VIRGINIA is the northernmost, save one, of that division of the United States usually denominated the Southern States. It lies between lat. 36° 33' and 40° 43' north, and extends from 75° 55' to 83° 40' of west longitude. Its length, from east to west, is 370 miles; its greatest breadth 200; and its exact area is officially stated at 61,352 square miles. It is bounded on the north by Pennsylvania; on the north-east by the River Potomac, which separates it from Maryland; on the east by the waters of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean; on the south by North Carolina and a part of Tennessee; on the west by Kentucky; and on the north-west by Ohio.
Having been the seat of the earliest English settlement permanently established in North America, Virginia ranks as the eldest of the thirteen colonies originally compacted into the republic of the United States; and is therefore worthy of the frequently-bestowed appellation of "the Old Dominion." [Transcriber's note: Lengthy historical section redacted here] The first constitution of Virginia, in which her people took part, was formed in 1776. The previous dismemberments of the state, under various British monarchs, whereby Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas had been gradually detached, were never formally confirmed by the people of Virginia until the adoption of this civil compact. Although those acts of the royal government had frequently been subjects of remonstrance, it was deemed advisable now to acknowledge them, that there should arise in future no cause of dissension among the members of the new confederacy. The constitution thus framed, in a season of critical emergency, without the advantages of leisure, deliberation, and of experience, (being the first in the whole United States,) was naturally imperfect. It was soon found to be unequal in its operations; and at the close of the war, much discussion arose upon divers projects for its improvement. It was not, however, essentially amended until 1830, when it underwent important modifications. Its principal features are as follow: the governor is elected by joint vote of the two branches of the General Assembly; his official term is three years, and he cannot be reelected for the next succeeding term; he is assisted in his executive duties by three counsellors of state, the senior of whom, in office, acts as lieutenant governor; the legislature comprises a Senate, consisting of 32 members, chosen for four years, (one fourth of whom are to retire each year,) and a House of Delegates, 134 in number, chosen annually by the people ; clergymen are excluded from participation in the civil government; the judges are chosen by the legislature. The Assembly convenes at Richmond, the capital, annually, on the first Monday of December. Every white male, 21 years of age, and possessed of a freehold valued at $25, or being a housekeeper, or head of a family, and having paid taxes, is qualified to vote for state or other officers; but subordinate officers, soldiers, marines, or seamen, in the national service, as well as paupers, and men convicted of infamous crimes, cannot exercise the right of suffrage. The manner of voting at all elections is the open or viva voce mode.
Virginia is now divided into 119 counties. Its seat of government is the city of Richmond, and its greatest commercial port is Norfolk. There are many other cities and populous towns in the state, more particular descriptions of which will be found in their proper order in this volume. Within even its present boundaries flow some of the finest rivers in America, the most important of which are the Potomac, Rappahannock, James, and Kanawha Rivers. It is also watered by the Ohio and its tributaries on the west. (See Rivers.) The surface of the state is greatly diversified; insomuch that those familiar with its topography have considered its soil and climate under several distinct zones or divisions. The eastern section is generally a low country, with a soil partly sandy and partly alluvial, abounding in swamps and unproductive tracts, and for the most part, especially towards the sea-coast and along the margins of rivers, noted for the prevalence of fatal epidemics during the season extending from August to October. From the head of the tide waters, the mountainous district commences. Here the soil becomes more fertile, and the climate more genial. Across this portion ofthe state stretch the widest bases of the stupendous Alleghanies — " the spine of the country." Between the numerous ridges, into which this vast chain is riven, there lie extensive and beautiful valleys, presenting a soil of the richest quality, a salubrious anddelightful climate, and the most picturesque and magnificent natural scenery. Beyond these lofty eminences lies a third section, extending to the Ohio River in one direction, and to the Cumberland Mountains in another, commonly distinguished as West Virginia. This, too, is an elevated and broken region, less productive in general than the middle section, and less populous, but enjoying an atmosphere quite as healthy, and waters equally pure.
The chief agricultural products of Virginia are wheat, Indian corn, and tobacco. Cotton is also cultivated considerably in the alluvial district contiguous to North Carolina; and in other quarters, hemp and wool are among the chief staples. All the varieties of grain, vegetables, and fruit, peculiar to the climate, are also raised; and these in great abundance where due attention is paid to their culture. In mineral wealth, Virginia is sufficiently rich to divert much capital from employment upon the surface to the development of actual or supposed treasures lying beneath. Iron, lead, copper, gypsum, salt, anthracite and bituminous coals are among the most plentiful and profitable of the rewards of these efforts and researches; although, in some localities, the more precious metals have become objects of inquiry; and numerous explorations, particularly in pursuit of gold, have been undertaken, (some of them quite recently,) with different degrees of success. The manufactures of the state are confined principally, with some exceptions, to the preparation of its staples for market, or for domestic consumption. The capital invested in all the branches of this department of home industry amounts to several millions. For all its purposes of trade, the commercial facilities of Virginiaare ample. Its sea-coast and principal rivers afford many excellent harbors; and its means of intercommunication, both natural and artificial, extending through all parts of the state, are well adapted to the convenience and requirements of the people. Much attention has latterly been paid to the improvement of river navigation, the construction of canals,railroads, &c.
Among the remarkable natural phenomena existing in Virginia, besides its mountainous ridges, in some places singularly penetrated by noble rivers, are a number of mineral springs, cascades, caverns, and, above all, the celebrated structure in the county of Rockbridge, between the Blue Ridge and the North Mountain, called the Natural Bridge, and described by Mr. Jefferson, as " the most sublime of nature's works." Many of the springs are so highly impregnated with salt, as to induce numbers of capitalists to enter into the manufacture of this article, and to erect salt works in various places ; at one of which, near Charleston, on the Great Kanawha River, about 3,000,000 bushels of salt are made annually. The medicinal springs of Virginia, to the waters of which many virtues have been ascribed, are much frequented by invalids. The extraordinary cascade in the county of Augusta, called the Falling Spring, where the water descends perpendicularly, though in a comparatively small volume, from a height said to be 60 or 70 feet greater than that of the cataract of Niagara, is to the curious traveller an object of great interest and wonder. The sheet of water, only some 15 feet broad at the top, is divided in two or three places, at the commencement of the fall, by the rock over which it passes, but is nowhere else interrupted until it reaches the valley immediately below. So directly does the stream descend, that a person may pass dry-shod between the base of the rock and the bottom of the fall. Another extraordinary specimen of nature's handiwork 'is the wild and magnificent torrent at Harper's Ferry, formed by the tumultuous rushing of the waters of the Potomac and Shenandoah through a gorge in the Blue Ridge, where they meet, and after momentarily beating with tremendous power against the rugged and rocky sides of the mountain, pass rapidly away together on their journey to the ocean. Several very curious caverns are found in the hilly regions, the most noted of which are Madison's Cave, on the north side of the Blue Ridge; another in Frederic county, near the North Mountain; and the " Blowing Cave " in one of the ridges of the Cumberland Mountains. The former of these has been a subject of much speculation with all philosophical visitors. A hill, 200 feet in height, rises perpendicularly from the margin of a branch of the Shenandoah River; one third of the way down from the summit, the cave opens, branches off in diverse directions, penetrates some 300 feet into the earth, and at two different points terminates in subterranean lakes of unmeasured dimensions. The roof is of solid limestone, 25 to 50 feet in height; and, being in a constant state of exudation, the ceaseless dropping of its calculous tears forms, upon the floor and sides, a profusion of grotesque incrustationsresembling pyramids and columns, gradually growing and changing in size and shape.
Not the least interesting spots in Virginia are Mount Vernon, on the Potomac, and Monticello, in Albemarle county; the former memorable as the long-loved home in life, and the chosen place of rest in death, of the illustrious Washington, and the latter as the splendid country seat of President Jefferson. No ostentatious memorials of those giant minds mark the abodes of their mortal remains. The tomb of the " father of his country" stands in a secluded copse at a short distance from the family mansion, in all the mournful and affecting dignity of unadorned simplicity. The spot of his nativity is designated in a like humble manner; it is in a retired part of the county of Westmoreland, on a plantation now in ruins, where may be seen, inscribed upon a modest stone, this brief memento: " Here, on the 11th of February, 1732, George Washington was born." Over the grave of Jefferson stands a simple granite obelisk, bearing, by his own direction, this concise epitaph: "Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and Founder of the University of Virginia."
The subject of internal improvements has occupied a large share of the public attention. The state has a" fund of $3,000,000, the income of which, exceeding $280,000, is applied, under direction of a board of public works, to the advancement of useful projects for facilitating intercourse throughout the commonwealth. Among the most important of these undertakings is the construction of a series of canals and dams for the improvement and extension of the navigation of James, Kanawha, and New Rivers. Another great work is the Dismal Swamp Canal, 23 miles in length, whereby the waters of Chesapeake Bay are connected with those of Albemarle Sound. Sundry railroads, particularly in the eastern quarter of the state, have recently been opened, the whole comprehending an extent of over 300 miles; and others have been projected, or are already in course of construction. One line connects the with the Roanoke, passing through Petersburg, Richmond, and Fredericsburg; and another, commencing at Portsmouth, near Norfolk, secures an easy inland communication between the same rivers, at a lower point. There is also a railroad from Winchester to Harper's Ferry, where it meets the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
Considerations of state policy alone, perhaps, have prevented the organization of a system of universal education in Virginia. The subject, however, at the close of the revolution, engaged the earnest attention of some of the most sagacious minds. At that period, a revision of the civil code was in contemplation; and, among others, Mr. Jefferson projected and advocated a plan for the general diffusion of knowledge among all classes of people, not, of course, including slaves. The system proposed was progressive, embracing instruction of every grade, from the simplest elementary up- to the highest stage of classical and scientific acquirement. The poor were to be supplied, at the public charge, with all the advantages of the grammar schools; and from these a certain number were to be annually selected, according to merit, for advancement to the collegiate institutions, supported also by the state. It would appear that this project, partial and limited though it was, as compared with the course pursued in New England, did not meet with the requisite amount of popular favor. Education had seldom. if ever, been made a subject of legislation or discussion under the colonial government. The plan of establishing free schools, common to all, was therefore novel, and in some degree incomprehensible, as well as repugnant to the greater portion of men of wealth. As a whole, it was deemed too liberal and extensive. But, in 1796, that part of it which provided for elementary schools received the legislative sanction, although no measures were taken for carrying it into execution. In 1809, a fund " for the encouragement of learning" was established by law, to be derived from all fines, escheats, and forfeitures; and this fund was augmented, in 1816, by the addition of a very large share of the claim on the general government for military services during the then recent war. In 1818, the income of this fund amounted to upwards of $50,000, when the General Assembly set apart, as permanent annual appropriations, $15,000 for the maintenance of a university, and $45,000 for the education of the poor. Under this latter provision, the benefits of common schools were bestowed, with various degrees of success, upon large numbers of indigent children, who would otherwise, in all probability, have grown up in deplorable ignorance, vice, and misery.
A further extension of the system of primary schools was authorized in 1820, at the discretion of the school commissioners, founded, however, on the cooperation
of the inhabitants of the several school districts, who are required to defray some three fifths of the additional cost, on condition of receiving the residue from the state fund. There are numerous academies, or rather private schools, throughout the commonwealth; some of these are of a respectable rank, but they are designed chiefly for the children of those who can afford to dispense with the public bounty. Little or no attention was given to the education of females prior to the revolution; but there have been established since that event a large number of academies and high schools, devoted exclusively to the instruction of that sex. Of the still higher orders of educational seminaries, the most eminent are the University of Virginia, founded by Mr. Jefferson, near Charlottesville; the College of William and Mary, chartered by the English sovereigns of that name, in 1691, and erected by order of the Assembly at Williamsburg; Washington College, at Lexington, incorporated in 1782, and largely endowed by General Washington; and Hampden Sidney College, in Prince Edward county, founded in 1774. There are also several theological institutions, of comparatively recent date, under the patronage, severally, of Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists.
The prevailing views upon the subject of religion are those held by almost every denomination of Christians in all other parts of the United States. In the early days of the colony, and during much of the subsequent time of its subjection to the sovereigns of Great Britain, the doctrines and discipline of the English church were those which generally predominated. But at the commencement of the American revolution, it was estimated that two thirds of the people had become dissenters; and the operation of the previously severe laws on the subject of religious faith and forms of worship was chiefly repealed or suspended by acts of the General Assembly, in 1776. The utmost toleration has since been recognized and affirmed by the legislative adoption of a bill drawn by Mr. Jefferson, in 1785, " for establishing religious freedom." At the present time, the most numerous sects are the Baptists and Methodists; next follow, in numerical order, the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics. There are also a few Unitarians, Friends, and Jews.
The actual outstanding public debt of Virginia, in February, 1850, was $7,924,994.11, exceedingby $545,539.11 the amount of productive property owned by the state; but the total value of funds of all descriptions, held by the state, is estimated at $11,854,814. There were, in 1848, six banks, with twenty-one branches, employing a capital of $10,283,633. Details of the value of exports and imports, with other statistics of the trade and commerce of the state, may be found in this work, under the appropriate heads.
In conclusion, it may be remarked, that no state of the American Union enjoys a more liberal share of natural advantages than has fallen to the lot of this favored commonwealth. Her central position, productive soil, vast mineral treasures, forests of valuable timber, navigable rivers, secure harbors, commodious ports, and a climate averaging a medium temperature, are among those signal blessings of its inhabitants that demand a corresponding return of gratitude to the Supreme Giver, and the widest diffusion of his bounties among such of his rational creatures as are entitled to " life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."