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Virginia Studies 2 (VS2) Notes

VS2a Virginia’s Relative Location & Regions0

Virginia is located on the East Coast of the United States. Its location can also be described ( using relative location. Relative location shows connections between two places using words such as “next to,” “near,” and “bordering.”

Virginia has two large bodies of water that “border” it on the east. They are the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. It also has five “bordering” states. They include Maryland on the north, West Virginia on the northwest, Kentucky on the west, Tennessee on the southwest, and North Carolina on the south.

Virginia has five physical geographic regions. Each region has unique characteristics.

Coastal Plain (Tidewater): This region stretches from the Atlantic Ocean on the east to a line of waterfalls and rapids called the Fall Line on the west. The Fall Line forms a natural border between the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont region. The land of the Coastal Plain is flat and includes a peninsula called the Eastern Shore. Four major rivers are also located here. They include the James, the York, the Rappahannock, and the Potomac. All four rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

Piedmont (land at the foot of mountains): This region is located west of the Fall Line. The land of this region consists of rolling hills. The hilly land makes the rivers narrower and faster as they flow over waterfalls and through rapids. These waterfalls and rapids, known as the Fall Line, prevent ships from traveling farther west on the four major rivers.

Blue Ridge Mountains: This region is made up of old, rounded mountains that are part of the Appalachian Mountain System. It is located between the Piedmont region and the Valley and Ridge region. Many of the major rivers in Virginia have their sources in these mountains.

Valley and Ridge: This region includes the Great Valley of Virginia and the Allegheny Mountain Ridge. This region is also a part of the Appalachian Mountain System. A valley is an area of land between mountains and a ridge is a line of mountains. The Valley and Ridge region is located west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Appalachian Plateau: This region is located in the southwestern part of Virginia. A plateau is an area of flat land that is higher than the land around it. Only a small part of the plateau is located in Virginia.

VS2c Important Water Features of Virginia

As settlers moved west across the state of Virginia, many traveled by ship. They sailed from the Chesapeake Bay toward the Piedmont region on the four major rivers of Virginia: the James, the York, the Rappahannock, and the Potomac. Many early Virginia cities grew up along the Fall Line and became the major cities of present-day Virginia. Let’s find out how important these water features were to the early history of Virginia.

The main water features of Virginia include the Atlantic Ocean, the Chesapeake Bay, the James River, the York River, the Rappahannock River, the Potomac River, Lake Drummond, and the Dismal Swamp.

The Atlantic Ocean was important to the history and settlement of Virginia. It provided a route from the continent of Europe to the North American continent for early explorers. It also continued to provide transportation links between Virginia and places such as Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean.

The Chesapeake Bay is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a peninsula of land called the Eastern Shore. A peninsula is a piece of land bordered on three sides by water. The Chesapeake Bay provided the early ships a safe harbor from the crashing waves of the ocean. It was also a source of food and transportation.

The James River is located in the southern part of the state. The source of this river is the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the James River flows towards the east, it crosses the Piedmont region, crashes over the rapids of the Fall Line into the Coastal Plain, and eventually empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Richmond, the capital of Virginia, and Jamestown are two major cities located along this river.

The York River is located north of the James River. It is separated from the James River by a narrow peninsula. The York River also flows downhill into the Chesapeake Bay. Yorktown, located along this river, is another important city in history.

The Rappahannock River is located north of the York River. These two rivers are also separated by a peninsula of land. The Rappahannock, like the James and the York, flows downhill into the Chesapeake Bay. The historic city of Fredericksburg is located along this river.

The Potomac River is located in the northern part of the state. It is separated from the Rappahannock by yet another peninsula of land and flows downhill into the Chesapeake Bay. Alexandria, another historical city, is located along this river.

Each of these important rivers was a source of food and a pathway for the exploration and settlement of Virginia.

Lake Drummond is located in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region. It is a shallow natural lake surrounded by the Dismal Swamp. Lake Drummond is one of only two natural freshwater lakes in Virginia.

Dismal Swamp is located in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region. The Great Dismal Swamp is a wetland that has a variety of wildlife and a lot of folklore. George Washington explored and surveyed the Dismal Swamp.

VS2d,e American Indians of Virginia

Christopher Columbus called the native peoples in the lands he explored “Indians” because he thought he was in the “Indies” (near China). American Indians were the first people who lived in Virginia. We know that at one time they lived all over our state because of the artifacts they left behind. Some of these artifacts include arrowheads and pottery.

When the settlers came to Virginia in 1606 there were thousands of American Indians living here. Forests filled with a variety of trees covered most of the state. As a result, the Indians were called the Eastern Woodland Indians. These American Indians were divided into three main groups based on the language they spoke.

Algonquian languages were spoken primarily by the tribes found around the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding rivers in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region of Virginia. The Powhatan Indians were part of this group.

Siouan (Soon) languages were spoken primarily by the tribes living in the Piedmont region of Virginia. The Monacan Indians were part of this group.

Iroquoian languages were spoken by the tribes that lived in the southern parts of Virginia near what is today North Carolina and in the Appalachian Plateau region located in southwestern Virginia. The Cherokee Indians were part of this group.

Virginia’s American Indians had to relate to the climate and environment of the land. The kinds of food they ate, the clothing they wore, and the homes they built were influenced by Virginia’s relatively mild climate and four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter.

In the winter, they hunted birds and animals and lived on food they had stored during the fall months. In the spring, they hunted, fished and picked berries. In the summer, they grew crops like beans, corn, and squash. In the fall, they harvested their crops and hunted for foods to store for the winter. Their homes, or shelters, were made from the natural resources or materials found around them. They made their clothing out of animal skins, such as deerskin.

The cultures of the native peoples have changed over time. Today most live like other Americans.

VS2f Archaeologists Dig into History

Archaeology is the scientific study of past cultures and the way people lived based on the things they left behind. Archaeology is another way that helps people understand the past. Believe it or not, history is constantly being rewritten based on new evidence that is found.
The work of archaeologists involves finding and studying artifacts which are objects that have been made, used or changed by humans. Recent archaeological digs have recovered new evidence about Werowocomoco and historic Jamestown.

What was Werowocomoco (weh-ro-wo-COM-o-co)?
Werowocomoco was a large Indian town, or village, used by Indian leaders for hundreds of years before the English settlers arrived. These tribes lived in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) area of Virginia and spoke the Algonquian language. It was also the headquarters of the leader, Powhatan, in 1607. In fact, Werowocomoco was the place where the Powhatan and English settlers from Jamestown first met, but is best known as where John Smith was rescued by Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan! During the last seven years, archaeologists have located a 50-acre settlement with many artifacts and structures built around 1400 A.D.

What was historic Jamestown?
Jamestown became the first permanent settlement in North America. In 1994 archaeologists began their dig with hopes of finding evidence of the original 1607 James Fort. For over two centuries, it was considered lost due to river shoreline erosion. Archaeologists have now rediscovered much of the fort and have recovered over a million artifacts that can tell the real story about Jamestown. The recovered artifacts will also give archaeologists clues about the interactions of the English, Africans, and Indians during that time in Virginia’s history.

VS2g Current Tribes of Virginia

When the settlers came to Virginia in 1606, American Indians were already living in Virginia. The Indians called Virginia “Pamahsawuh”. Different tribes have been in Virginia for thousands of years. Today, the Commonwealth of Virginia recognizes eight American Indian tribes: Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Rappahannock, Upper Mattaponi, and Monacan Tribes.

Recognized Tribes in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) Region

The Chickahominy Tribe lives in Charles City County, midway between Richmond and Williamsburg in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region. Their location now is close to where the tribe lived in 1600. When Jamestown was founded, the tribe lived in towns along the Chickahominy River. The Chickahominy Tribe was forced from their homeland as Jamestown continued to grow and prosper.

The Eastern Chickahominy Tribe lives east of Richmond in New Kent County in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region. They were part of the Chickahominy Tribe (Eastern Division) until 1900. Because they had difficulty getting to Charles City for tribal meetings, they organized their own tribal government.

The Mattaponi Tribe lives on a reservation along the border of the Mattaponi River in King William County in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region. Being one of the oldest reservations in the country, the Mattaponi Indian Reservation can trace its history back to chief Powhatan, leader of the American Indians living in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region. Back in 1646, the Mattaponi Tribe began paying tribute to an early Virginia governor. Since then the Mattaponi Tribe has been paying tribute to the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia on the fourth Wednesday of November.

The Nansemond Tribe lives in the Suffolk/Chesapeake area in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region. They lived in several towns along the Nansemond River near Chuckatuck, but as the Europeans continued to settle in the area, the Nansemond Tribe had to relocate their tribal lands and their reservations several times.

The Pamunkey Tribe lives on the Pamunkey Indian Reservation which is on the Pamunkey River near King William County in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region. Archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have traced their tribal lands dating back thousands of years. The Pamunkey Tribe has been recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia as an Indian tribe since colonial times.

The Rappahannock Tribe lives on 150 acres of hardwood forest and rolling farmland in Indian Neck, King & Queen County in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region. The reservation was set up by the Virginia Council after the English settled illegally in the Rappahannock River Valley. It is likely that the ship captain killed the chief of the Rappahannock Tribe and took a group of Rappahannock men back to England. Four years later, Captain John Smith was accused of the crime. After Smith was found innocent, he returned to the Rappahannock homeland and set up 14 towns on the north side of the river. The territory on the south side was the Rappahannock’s hunting ground.

The Upper Mattaponi Tribe for many centuries lived in villages along the waterways of Virginia. Today many Upper Mattaponi people live in King William County in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) region. The Upper Mattaponi own 32 acres of land and have the only public Indian school building still existing in the state of Virginia. The school which closed in 1965 now serves as their Tribal Center.

VS2g Recognized Tribe in the Piedmont Region

The Monacan Tribe lives on Bear Mountain in Amherst County in the Piedmont region. It has been their home for more than 10,000 years. The Monacan Tribe’s original territory occupied more than half of the state of Virginia including the Piedmont Region and parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They are the oldest group of native peoples still living in their homeland and the only group of Eastern Siouan people in Virginia.

Although these tribes are recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia, many of the tribes are hoping to gain recognition by an act of Congress. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved a bill to recognize the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Monacan, the Nansemond, the Rappahannock, and the Upper Mattaponi tribes.