Nearly every single one of Virginia’s towns or cities has historical significance. That comes with the territory, so to speak, as Virginia itself was one of the original colonies. The following towns are especially noteworthy for being the oldest in the entire state. Despite the centuries that have passed, these towns still remain important to Virginia and are cherished for their contributions to American history. If you haven’t visited some of the oldest sites in Virginia, you might want to start planning a trip soon.
Jamestown is where it all began. Settled in 1607 by the Virginia Company of London, the site became the first permanent settlement in the New World. Jamestown's is most significant for its colonial identity, and it was the capital of the Virginia Colony from 1616 until 1699. Today, Jamestown is part of the Historic Triangle and is the site of Colonial Jamestown, an interactive live museum where travelers from across the globe come to learn about this important American landmark.
Petersburg is an independent city today, although the town's beginnings date back to the 1611 founding of the Citie of Henricus. Petersburg witnessed battles of both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Because of the town's location at the confluence of the Appomattox and James rivers, it has played an important role in economic and commercial development as well.
Williamsburg was founded in 1632 under the name of Middleton Plantation. From 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg served as the capital of the Colony of Virginia. (Jamestown, the original capital, had been burned during Bacon's rebellion of 1676.) The government was able to use facilities offered by the College of William & Mary. When the capital was moved to Richmond in 1780, Williamsburg lost some of its prominence. Since it was built on higher grounds, it could not be easily accessed by major waterways as was the case with most of the state's early colonies.
Captain John Smith himself deemed Onancock the "gem of the Eastern shore." Today, the same holds true in a town that considers itself a place where history meets hospitality. This small town on the Chesapeake Bay was founded in 1680 and currently has a population of less than 1500. Visitors can kayak to local wineries or explore Native American culture and the surrounding wildlife.
Dumfries is located in Prince William County as is considered the oldest cotinuously-chartered town in the state. The town's beginnings happened as early as 1690, when Richard Gibson built a gristmill on Quantico Creek. Decades later, the General Assembly established Dumfries as a township in May of 1749, named after Dumfries, Scotland. The town was an important tobacco port in Colonial America, rivaling cities such as New York and Boston. Photographed above is the notable Henderson House.
Visitors can learn more about the town's history at the Weems-Botts Museum.
Tappahannock is the oldest town and county seat of Essex. John Smith landed here in 1618 but was driven out by Native Americans. It wasn't until 1682 that a local man by the name of James Hobbs established a trading post. "Hobbs Hole" was then changed to "New Plymouth" before the name was changed back to it's original name of Tappahannock, meaning "where the tide ebbs and flows."
Yorktown is the county seat of York County and was founded in 1691 is a tobacco port on the York River to send the product to England. The town played a crucial role in American history as the site where Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington in 1781. Although the war would continue another year, this defeat is what effectively ended the Revolution. Yorktown also served as an important town during the Civil War for both Union and Confederate troops, depending on which side held power over the town.
Norfolk was incorporated in 1705. By 1775, it was considered by many to be the most prosperous city in the entire state. It became a vital port for shipping goods to the British Isles and further. Norfolk's location in the southeastern Hampton Roads region continues to play a vital role in the town's economy.
Fredericksburg is an independent city located where the Rappahannock River crosses the Fall Line. The area was established in 1728 and named after Frederick, Prince of Wales. The city is closely tied with George Washington, who moved with his family to Ferry Farm in 1738. It was in Fredericksburg where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Because of its location halfway between Washington D.C. and Richmond, Fredericksburg also played an important role during the Civil War.
Our lovely capital, Richmond was incorporated in 1737, but did not become an independent city until 1871. Richmond's importance in the country's history became apparent during the Revolutionary War, when Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech took place at St. John's Church. Richmond also served as capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. In the 20th century, Richmond became noteworthy for its successful electric streetcar systems.
The Old Town section of Alexandria was established in 1749. This portion of town is well-known for its historic buildings, one of which includes the boyhood home of Robert E. Lee. The Market Square is believed to be the oldest of its kind in the country. It continues to host a farmers market on Saturday mornings.
Located in Virginia's beautiful foothills, Lynchburg is known as "hill city" and was first settled in 1757. The town was named after its founder, John Lynch, who at the young age of 17 started a James River ferry service. Lynch was also responsible for the first river bridge in the town. Thomas Jefferson found Lynchburg particularly intriguing, and in 1810 wrote, "Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be useful to the town of Lynchburg. I consider it as the most interesting spot in the state." The town served as a Confederate supply base during the Civil War and for four days in 1865, served as the capital of Virginia (corresponding with the fall of Richmond). Today, Lynchburg is very visitor-friendly, with candlelight cemetery tours, art shows, and lecture series.
Charlottesville is the county seat of Albemarle County. The town was formed in 1762 along the trade route Three Notched Road (currently Route 250). During the Revolutionary War, Charlottesville was the site of the imprisonment of the Convention Army in the Albemarle Barracks. The Skirmish at Rio Hill was the only Civil War battle to take place in Charlottesville, which remained relatively unscathed during that time. The town is well-known for its proximity to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home as well as the University of Virginia.
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