, at an elevation of 5,729 feet (1,746 metres), lies in the Blue Ridge area.
In central Virginia the Piedmont province (part of the larger Piedmont region of the eastern United States) consists of lower rolling hills, reaching from the Blue Ridge to the fall line, the place where rivers descend, often in rapids, from higher and geologically older regions onto the flatter coastal plains. To the east the Coastal Plain province—or Tidewater region—lies low between the fall line and the Atlantic coast. The province is deeply interlaced by tidal rivers and is dominated by the Northern Neck Peninsula, the Middle Peninsula, and the Virginia Peninsula—all west of Chesapeake Bay. East of the Chesapeake and separated from the rest of the state is the Eastern Shore, the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, which Virginia shares with Delaware and with Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Tidewater also contains the area south of the James River, including the Norfolk region and the Great Dismal Swamp, which spans 750 square miles (1,940 square km) and extends south into North Carolina.
Drainage and soils
Virginia has eight major drainage systems that empty into the Atlantic Ocean. The Potomac River receives the waters of the north-flowing Shenandoah River at Harpers Ferry, in West Virginia, and becomes the state’s border with Maryland on its way to Chesapeake Bay. The Rappahannock, York, and James rivers indent the coast to form the main peninsulas. Two other systems pass into North Carolina, while in the extreme southwestern corner of the state two major systems flow eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.
The soils of Virginia are generally fertile. In the Tidewater, the tidal lowlands are usually covered with loam, a mixed soil rich in organic materials. To the west, sandy loams and clays predominate. In the Piedmont, clay and limestone soils dominate, and limestone soils are found in the valley areas west of the Blue Ridge.