Virginia has long been a fertile seedbed of American history. Its storied colonial past began in 1607 with the founding of the first English settlement at Jamestown. The first Thanksgiving was held in Virginia in 1619 and, that same year, slavery was introduced to the colonies in Virginia. Later, the Old Dominion State played a key role in the Revolutionary War, thanks to Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech, which helped convince the Virginia House of Burgesses to commit its troops. The War of Independence also ended in Virginia when Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington in Yorktown in 1781.
In the next century, Virginia was again at the epicenter of war, with Richmond serving as the Confederate capital and more than 2,200 of the 4,000 Civil War battles fought on Virginia soil. This war ended in Virginia as well, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in 1865. Adding to its legacy, Virginia has the distinction of being the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Woodrow Wilson. Since four of the country’s first five presidents are among these men, it’s clear that Virginia shaped the beginnings of America.
Virginia is considered the most Southern of the Mid-Atlantic states and the most Northern of the Southern states. It ranks 35th in size, with a total of 42,774 square miles of land and water surface. In addition, Virginia has 3,315 miles of coastline – including tidal inlets – making it home to the eighth longest coastline in the country. In eastern Virginia, four major tidal rivers - the Potomac, Rappahannock, York and the James - dissect its coastal plain and drain into the mighty Chesapeake Bay. To the west, the landscape changes from tidewater to the rolling Piedmont, whose western edge borders the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even further west of these mountains, along the Allegheny and Appalachian Plateaus, lies the area known as the Ridge and Valley Province. The best-known of these valleys is the Shenandoah Valley, immortalized in the well-known folksong “Oh, Shenandoah.”
Thanks to Virginia's proximity to Washington, D.C., the federal government employs 4.6% of Virginia's workers (approximately 172,500 people as of 2013), the third highest percentage after Hawaii and Maryland. Beyond bureaucratic jobs in D.C., Virginia is home to the Pentagon, Central Intelligence Agency, Quantico Marine Corps Base and more than 25 other Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force bases. Supporting all of these military operations are more than 265 aerospace companies – including General Dynamics and Northrup Grumman – which collectively employ over 29,000 people. No wonder then, that Virginia is #1 in the country for Department of Defense Prime Contracts, with more than $33 billion contracted to Virginia firms in 2015.
Other leading industries include information technology, which employs more than 172,000 Virginians – the second highest concentration of tech workers in the U.S. - and has a direct economic output of over $41 billion. There’s also a significant amount of nanotechnology, biotechnology and technology manufacturing enterprises, with computer chips serving as the state’s most lucrative export. Showing even further economic diversity, Virginia boasted 19 Fortune 500 employers in 2015, among them: Freddie Mac, Capital One, AES, CarMax, Norfolk Southern, Computer Sciences, Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Advance Auto Parts, Genworth Financial and Booz Allen Hamilton.
Finally, traditional industries like mining and agriculture remain very important. Virginia has more than 400 mines that extract an array of minerals, including cement, gravel, copper, arsenic and iron. And strikingly, 33% of its land area remains tied to farming, with more than 45,000 farms covering over eight million acres. The cultivation of tobacco, tomatoes, peanuts, apples, grapes, cotton, turkeys, broiler chickens and aquaculture products like oysters, among others, contributes to an economic impact of $52 billion annually and creates more than 311,000 related jobs, making agriculture the state’s largest industry still to this day.
Much of Virginia's early prosperity as a colony and, subsequently, as the 10th state in the union, rested on a plantation economy. Therefore, nearly half of Virginia's early population consisted of slaves, primarily from west central Africa. In the 20th century, when large numbers of African Americans migrated to the more urban North, Virginia's black population declined to about 20%, with most living in the eastern and southern parts of the state.
Today, 69% of Virginians are white, 19% are black, 8% are Hispanic, 5% are Asian and 2% are multiracial, while approximately 11% of the population is foreign born. People from the British Isles (roughly 8% of the population) typically settled in the western mountains while those with German heritage (about 7%) are prevalent in the mountains of the northwestern part of the state and in the Shenandoah Valley. Among more recent Asian immigrants, Virginia's Vietnamese population is significant, as Census figures show that Fairfax County in Northern Virginia has the ninth largest Vietnamese population of any large county at more than 28,000 people or 2.7%.
With more than 8.3 million residents, Virginia is the 12th largest state in the nation – and it’s growing steadily. Between 2010 and 2015, the population growth rate was 4.7%, making it the 18th fastest growing state. Approximately 87% of Virginians are high school graduates, while 35% have a bachelor's degree. In early 2016, the median household income statewide was $63,907, putting it among the top 10 wealthiest states in the U.S. and roughly $10,000 above the national median. As further proof of the state’s affluence, four counties in Northern Virginia – Loudoun (#1), Fairfax (#2), Arlington (#5) and Stafford (#6) – place in the top 10 wealthiest counties in the nation. As of 2012, Loudoun County led the U.S. with a median household income of $117,876.
Virginia is blessed with a wide variety of landscapes, from the salt marshes of the tidelands to the rich valleys of the interior to the mountains in the west. Cities like Virginia Beach, Alexandria, Arlington and Richmond offer arts and culture, while the rural counties and pastoral villages appeal to those who seek a quieter or more private setting. Homes range from historic mansions to rustic cabins to trendy condos, and Virginia's robust economy makes for a lively real estate market, especially in Northern Virginia. In early 2016, the median home value statewide was $253,772 – roughly $70,000 higher than the U.S. median – while the median rental price was $1,277.