|Commonwealth of Virginia|
Old Dominion, Mother of Presidents
|Anthem: "Our Great Virginia"|
Map of the United States with Virginia highlighted
|Before statehood||Colony of Virginia|
|Admitted to the Union||June 25, 1788 (10th)|
|Largest city||Virginia Beach|
|• Governor||Ralph Northam (D)|
|• Lieutenant Governor||Justin Fairfax (D)|
|• Upper house||Senate|
|• Lower house||House of Delegates|
|Judiciary||Supreme Court of Virginia|
|U.S. House delegation|
|• Total||42,774.2 sq mi (110,785.67 km2)|
|• Length||430 mi (690 km)|
|• Width||200 mi (320 km)|
|Elevation||950 ft (290 m)|
|Highest elevation||5,729 ft (1,746 m)|
|Lowest elevation||0 ft (0 m)|
|• Density||206.7/sq mi (79.8/km2)|
|• Density rank||14th|
|• Median household income||$71,535|
|• Income rank||10th|
|• Official language||English|
|• Spoken language|
|Time zone||UTC-05:00 (Eastern)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC-04:00 (EDT)|
|ISO 3166 code||US-VA|
|Latitude||36° 32′ N to 39° 28′ N|
|Longitude||75° 15′ W to 83° 41′ W|
|Virginia state symbols|
|Bird||Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)|
|Butterfly||Tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus)|
|Dog breed||American Foxhound (Canis lupus familiaris)|
|Fish||Brook trout, striped bass|
|Insect||Tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus)|
|Slogan||Virginia is for lovers|
|Tartan||Virginia Quadricentennial tartan|
|State route marker|
Released in 2000
|Lists of United States state symbols|
Virginia (// (listen)), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the United States, between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most-populous city, and Fairfax County is the most-populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2019[update] is over 8.54 million, with 36% of them living in the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area.
The area's history begins with several indigenous groups, including the Powhatan. In 1607 the London Company established the Colony of Virginia as the first permanent English colony in the New World. Virginia's state nickname, the Old Dominion, is a reference to this status. Slave labor and the land acquired from displaced Native American tribes each played a significant role in the colony's early politics and plantation economy. Virginia was one of the 13 Colonies in the American Revolution. In the American Civil War, Virginia's Secession Convention resolved to join the Confederacy while the First Wheeling Convention resolved to remain in the Union, leading to a split that created West Virginia. Although the Commonwealth was under one-party rule for nearly a century following Reconstruction, both major national parties are competitive in modern Virginia.
Virginia's state legislature is the Virginia General Assembly, which was established in 1619 and is the oldest continuous law-making body in North America. It is made up of a 40-member Senate and a 100-member House of Delegates. The state government is unique in how it treats cities and counties equally, manages local roads, and prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms. Virginia's economy has many sectors: agriculture in the Shenandoah Valley; federal agencies in Northern Virginia, including the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency; and military facilities in Hampton Roads, the site of the region's main seaport.
Virginia has a total area of 42,774.2 square miles (110,784.7 km2), including 3,180.13 square miles (8,236.5 km2) of water, making it the 35th-largest state by area. Virginia is bordered by Maryland and Washington, D.C. to the north and east; by the Atlantic Ocean to the east; by North Carolina to the south; by Tennessee to the southwest; by Kentucky to the west; and by West Virginia to the north and west. Virginia's boundary with Maryland and Washington, D.C. extends to the low-water mark of the south shore of the Potomac River.
The state's southern border is defined as 36°30' north latitude, though surveyor error in the 1700s led to deviations of as much as three arcminutes. From 1802 to 1803, a commission appointed by Virginia and Tennessee surveyed the area and set their border as a line from the summit of White Top Mountain to the top of the Cumberland Mountains. Errors discovered in 1856 led Virginia to propose a new surveying commission in 1871, but in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of the 1803 line in the case Virginia v. Tennessee. One result of this is the division of the city of Bristol between the two states.
Geology and terrain
The Chesapeake Bay separates the contiguous portion of the Commonwealth from the two-county peninsula of Virginia's Eastern Shore. The bay was formed from the drowned river valleys of the Susquehanna River and the James River. Many of Virginia's rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay, including the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James, which create three peninsulas in the bay. Sea level rise has eroded the land on Virginia's islands, which include Tangier Island in the bay and Chincoteague, one of 23 barrier islands on the Atlantic coast.
The Tidewater is a coastal plain between the Atlantic coast and the fall line. It includes the Eastern Shore and major estuaries of Chesapeake Bay. The Piedmont is a series of sedimentary and igneous rock-based foothills east of the mountains which were formed in the Mesozoic era. The region, known for its heavy clay soil, includes the Southwest Mountains around Charlottesville. The Blue Ridge Mountains are a physiographic province of the Appalachian Mountains with the highest points in the commonwealth, the tallest being Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet (1,746 m). The Ridge and Valley region is west of the mountains and includes the Great Appalachian Valley. The region is carbonate rock based and includes Massanutten Mountain. The Cumberland Plateau and the Cumberland Mountains are in the southwest corner of Virginia, south of the Allegheny Plateau. In this region, rivers flow northwest, with a dendritic drainage system, into the Ohio River basin.
The Virginia Seismic Zone has not had a history of regular earthquake activity. Earthquakes are rarely above 4.5 in magnitude, because Virginia is located away from the edges of the North American Plate. A 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Virginia on August 23, 2011, near Mineral, and was the state's largest in at least a century. Due to the area's geologic properties, the earthquake was felt from Northern Florida to Southern Ontario. 35 million years ago, a bolide impacted what is now eastern Virginia. The resulting Chesapeake Bay impact crater may explain what earthquakes and subsidence the region does experience.
Coal mining takes place in the three mountainous regions at 45 distinct coal beds near Mesozoic basins. More than 67 million tons of other non-fuel resources, such as slate, kyanite, sand, or gravel, were also mined in Virginia in 2019[update]. The commonwealth's carbonate rock is filled with more than 4,000 caves, ten of which are open for tourism, including the popular Luray Caverns and Skyline Caverns.
|Virginia state-wide averages 1895–2020|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Virginia has a humid subtropical climate that transitions to humid continental west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Seasonal extremes vary from average lows of 25 °F (−4 °C) in January to average highs of 86 °F (30 °C) in July. The Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Stream have a strong effect on eastern and southeastern coastal areas of the commonwealth, making the climate there warmer and more constant. Most of Virginia's recorded extremes in temperature and precipitation have occurred in the Blue Ridge Mountains and areas west. Virginia receives an average of 43.34 inches (110 cm) of precipitation annually, with the Shenandoah Valley being the state's driest region due to the mountains on either side.
Virginia has around 35–45 days with thunderstorms annually, and storms are common in the late afternoon and evenings between April and September. These months are also the most common for tornadoes, 19 of which touched down in the state in 2019. Hurricanes and tropical storms can occur from August to October, and though they typically impact coastal regions, the deadliest natural disaster in Virginia was Hurricane Camille, which killed over 150 people in 1969, mainly inland in Nelson County. Between December and March, cold-air damming caused by the Appalachian Mountains can lead to significant snowfalls across the state, such as the January 2016 blizzard, which created the state's highest recorded snowfall of 36.6 inches (93 cm) near Bluemont. Virginia only received 13.1 inches (33 cm) of snow during winter 2018–19, just above the state's average of 10 inches (25 cm).
Climate change in Virginia is leading to higher temperatures year-round as well as more heavy rain and flooding events. Urban heat islands can be found in many Virginia cities and suburbs, particularly in neighborhoods linked to historic redlining. Arlington had the most code orange days in 2019 for high ozone pollution in the air, with 12, followed by Fairfax County with 7. Exposure of particulate matter in Virginia's air has decreased 49% from 13.5 micrograms per cubic meter in 2003 to 6.9 in 2019. The closure and conversion of coal power plants in Virginia and the Ohio Valley region has reduced haze in the mountains, which peaked in 1998. Virginia's 6 coal power plants must shut down by 2025, and current plans call for 30 percent of the state's electricity to be renewable by 2030 and for all of it to be carbon-free by 2050.
Forests cover 62 percent of Virginia as of 2019[update], of which 78 percent is considered hardwood forest, meaning that trees in Virginia are primarily deciduous and broad-leaved. The other 22 percent is pine, with Loblolly and shortleaf pine dominating much of central and eastern Virginia. In the western and mountainous parts of the commonwealth, oak and hickory are most common, while lower altitudes are more likely to have small but dense stands of moisture-loving hemlocks and mosses in abundance. Gypsy moth infestations in oak trees and the blight in chestnut trees have decreased both of their numbers, leaving more room for hickory and invasive ailanthus trees. In the lowland tidewater and Piedmont, yellow pines tend to dominate, with bald cypress wetland forests in the Great Dismal and Nottoway swamps. Other common trees and plants include red bay, wax myrtle, dwarf palmetto, tulip poplar, mountain laurel, milkweed, daisies, and many species of ferns. The largest areas of wilderness are along the Atlantic coast and in the western mountains, where the largest populations of trillium wildflowers in North America are found.
Virginia is home to more than one million white-tailed deer, whose population have rebounded from an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 during the Great Depression. Native carnivorans include black bears, bobcats, coyotes, both gray and red foxes, raccoons, and skunks. Rodents include groundhogs, weasels, nutria, beavers, both gray squirrels and fox squirrels, chipmunks, and Allegheny woodrats, while bats include brown bats and the Virginia big-eared bat, the state mammal. The Virginia opossum is also the only marsupial native to the United States and Canada, and the native Appalachian cottontail was recognized as a distinct species of rabbit in 1992.
Virginia's bird fauna consists of 422 counted species, of which 359 are regularly occurring, 41 are accidental (vagrant), 20 are hypothetical, and two are extinct; of the regularly occurring species, 214 have bred in Virginia, while the rest are winter residents or transients in Virginia. There are no species of bird endemic to the state. Audubon recognizes 21 Important Bird Areas in the state. Peregrine falcons, whose numbers dramatically declined due to DDT pesticide poisoning in the middle of the 20th century, are the focus of conservation efforts in the state; as of 2017, Virginia had 31 breeding pairs of the bird, and a reintroduction program in Shenandoah National Park was underway.
Virginia has 226 species of freshwater fish, from 25 families; the state's diverse array of fish species is attributable to its varied and humid climate, physiography, river system interconnections, and lack of Pleistocene glaciers. For example, the state is home to Eastern blacknose dace and sculpin (on the Appalachian Plateau); smallmouth bass and redhorse sucker (in the Ridge and Valley region); brook trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, and the Kanawha darter (in the Blue Ridge); stripeback darter and Roanoke Bass (in the Piedmont); and swampfish, bluespotted sunfish, and pirate perch (on the Coastal Plain). The Chesapeake Bay is host to many species, including blue crabs, clams, oysters, rockfish, as well as the invasive blue catfish. Running brooks with rocky bottoms are often inhabited by plentiful amounts of crayfish. Amphibians found in Virginia include the Cumberland Plateau salamander and Eastern hellbender.
Virginia has 30 National Park Service units, such as Great Falls Park and the Appalachian Trail, and one national park, Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah was established in 1935 and encompasses the scenic Skyline Drive. Almost forty percent (79,579 acres or 322.04 km2) of the park's total 199,173 acres (806.02 km2) area has been designated as wilderness under the National Wilderness Preservation System. Virginia also has 38 Virginia state parks, 3 undeveloped parks, and 63 natural areas, totaling 127,000 acres (51,000 ha), of which approximately 70,000 acres (28,000 ha) are in state parks. All are managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation except for Breaks Interstate Park. which lies on the Virginia-Kentucky border and is one of only two inter-state parks in the United States. There are 22 state forests and other state lands managed by the Virginia Department of Forestry, totaling 67,920 acres (27,490 ha). The Chesapeake Bay is not a national park, but is protected by both state and federal legislation and the inter-state Chesapeake Bay Program, which conducts restoration on the bay and its watershed. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge extends into North Carolina, as does the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which marks the beginning of the Outer Banks.
Virginia celebrated its quadricentennial year in 2007, marking 400 years since the establishment of the Jamestown Colony. The observances highlighted contributions from Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans, each of which had a significant part in shaping Virginia's history. Warfare, including among these groups, has also had an important role. Virginia was a focal point in conflicts from the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the Civil War, to the Cold War and the War on Terrorism. Fictionalized stories about the early colony, in particular the story of Pocahontas and John Smith, first became popular in the period after the Revolutionary War, and together with other myths surrounding George Washington's childhood and plantation elite in the antebellum period became touchstones of Virginian and American culture and helped shape the state's historic politics and beliefs.
The first people are estimated to have arrived in Virginia over 12,000 years ago. By 5,000 years ago, more permanent settlements emerged, and farming began by 900 AD. By 1500, the Algonquian peoples had founded towns such as Werowocomoco in the Tidewater region, which they referred to as Tsenacommacah. The other major language groups in the area were the Siouan to the west and the Iroquoians, who included the Nottoway and Meherrin, to the north and south. After 1570, the Algonquians consolidated under Chief Powhatan in response to threats from these other groups on their trade network. Powhatan controlled more than 30 smaller tribes and more than 150 settlements, who shared a common Virginia Algonquian language. In 1607, the native Tidewater population was between 13,000 and 14,000.
Several European expeditions, including a group of Spanish Jesuits, explored the Chesapeake Bay during the 16th century. In 1583, Queen Elizabeth I of England granted Walter Raleigh a charter to plant a colony north of Spanish Florida. In 1584, Raleigh sent an expedition to the Atlantic coast of North America. The name "Virginia" may have been suggested then by Raleigh or Elizabeth, perhaps noting her status as the "Virgin Queen", and may also be related to a native phrase, "Wingandacoa", or name, "Wingina". Initially the name applied to the entire coastal region from South Carolina to Maine, plus the island of Bermuda. The London Company was incorporated as a joint stock company by the proprietary Charter of 1606, which granted land rights to this area. The company financed the first permanent English settlement in the "New World", Jamestown. Named for King James I, it was founded in May 1607 by Christopher Newport. In 1619, colonists took greater control with an elected legislature, later called the House of Burgesses. With the bankruptcy of the London Company in 1624, the settlement was taken into royal authority as an English crown colony.
Life in the colony was perilous, and many died during the Starving Time in 1609 and the Anglo-Powhatan Wars, including the Indian massacre of 1622, which fostered the colonists' negative view of all tribes. By 1624, only 3,400 of the 6,000 early settlers had survived. However, European demand for tobacco fueled the arrival of more settlers and servants. The headright system tried to solve the labor shortage by providing colonists with land for each indentured servant they transported to Virginia. African workers were first imported to Jamestown in 1619 initially under the rules of indentured servitude. The shift to a system of African slavery in Virginia was propelled by the legal cases of John Punch, who was sentenced to lifetime slavery in 1640 for attempting to escape his servitude, and of John Casor, who was claimed by Anthony Johnson as his servant for life in 1655. Slavery first appears in Virginia statutes in 1661 and 1662, when a law made it hereditary based on the mother's status.
Tensions and the geographic differences between the working and ruling classes led to Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, by which time current and former indentured servants made up as much as eighty percent of the population. Rebels, largely from the colony's frontier, were also opposed to the conciliatory policy towards native tribes, and one result of the rebellion was the signing at Middle Plantation of the Treaty of 1677, which made the signatory tribes tributary states and was part of a pattern of appropriating tribal land by force and treaty. Middle Plantation saw the founding of The College of William & Mary in 1693 and was renamed Williamsburg as it became the colonial capital in 1699. In 1747, a group of Virginian speculators formed the Ohio Company, with the backing of the British crown, to start English settlement and trade in the Ohio Country west of the Appalachian Mountains. France, which claimed this area as part of their colony of New France, viewed this as a threat, and the ensuing French and Indian War became part of the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). A militia from several British colonies, called the Virginia Regiment, was led by then-Lieutenant Colonel George Washington.
The British Parliament's efforts to levy new taxes following the French and Indian War were deeply unpopular in the colonies. In the House of Burgesses, opposition to taxation without representation was led by Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, among others. Virginians began to coordinate their actions with other colonies in 1773, and sent delegates to the Continental Congress the following year. After the House of Burgesses was dissolved by the royal governor in 1774, Virginia's revolutionary leaders continued to govern via the Virginia Conventions. On May 15, 1776, the Convention declared Virginia's independence from the British Empire and adopted George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was then included in a new constitution. Another Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, drew upon Mason's work in drafting the national Declaration of Independence.
When the American Revolutionary War began, George Washington was selected to head the colonial army. During the war, the capital was moved to Richmond at the urging of Governor Thomas Jefferson, who feared that Williamsburg's coastal location would make it vulnerable to British attack. In 1781, the combined action of Continental and French land and naval forces trapped the British army on the Virginia Peninsula, where troops under George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau defeated British General Cornwallis in the Siege of Yorktown. His surrender on October 19, 1781 led to peace negotiations in Paris and secured the independence of the colonies.
Virginians were instrumental in writing the United States Constitution. James Madison drafted the Virginia Plan in 1787 and the Bill of Rights in 1789. Virginia ratified the Constitution on June 25, 1788. The three-fifths compromise ensured that Virginia, with its large number of slaves, initially had the largest bloc in the House of Representatives. Together with the Virginia dynasty of presidents, this gave the Commonwealth national importance. In 1790, both Virginia and Maryland ceded territory to form the new District of Columbia, though the Virginian area was retroceded in 1846. Virginia is called the "Mother of States" because of its role in being carved into states such as Kentucky, which became the 15th state in 1792, and for the numbers of American pioneers born in Virginia.
Civil War and Reconstruction
In addition to agriculture, slave labor was increasingly used in mining, shipbuilding and other industries. The execution of Gabriel Prosser in 1800, Nat Turner's slave rebellion in 1831 and John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 marked the growing social discontent over slavery and its role in the plantation economy. By 1860, almost half a million people, roughly 31 percent of the total population of Virginia, were enslaved. This division contributed to the start of the American Civil War.
Virginia voted to secede from the United States on April 17, 1861, after the Battle of Fort Sumter and Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers. On April 24, Virginia joined the Confederate States of America, which chose Richmond as its capital. After the 1861 Wheeling Convention, 48 counties in the northwest separated to form a new state of West Virginia, which chose to remain loyal to the Union. Virginian general Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862, and led invasions into Union territory, ultimately becoming commander of all Confederate forces. During the war, more battles were fought in Virginia than anywhere else, including Bull Run, the Seven Days Battles, Chancellorsville, and the concluding Battle of Appomattox Court House. After the capture of Richmond in April 1865, the state capital was briefly moved to Lynchburg, while the Confederate leadership fled to Danville. Virginia was formally restored to the United States in 1870, due to the work of the Committee of Nine.
During the post-war Reconstruction era, Virginia adopted a constitution which provided for free public schools, and guaranteed political, civil, and voting rights. The populist Readjuster Party ran an inclusive coalition until the conservative white Democratic Party gained power after 1883. It passed segregationist Jim Crow laws and in 1902 rewrote the Constitution of Virginia to include a poll tax and other voter registration measures that effectively disenfranchised most African Americans and many poor European Americans. Though their schools and public services were segregated and underfunded due to a lack of political representation, African Americans were able to unite in communities and take a greater role in Virginia society.
20th century to present
New economic forces would help change the Commonwealth. Virginian James Albert Bonsack invented the tobacco cigarette rolling machine in 1880 leading to new industrial scale production centered around Richmond. In 1886, railroad magnate Collis Potter Huntington founded Newport News Shipbuilding, which was responsible for building six World War I-era dreadnoughts, seven battleships, and 25 destroyers for the U.S. Navy from 1907 to 1923. During the war, German submarines like U-151 attacked ships outside the port. In 1926, Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Williamsburg's Bruton Parish Church, began restoration of colonial-era buildings in the historic district with financial backing of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Though their project, like others in the state, had to contend with the Great Depression and World War II, work continued as Colonial Williamsburg became a major tourist attraction.
Protests started by Barbara Rose Johns in 1951 in Farmville against segregated schools led to the lawsuit Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. This case, filed by Richmond natives Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill, was decided in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education, which rejected the segregationist doctrine of "separate but equal". But, in 1958, under the policy of "massive resistance" led by the influential segregationist Senator Harry F. Byrd and his Byrd Organization, the Commonwealth prohibited desegregated local schools from receiving state funding.
The civil rights movement gained many participants in the 1960s. It achieved the moral force and support to gain passage of national legislation with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1964 the United States Supreme Court ordered Prince Edward County and others to integrate schools. In 1967, the Court also struck down the state's ban on interracial marriage with Loving v. Virginia. From 1969 to 1971, state legislators under Governor Mills Godwin rewrote the constitution, after goals such as the repeal of Jim Crow laws had been achieved. In 1989, Douglas Wilder became the first African American elected as governor in the United States.
The Cold War led to the expansion of national defense government programs housed in offices in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., and correlative population growth. The Central Intelligence Agency in Langley was involved in various Cold War events, including as the target of Soviet espionage activities. Also among the federal developments was the Pentagon, built during World War II as the headquarters for the Department of Defense. It was one of the targets of the September 11 attacks; 189 people died at the site when a jet passenger plane was flown into the building. Mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and in Virginia Beach in 2019 led to passage of gun control measures in 2020. Racial injustice and the presence of Confederate monuments in Virginia have also led to large demonstrations, including in August 2017, when a white supremacist drove his car into protesters, killing one, and in June 2020, when protests that were part of the larger Black Lives Matter movement brought about the removal of statues on Monument Avenue in Richmond and elsewhere.
Cities and towns
Virginia is divided into 95 counties and 38 independent cities, the latter acting in many ways as county-equivalents. This general method of treating cities and counties on par with each other is unique to Virginia; only three other independent cities exist elsewhere in the United States, each in a different state. Virginia limits the authority of cities and counties to countermand laws expressly allowed by the Virginia General Assembly under what is known as Dillon's Rule. In addition to independent cities, there are also incorporated towns which operate under their own governments, but are part of a county. Finally there are hundreds of unincorporated communities within the counties. Virginia does not have any further political subdivisions, such as villages or townships.
Over 3.1 million people, 36 percent of Virginians, live in Northern Virginia, which is part of the larger Washington metropolitan area and the Northeast megalopolis. Fairfax County is the most populous locality in the state, with more than 1.1 million residents, although that does not include its county seat Fairfax City, which is one of the independent cities. Fairfax County has a major urban business and shopping center in Tysons Corner, Virginia's largest office market. Neighboring Prince William County is Virginia's second most populous county, with a population exceeding 450,000, and is home to Marine Corps Base Quantico, the FBI Academy and Manassas National Battlefield Park. Loudoun County, with the county seat at Leesburg, is the fastest-growing county in the state. Arlington County, the smallest self-governing county in the United States by land area, is an urban community organized as a county.
Richmond is the capital of Virginia, and its metropolitan area has a population over 1.2 million. As of 2019[update], Virginia Beach is the most populous independent city in the Commonwealth, with Chesapeake and Norfolk second and third, respectively. The three are part of the larger Hampton Roads metropolitan area, which has a population over 1.7 million people and is the site of the world's largest naval base, Naval Station Norfolk. Suffolk, which includes a portion of the Great Dismal Swamp, is the largest city by area at 429.1 square miles (1,111 km2). In western Virginia, Roanoke city and Montgomery County, part of the Blacksburg–Christiansburg metropolitan area, both have surpassed a population of over 100,000 since 2018.
Largest Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas in Virginia
|4||Roanoke||313,222||14||Big Stone Gap||41,364|
|Source: 1860 1910–2010|
The United States Census Bureau estimates that the state population was 8,535,519 on July 1, 2019, a 6.7 percent increase since the 2010 United States Census. This includes an increase of 534,495 people into the Commonwealth since the 2010 census. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 159,627 people, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 155,205 people. As of 2010[update], the center of population was located in Louisa County, near Richmond.
Aside from Virginia, the top birth state for Virginians is New York, having overtaken North Carolina in the 1990s, with the Northeast accounting for the largest number of migrants into the state by region. The median age in 2018 was 38.4 years old, making the state just slightly older than the national average of 38.2.
The state's most populous ethnic group, Non-Hispanic whites, has declined as a proportion of population from 76 percent in 1990 to 61 percent in 2019, as other ethnicities have increased. People of English heritage settled throughout the Commonwealth during the colonial period, and others of British and Irish heritage have since immigrated. Those who identify on the census as having "American ethnicity" are predominantly of English descent, but have ancestors who have been in North America for so long they choose to identify simply as American. Of the English immigrants to Virginia in the 17th century, three-fourths came as indentured servants. The western mountains have many settlements that were founded by Scots-Irish immigrants before the American Revolution. There are also sizable numbers of people of German descent in the northwestern mountains and Shenandoah Valley. On the 2018 American Community Survey, eleven percent said they were of German ancestry.
The largest minority group in Virginia are African Americans, who include about one-fifth of the population. Virginia was a major destination of the Atlantic slave trade, and the first generations of enslaved men, women and children were brought primarily from Angola and the Bight of Biafra. The Igbo ethnic group of what is now southern Nigeria were the single largest African group among slaves in Virginia. Many African Americans also have European and Native American ancestry, often with asymmetrical male and female ancestry contribution. Though the Black population was reduced by the Great Migration to northern industrial cities in the first half of the 20th century, since 1965 there has been a reverse migration of Blacks returning south. According to the Pew Research Center, the state has the highest number of Black-white interracial marriages in the United States, and 3.1 percent of Virginians describe themselves as biracial.
More recent immigration in the late 20th century and early 21st century has resulted in new communities of Hispanics and Asians. Among international immigrants to Virginia, eleven percent were born in El Salvador, nine percent in India, six percent in South Korea and five percent each in Mexico and the Philippines as of 2017[update]. As of 2019[update], 9.6 percent of Virginia's total population describe themselves as Hispanic or Latino, and 6.9 percent as Asian. The state's Hispanic population rose by 92 percent from 2000 to 2010, with two-thirds of Hispanics in the state living in Northern Virginia. Hispanic citizens in Virginia have higher median household incomes and educational attainment than the general state population. Northern Virginia also has a significant population of Vietnamese Americans, whose major wave of immigration followed the Vietnam War. Korean Americans have migrated more recently, attracted by the quality school system. The Filipino American community has about 45,000 in the Hampton Roads area, many of whom have ties to the U.S. Navy and armed forces.
Additionally, 0.5 percent of Virginians are American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.1 percent are Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Virginia has extended state recognition to eleven Native American tribes resident in the state. Seven tribes also have federal recognition, including six that were recognized in 2018 after passage of bill named for activist Thomasina Jordan. The Pamunkey and Mattaponi have reservations on tributaries of the York River in the Tidewater region.
As of 2010[update], 85.9% (6,299,127) of Virginia residents age five and older spoke English at home as a first language, while 14.1% (1,036,442) did not—6.4% (470,058) spoke Spanish, 0.8% (56,518) Korean, 0.6% (45,881) Vietnamese, 0.6% (42,418) Chinese (including Mandarin), and 0.6% (40,724) Tagalog. English was passed as the Commonwealth's official language by statutes in 1981 and again in 1996, though the status is not mandated by the Constitution of Virginia.
The Piedmont region is known for its dialect's strong influence on Southern American English. While a more homogenized American English is found in urban areas, various accents are also used, including the Tidewater accent, the Old Virginia accent, and the anachronistic Elizabethan of Tangier Island.
Virginia is predominantly Christian and Protestant; Baptist denominations combined to form largest group with about 26 percent of the population as of 2014[update], and around 763,655 total members as of 2010[update]. Baptist denominational groups in Virginia include the Baptist General Association of Virginia, with about 1,400 member churches, which supports both the Southern Baptist Convention and the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia with more than 500 affiliated churches, which supports the Southern Baptist Convention. Roman Catholics are the second-largest religious group with 673,853 members. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington includes most of Northern Virginia's Catholic churches, while the Diocese of Richmond covers the rest.
The Virginia Conference is the regional body of the United Methodist Church in most of the Commonwealth, while the Holston Conference represents much of extreme Southwest Virginia. The Virginia Synod is responsible for the congregations of the Lutheran Church. Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Congregationalist, and Episcopalian adherents each comprised less than two percent of the population as of 2010[update]. The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Southern Virginia, and Southwestern Virginia support the various Episcopal churches.
In November 2006, 15 conservative Episcopal churches voted to split from the Diocese of Virginia over the ordination of openly gay bishops and clergy in other dioceses of the Episcopal Church; these churches continue to claim affiliation with the larger Anglican Communion through other bodies outside the United States. Though Virginia law allows parishioners to determine their church's affiliation, the diocese claimed the secessionist churches' buildings and properties. The resulting property law case, ultimately decided in favor of the mainline diocese, was a test for Episcopal churches nationwide.
Among other religions, adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints constitute one percent of the population, with two hundred congregations in Virginia as of 2017[update]. Fairfax Station is the site of the Ekoji Buddhist Temple, of the Jodo Shinshu school, and the Hindu Durga Temple. While the state's Jewish population is small, organized Jewish sites date to 1789 with Congregation Beth Ahabah. Muslims are a growing religious group throughout the Commonwealth through immigration. Megachurches in the Commonwealth include Thomas Road Baptist Church, Immanuel Bible Church, and McLean Bible Church. Several Christian universities are also based in the state, including Regent University, Liberty University, and the University of Lynchburg.
Virginia's economy has diverse sources of income, including local and federal government, military, farming and high-tech. The state's average earnings per job was $63,281, the 11th-highest nationwide, and the gross domestic product (GDP) was $476.4 billion in 2018, the 13th-largest among U.S. states. Prior to the coronavirus recession, in March 2020, Virginia had 4.36 million people employed with an unemployment rate of 2.9 percent, but jobless claims due to the virus soared over 10% in early April 2020, before leaving off at 4.9% in November, which was the 13th-lowest nationwide. Virginia however ranks worst in the nation for timely review of unemployment benefits due to the pandemic.
Virginia has a median household income of $72,600, 11th-highest nationwide, and a poverty rate of 10.7 percent, 12th-lowest nationwide, as of 2018[update]. Montgomery County outside Blacksburg has the highest poverty rate in the state, with 28.5 percent falling below the U.S. Census poverty thresholds. Loudoun County meanwhile has the highest median household income in the nation, and the wider Northern Virginia region is among the highest-income regions nationwide. As of 2013[update], six of the twenty highest-income counties in the United States, including the two highest, as well as three of the fifty highest-income towns, are all located in Northern Virginia. Though the Gini index shows Virginia has less income inequality than the national average, the state's middle class is also smaller than the majority of states.
Virginia has the highest defense spending of any state per capita, providing the Commonwealth with around 900,000 jobs. Approximately twelve percent of all U.S. federal procurement money is spent in Virginia, the second-highest amount after California. Many Virginians work for federal agencies in Northern Virginia, which include the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense, as well as the National Science Foundation, the United States Geological Survey and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Many others work for government contractors, including defense and security firms, which hold more than 15,000 federal contracts.
Virginia has one of the highest concentrations of veterans of any state, and is second to California in total Department of Defense employees. The Hampton Roads area has the largest concentration of military personnel and assets of any metropolitan area in the world, including the largest naval base in the world, Naval Station Norfolk. In its state government, Virginia employs 106,143 public employees, who combined have a median income of $44,656 as of 2013[update].
Virginia was home to 653,193 separate firms in the 2012 U.S. Census Survey of Business Owners, with 54% of those majority male-owned and 36.2% majority female-owned. Approximately 28.3% of firms were also majority minority-owned, and 11.7% were veteran-owned. Twenty-one Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Virginia as of 2019[update], with the largest companies by revenue being Freddie Mac, General Dynamics, and Capital One. The largest by their number of employees are Dollar Tree in Chesapeake and Hilton Worldwide Holdings in McLean.
Virginia's business environment has been ranked highly by various publications. In 2019, CNBC named Virginia their Top State for Business, with its deductions being mainly for the high cost of living, while Forbes magazine ranked it fourth, though number one in quality of life. Additionally, in 2014 a survey of 12,000 small business owners found Virginia to be one of the most friendly states for small businesses. Oxfam America however ranked Virginia last in their July 2018 ranking of best states to work in, largely due to a low minimum wage of $7.25, and the state's organized labor laws. Though the topic was debated during in the 2019–20 General Assembly session, Virginia has been a "right to work" state since 1947, and an employment-at-will state since 1906.
Virginia has the highest concentration of technology workers of any state, and the fourth-highest number of technology workers after California, Texas, and New York. Computer chips became the state's highest-grossing export in 2006, with a total export value of $694 million in 2019. Northern Virginia, once considered the state's dairy capital, now hosts software, communication technology, defense contracting companies, particularly in the Dulles Technology Corridor and Tysons Corner areas. The state has the highest average and peak Internet speeds in the United States, with the third-highest worldwide. Northern Virginia's data centers can carry up to seventy percent of the nation's Internet traffic, and in 2015 the region was the largest and fastest growing data center market in the nation.
Tourism in Virginia supported an estimated 234,000 jobs in 2018, making tourism the state's fifth largest industry. It generated $26 billion, an increase 4.4 percent from 2017. The state was eighth nationwide in domestic travel spending in 2018, with Arlington County the top tourist destination in the state by domestic spending, followed by Fairfax County, Loudoun County, and Virginia Beach. Virginia also saw 1.1 million international tourists in 2018, a five percent increase from 2017.
As of 2017[update], agriculture occupied 28 percent of the land in Virginia with 7.8 million acres (12,188 sq mi; 31,565 km2) of farmland. Nearly 54,000 Virginians work on the state's 43,225 farms, which average 181 acres (0.28 sq mi; 0.73 km2). Though agriculture has declined significantly since 1960 when there were twice as many farms, it remains the largest single industry in Virginia, providing for over 334,000 jobs. Soybeans were the most profitable crop in Virginia in 2017, ahead of corn and cut flowers as other leading agricultural products. However, the ongoing China-U.S. trade war led many Virginia farmers to plant cotton instead of soybeans in 2019. Though it is no longer the primary crop, Virginia is still the third-largest producer of tobacco in the United States.
Virginia is also the country's third-largest producer of seafood as of 2018[update], with sea scallops, oysters, Chesapeake blue crabs, menhaden, and hardshell clams as the largest seafood harvests by value, and France, Canada, and Hong Kong as the top export destinations. Commercial fishing supports 18,220 jobs as of 2020[update], while recreation fishing supports another 5,893. Eastern oyster harvests had increased from 23,000 bushels in 2001 to over 500,000 in 2013, but fell to 248,347 in 2019 because of low salinity in coastal waters due to heavy spring rains. Those same rains however made 2019 a record wine harvest for vineyards in the Northern Neck and along the Blue Ridge Mountains, which also attract 2.3 million tourists annually. Virginia has the seventh-highest number of wineries in the nation, with 307 as of 2020[update]. Cabernet franc and Chardonnay are the most grown varieties.
Virginia collects personal income tax from those with incomes above a filing threshold; there are five income brackets, with rates ranging from 2.0% to 5.75% of taxable income. The state sales and use tax rate is 4.3%. There is an additional 1% local tax, for a total of a 5.3% combined sales tax on most Virginia purchases. The sales tax rate is higher in three regions: Northern Virginia (6%), Hampton Roads (6%) and the Historic Triangle (7%). Unlike the majority of states, Virginia collects sales tax on groceries, but at a lower rate than the general sales tax; the sales tax for food and certain essential personal hygiene goods is 2.5%.
Virginia's property tax is set and collected at the local government level and varies throughout the Commonwealth. Real estate is also taxed at the local level based on one hundred percent of fair market value. As of fiscal year 2018, the median real estate tax rate per $100 of assessed taxable value was $1.07 for cities, $0.67 for counties, and $0.17 for towns; town rates are lower because towns (unlike cities) have a narrow range of responsibilities and are subordinate to counties. Of local government tax revenue, about 61% is generated from real property taxes; about 24% from tangible personal property, sales and use, and business license tax; and 15% from other taxes (such as restaurant meal taxes, public service corporation property tax, consumer utility tax, and hotel tax).
Virginia's culture was popularized and spread across America and the South by figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert E. Lee. Their homes in Virginia represent the birthplace of America and the South. Modern Virginia culture has many sources, and is part of the culture of the Southern United States. The Smithsonian Institution divides Virginia into nine cultural regions.
Besides the general cuisine of the Southern United States, Virginia maintains its own particular traditions. Virginia wine is made in many parts of the commonwealth. Smithfield ham, sometimes called "Virginia ham", is a type of country ham which is protected by state law, and can be produced only in the town of Smithfield. Virginia furniture and architecture are typical of American colonial architecture. Thomas Jefferson and many of the commonwealth's early leaders favored the Neoclassical architecture style, leading to its use for important state buildings. The Pennsylvania Dutch and their style can also be found in parts of the commonwealth.
Literature in Virginia often deals with the commonwealth's extensive and sometimes troubled past. The works of Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Glasgow often dealt with social inequalities and the role of women in her culture. Glasgow's peer and close friend James Branch Cabell wrote extensively about the changing position of gentry in the Reconstruction era, and challenged its moral code with Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice. William Styron approached history in works such as The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie's Choice. Tom Wolfe has occasionally dealt with his southern heritage in bestsellers like I Am Charlotte Simmons. Mount Vernon native Matt Bondurant received critical acclaim for his historic novel The Wettest County in the World about moonshiners in Franklin County during prohibition. Virginia also names a state Poet Laureate.
Fine and performing arts
Rich in cultural heritage, Virginia however ranks near the bottom of U.S. states in terms of public spending on the arts, at nearly half of the national average. The state government does fund some institutions, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Science Museum of Virginia. Other museums include the popular Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum and the Chrysler Museum of Art. Besides these sites, many open-air museums are located in the Commonwealth, such as Colonial Williamsburg, the Frontier Culture Museum, and various historic battlefields. The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities works to improve the Commonwealth's civic, cultural, and intellectual life.
Theaters and venues in the Commonwealth are found both in the cities and in suburbs. The Harrison Opera House, in Norfolk, is home of the Virginia Opera. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra operates in and around Hampton Roads. Resident and touring theater troupes operate from the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton. The Barter Theatre in Abingdon, designated the State Theatre of Virginia, won the first Regional Theatre Tony Award in 1948, while the Signature Theatre in Arlington won it in 2009. There is also a Children's Theater of Virginia, Theatre IV, which is the second largest touring troupe nationwide. Notable music performance venues include The Birchmere, the Landmark Theater, and Jiffy Lube Live. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is located in Vienna and is the only national park intended for use as a performing arts center.
Virginia has launched many award-winning traditional musical artists and internationally successful popular music acts, as well as Hollywood actors. Virginia is known for its tradition in the music genres of old-time string and bluegrass, with groups such as the Carter Family and Stanley Brothers. The state's African tradition is found through gospel, blues, and shout bands, with both Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey coming from Newport News. Contemporary Virginia is also known for folk rock artists like Dave Matthews and Jason Mraz, hip hop stars like Pharrell Williams, Missy Elliott and Pusha T, as well as thrash metal groups like GWAR and Lamb of God. Several members of country music band Old Dominion grew up in the Roanoke area, and took their band name from Virginia's state nickname.
Many counties and localities host county fairs and festivals. The Virginia State Fair is held at the Meadow Event Park every September. Also in September is the Neptune Festival in Virginia Beach, which celebrates the city, the waterfront, and regional artists. Norfolk's Harborfest, in June, features boat racing and air shows. Fairfax County also sponsors Celebrate Fairfax! with popular and traditional music performances. The Virginia Lake Festival is held during the third weekend in July in Clarksville. Wolf Trap hosts the Wolf Trap Opera Company, which produces an opera festival every summer. Each September, Bay Days celebrates the Chesapeake Bay as well as Hampton's 400-year history since 1610, and Isle of Wight County holds a County Fair on the second week of September as well. Both feature live music performances, and other unique events.
On the Eastern Shore island of Chincoteague the annual Pony Penning of feral Chincoteague ponies at the end of July is a unique local tradition expanded into a week-long carnival. The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is a six-day festival held annually in Winchester which includes parades and bluegrass concerts. The Old Time Fiddlers' Convention in Galax, begun in 1935, is one of the oldest and largest such events worldwide. Two important film festivals, the Virginia Film Festival and the VCU French Film Festival, are held annually in Charlottesville and Richmond, respectively.
The Hampton Roads area is the 42nd-largest media market in the United States as ranked by Nielsen Media Research, while the Richmond-Petersburg area is 54th and Roanoke-Lynchburg is 69th as of 2020[update]. Northern Virginia is part of the much larger Washington, D.C. media market, which is the country's 7th-largest.
There are 36 television stations in Virginia, representing each major U.S. network, part of 42 stations which serve Virginia viewers including those broadcasting from neighboring jurisdictions. According the Federal Communications Commission, 595 FCC-licensed FM radio stations broadcast in Virginia, with 239 such AM stations as of 2020[update]. The nationally available Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is headquartered in Arlington. Independent PBS affiliates exist throughout Virginia, and the Arlington PBS member station WETA-TV produces programs such as the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week.
The most circulated native newspapers in the Commonwealth are Norfolk's The Virginian-Pilot with around 132,000 subscribers, the Richmond Times-Dispatch with 86,219, and The Roanoke Times as of 2018[update]. The paper with nation's most daily readers, USA Today, with 520,000 daily subscriptions, is headquartered in McLean. USA Today is the flagship publication of Gannett, Inc., which merged with GateHouse Media in 2019, and operates over one hundred local newspapers nationwide. In Northern Virginia, The Washington Post is the dominant newspaper and provides local coverage for the region. Politico, which covers national politics, has its offices in Rosslyn.
Virginia's educational system consistently ranks in the top five states on the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress, with Virginia students outperforming the average in all subject areas and grade levels tested. The 2019 Quality Counts report ranked Virginia's K–12 education third in the country, with a letter grade of B. All school divisions must adhere to educational standards set forth by the Virginia Department of Education, which maintains an assessment and accreditation regime known as the Standards of Learning to ensure accountability.
Public K–12 schools in Virginia are generally operated by the counties and cities, and not by the state. As off the 2018–19 academic year,[update] a total of 1,290,576 students were enrolled in 2,293 local and regional schools in the Commonwealth, including eight charter schools, and an additional 98 alternative and special education centers across 133 school divisions. 2018 marked the first decline in overall enrollment in public schools, by just over 2,000 students, since 1984. Besides the general public schools in Virginia, there are Governor's Schools and selective magnet schools. The Governor's Schools are a collection of more than 40 regional high schools and summer programs intended for gifted students. The Virginia Council for Private Education oversees the regulation of 483 state accredited private schools. An additional 17,283 students receive homeschooling.
In 2019, 91.5 percent of high school students graduated on-time after four years, an increase of two percent from 2013, and 89.3 percent of adults over the age 25 had their high school diploma. Virginia has one of the smaller racial gaps in graduation rates among U.S. states, with 89.7 percent of Black students graduating on time, compared to 94.7 percent of white students and 97.5 percent of Asian students. Despite ending school segregation in the 1960s, seven percent of Virginia's public schools were rated as "intensely segregated" by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA in 2019, and the number has risen since 1989, when only three percent were. Virginia has comparatively large public school districts, typically comprising entire counties or cites, and this helps mitigate funding gaps seen in other states such that non-white districts average slightly more funding, $255 per student as of 2019[update], than majority white districts. Elementary schools, with the smallest districts, we found by VCU study in 2019 to be more segregated than middle or high schools in Virginia.
Colleges and universities
As of 2019[update], Virginia has the sixth highest percent of residents with bachelor's degrees or higher, with 38.2 percent. As of that year, there are 169 colleges and universities in Virginia. In the 2019 U.S. News & World Report ranking of national public universities, the University of Virginia is ranked No. 3, the College of William and Mary is No. 10, Virginia Tech is No. 30, George Mason University is No. 67, and Virginia Commonwealth University is No. 80. James Madison University is ranked the No. 6 regional university in The South. There are 124 private institutions in the state, including nationally ranked liberal arts colleges Washington and Lee University at No. 11, the University of Richmond at No. 25, and the Virginia Military Institute at No. 81.
Virginia Tech and Virginia State University are the state's land-grant universities. The Virginia Military Institute is the oldest state military college. Virginia also operates 23 community colleges on 40 campuses which enrolled more than 228,000 degree-seeking students during the 2018–2019 school year. As of 2019[update], George Mason University had the largest on-campus enrollment at 37,677 students, though the private Liberty University had the largest total enrollment in the state, with 88,283 online and 15,105 on-campus students in Lynchburg.
Virginia has a mixed health record, and was ranked as the 15th overall healthiest state according to the 2019 United Health Foundation's Health Rankings. Virginia was 19th lowest among U.S. states in its number of premature deaths, with 6,914 per 100,000, and 24th with an infant mortality rate of 5.9 per 1,000 live births. Falls Church and Loudoun County were both ranked in the top ten healthiest communities in 2020 by U.S. News & World Report.
There are however racial and social health disparities. With high rates of heart disease and diabetes, African Americans in Virginia had an average life expectancy 4 years lower than whites and 12 years lower than Asian Americans and Latinos in 2017, and were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic. African-American mothers are also three times more likely to die while giving birth in the state. Mortality rates among white middle-class Virginians have also been rising, with drug overdose, suicide, and alcohol poisoning as leading causes.
Weight is an issue for many Virginians, and 30.3% of adults and 13.2% of 10- to 17-year-olds are obese as of 2019[update]. Additionally, 35% of adults are overweight and 23.3% do not exercise regularly. Virginia banned smoking in bars and restaurants in January 2010, and the percent of tobacco smokers in the state has declined from 19% in that year to 14.9% in 2019. Virginia does have among the highest rates of immunization nationwide, ranking 6th for childhood immunization and 14th for both TDaP and HPV vaccines per capita. In 2008, Virginia became the first U.S. state to mandate the HPV vaccine for girls for school attendance.
There are 90 hospitals in Virginia with a combined 17,706 hospital beds as of 2020[update]. Notable examples include Inova Fairfax Hospital, the largest hospital in the Washington Metropolitan Area, and the VCU Medical Center, located on the medical campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. The University of Virginia Medical Center, part of the University of Virginia Health System, is highly ranked in endocrinology according to U.S. News & World Report. Virginia has a ratio of 148.1 primary care physicians per 10,000 residents, which is the 24th highest nationally, but only 171.9 mental health providers per that number, the 10th lowest nationwide. The rate of uninsured Virginians dropped to 8.8% after the state government passed Medicare expansion in 2019.
Because of the 1932 Byrd Road Act, the state government controls most of Virginia's roads, instead of a local county authority as is usual in other states. As of 2018[update], the Virginia Department of Transportation owns and operates 57,867 miles (93,128 km) of the total 70,105 miles (112,823 km) of roads in the state, making it the third largest state highway system in the United States. Although the Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes Northern Virginia, has the second highest rate of traffic congestion in the nation, Virginia as a whole has the 21st-lowest rate of congestion and the average commute time is 26.9 minutes. Virginia hit peak car usage before the year 2000, making it one of the first such states.
Virginia has Amtrak passenger rail service along several corridors, and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) maintains two commuter lines into Washington, D.C. from Fredericksburg and Manassas. VRE is one of the nation's fastest growing commuter rail services, handling nearly 20,000 passengers a day. Arlington accounted for forty percent of Virginia's public transit trips as of 2013[update], with most of that being from the Washington Metro transit system, which also serves Alexandria and communities in Fairfax County along I-66. The system is currently expanding west into additional areas of Loudoun County. Major freight railroads in Virginia include Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation. Commuter buses include the Fairfax Connector, FRED buses in Fredericksburg, and OmniRide in Prince William County. The Virginia Department of Transportation operates several free ferries throughout Virginia, the most notable being the Jamestown Ferry which connects Jamestown to Scotland Wharf across the James River.
Virginia has five major airports: Washington Dulles International and Reagan Washington National in Northern Virginia, both of which handle more than twenty million passengers a year; Richmond International; and Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport and Norfolk International serving the Hampton Roads area. Several other airports offer limited commercial passenger service, and sixty-six public airports serve the state's aviation needs. The Virginia Port Authority's main seaports are those in Hampton Roads, which carried 60,014,070 short tons (54,443,850 t) of total cargo in 2019[update], the seventh most of United States ports. The Eastern Shore of Virginia is the site of Wallops Flight Facility, a rocket testing center owned by NASA, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a commercial spaceport. Space tourism is also offered through Vienna-based Space Adventures.
Law and government
In 1619, the first Virginia General Assembly met at Jamestown Church, and included 22 locally elected representatives, making Virginia's legislature the oldest in the North America. These representatives became a formal House of Burgesses in 1642 and governed with the crown-appointed Governor's Council until Virginia declared independence in 1776. The current General Assembly is the 161st since that year. The government today functions under the seventh Constitution of Virginia, which was approved by voters in 1971 and is similar to the federal structure in that it provides for three branches: a strong legislature, an executive, and a unified judicial system.
Virginia's legislature is bicameral with a 100-member House of Delegates and 40-member Senate, who together write the laws for the Commonwealth. Delegates serve two-year terms, while senators serve four-year terms, with the most recent elections for both taking place in November 2019. The executive department includes the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, who are elected every four years in separate elections, with the next taking place in November 2021. The governor must be at least 30 years old and incumbent governors cannot run for re-election, however the lieutenant governor and attorney general can, and governors can and have served non-consecutive terms. The lieutenant governor is the official head of the Senate, and is responsible for breaking ties. The House elects a Speaker of the House and the Senate elects a President pro tempore, who presides when the lieutenant governor isn't present, and both houses elect a clerk and majority and minority leaders. The governor also nominates their eleven cabinet members and others who head various state departments.
State budgets are proposed in even years by the governor. Based on data through 2018, the Pew Center on the States found Virginia's government to be above average in running surpluses, while U.S. News and World Report ranked the state eighth in fiscal stability. The legislature meets annually starting on the second Wednesday of the year, typically for 60 days in even years and 48 days in odd years due to the state's biannual budgeting, though special sessions can be called either by the governor or with agreement of two-thirds of both houses. Special sessions were called in 2019 on gun control and in 2020 on police reform and the impact of the coronavirus on the state budget.
The judges and justices who make up Virginia's judicial system, also the oldest in America, are elected by a majority vote in both the House and Senate without input from the governor, one way Virginia's legislature is stronger than its executive. The system consists of a hierarchy from the Supreme Court of Virginia and the Court of Appeals of Virginia to the Circuit Courts, the trial courts of general jurisdiction, and the lower General District Courts and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts. The Supreme Court has seven justices who serve twelve-year terms, with a mandatory retirement age of 73. The Supreme Court selects its own Chief Justice from among their seven members, who is informally limited to two four-year terms. Virginia is the only state without an automatic right of appeal, which the state limits to cases involving death sentences or attorney discipline, and their Court of Appears is among the smallest in the nation, with only eleven judges.
The Code of Virginia is the statutory law, and consists of the codified legislation of the General Assembly. The Virginia State Police is the largest law enforcement agency in Virginia with 3,022 sworn and civilian members as of 2018[update]. The Virginia Capitol Police protect the legislature and executive department, and are the oldest police department in the United States. The Virginia National Guard consists of approximately 7,200 soldiers in the Virginia Army National Guard, 1,200 airmen in the Virginia Air National Guard, 300 members of the Virginia Defense Force, and 400 civilians.
Since the resumption of capital punishment in Virginia in 1982, 113 people have been executed, the second highest number in the nation, and though no death sentences have been issued since 2011, two inmates remain on the state's death row as of 2021[update]. As of 2018[update], 30,936 people are incarcerated in Virginia's prison system, 53% of whom are Black, and the state has the 16th–highest rate of incarceration in the country, at 422 per 100,000 residents. Virginia ended prisoner parole in 1995. As of 2019, Virginia's rate of recidivism of released felons who are re-convicted within three years and sentenced to a year or more is 23.1 percent, the lowest in the country. Virginia has the fourth lowest violent crime rate and 13th-lowest property crime rate as of 2018[update] according to FBI data.
Over the 20th century, Virginia shifted from a largely rural, politically Southern and conservative state to a more urbanized, pluralistic, and politically moderate environment. Up until the 1970s, Virginia was a racially divided one-party state dominated by the Byrd Organization, which sought to stymie the political power of Northern Virginia, perpetuate segregation, and restrict voter registration. The organization used malapportionment to control what areas of the state were over-represented in the General Assembly and the U.S. Congress until ordered to end the practice by the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Davis v. Mann and the 1965 the Virginia Supreme Court decision in Wilkins v. Davis respectively.
Passage of Federal civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, helped end the state's Jim Crow laws which effectively disfranchised African Americans. Greater enfranchisement and demographic shifts further changed the electorate. In 1980, 56 percent of eligible voters were born in the state; in 2019 that number was 45 percent, a result of strong international immigration and domestic migration into the state.
Regional differences also play a large part in Virginia politics. While urban and growing suburban areas, including much of Northern Virginia, form the Democratic Party base, rural southern and western areas moved to support the Republican Party in response to its "southern strategy". Rural Democratic support has nevertheless persisted in union-influenced Roanoke in Southwest Virginia, college towns such as Charlottesville and Blacksburg, and the southeastern Black Belt Region. State election seasons traditionally start with the annual Shad Planking event in Wakefield.
State elections in Virginia occur in odd-numbered years, with executive department elections occurring in years following U.S. presidential elections and Senate elections occurring in the years prior to presidential elections, as both have four-year terms. House of Delegates elections take place concurrent with each of those elections as members have two-year terms. National politics often play a role in state election outcomes, and Virginia has elected governors of the party opposite the U.S. president in ten of the last eleven contests, with only Terry McAuliffe beating the trend.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, was elected Governor in the 2013 elections by two percentage points during Barack Obama's second presidential term. Republicans, however, held a super-majority (68–32) of seats in the House of Delegates, which they had first gained in the 2011 state elections. Republicans also held a one-vote majority the state senate, which they then maintained in the 2015 election. Eleven house district lines used in these elections, drawn following the 2010 U.S. Census, were later judged unconstitutional for discriminating against African Americans.
The 2017 statewide elections resulted in Democrats holding the three highest offices, with outgoing lieutenant governor Ralph Northam winning the governorship, Justin Fairfax elected lieutenant governor, and Mark Herring continuing as attorney general. In concurrent House of Delegates elections, Democrats flipped fifteen of the Republicans' previous sixteen-seat majority. Control of the House came down to the tied election in the 94th district, which was won by Republicans through drawing of lots, giving the party a slim 51–49 majority in the 2018–19 legislative sessions. Despite a political crisis that February, Democrats took full control of the General Assembly in the November 2019 elections, the first after several districts were redrawn because of discrimination. Voters in 2020 passed a referendum to give control of drawing both congressional and state legislative districts to a commission of eight citizens and four legislators from each of the two major parties, rather than the legislature.
Though Virginia was considered a "swing state" in the 2008 presidential election, Democratic candidates carried Virginia's 13 electoral votes in that election and the three since; Joe Biden carried Virginia by over 10 points in 2020, suggesting the state has shifted to being reliably Democratic. Virginia had previously voted for Republican presidential candidates in 13 out of 14 presidential elections from 1952 to 2004, including 10 in a row from 1968 to 2004, but hasn't voted for a Republican candidate statewide since 2009. Virginia currently holds its presidential primary election on Super Tuesday, the same day as thirteen other states, with the most recent held on March 3, 2020.
In U.S. congressional elections since 2006, both parties have seen successes. Republican Senator George Allen lost close races in 2006, to Democratic newcomer Jim Webb, and again in 2012, to Webb's replacement, former Governor Tim Kaine. In 2008, Democrats won both United States Senate seats; former Governor Mark Warner was elected to replace retiring Republican John Warner. In the 2010 mid-term elections, the first under President Obama, Republicans flipped three United States House of Representatives seats from the Democrats, while in the 2018 mid-terms, the first under President Trump, Democrats flipped three seats from Republicans. Of the state's eleven seats in the House of Representatives, Democrats currently hold seven and Republicans hold four.
Virginia is the most populous U.S. state without a major professional sports league franchise. The reasons for this include the lack of any dominant city or market within the state, the proximity of teams in Washington, D.C. and North Carolina, and a reluctance to publicly finance stadiums. A proposed arena in Virginia Beach designed for an NBA franchise became the latest unsuccessful sports initiative when the city council there ended support in 2017. Norfolk is however host to two minor league teams: The AAA Norfolk Tides and the ECHL's Norfolk Admirals. The San Francisco Giants' AA team, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, began play at The Diamond in 2010, replacing the AAA Richmond Braves, who relocated after 2008. Additionally, the Washington Nationals, Boston Red Sox, and Cleveland Indians also have Single-A farm teams in Virginia. The Richmond Kickers, a United Soccer League club, have operated since 1993 and are the only team in their league to win both the league championship and the U.S. Open Cup in the same year.
The Washington Football Team have their headquarters in Ashburn and their training facility is in Richmond, and the Washington Capitals train at MedStar Capitals Iceplex in Ballston. Virginia has many professional caliber golf courses including the Greg Norman course at Lansdowne Resort and Kingsmill Resort, home of the Kingsmill Championship, an LPGA Tour tournament. NASCAR currently schedules Monster Energy NASCAR Cup races on two tracks in Virginia: Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway. Virginia natives currently competing in the series include Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler.
Virginia does not allow state appropriated funds to be used for either operational or capital expenses for intercollegiate athletics. Despite this, both the Virginia Cavaliers and Virginia Tech Hokies have been able to field competitive teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference and maintain modern facilities. Their rivalry is followed statewide. Twelve other universities compete in NCAA Division I, particularly in the Atlantic 10 Conference, Big South Conference, and Colonial Athletic Association. Three historically Black schools compete in the Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and two others (Hampton and Norfolk State) compete in Division I. Several smaller schools compete in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the USA South Athletic Conference of NCAA Division III. The NCAA currently holds its Division III championships in football, men's basketball, volleyball and softball in Salem.
The state nickname is its oldest symbol, though it has never been made official by law. Virginia was given the title "Dominion" by King Charles II of England at the time of The Restoration, because it had remained loyal to the crown during the English Civil War, and the present moniker, "Old Dominion" is a reference to that title. Charles' supporters were called Cavaliers, and "The Cavalier State" nickname was popularized after the American Civil War to romanticize the antebellum period. Sports teams from the University of Virginia are called the Cavaliers. The other nickname, "Mother of Presidents", is also historic, as eight Virginians have served as President of the United States, including four of the first five.
The state's motto, Sic Semper Tyrannis, translates from Latin as "Thus Always to Tyrants", and is used on the state seal, which is then used on the flag. While the seal was designed in 1776, and the flag was first used in the 1830s, both were made official in 1930. The majority of the other symbols were made official in the late 20th century. The Virginia reel is among the square dances classified as the state dance. In 1940, Virginia made "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" the state song, but it was retired in 1997 due to its references to slavery. In March 2015, Virginia named "Our Great Virginia", which uses the tune of "Oh Shenandoah", as the traditional state song and "Sweet Virginia Breeze" as the popular state song.
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