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Virginia Studies 4 (VS4) Notes

VS4b The Cultural Landscape of the Colony of Virginia

Although it was a colony of England, Virginia developed a unique culture that was different from the culture of England. Usually whenever people settle in an area, they bring their beliefs, customs, and architecture with them and change the existing culture.

However, in Virginia, it was European immigrants, American Indians, and Africans who influenced the areas where they settled and left signs of their cultures. They influenced the culture and landscape of colonial Virginia to reflect their beliefs, customs, and architecture which included barns, homes, and places of worship.

The names of places also reflect the culture of the settlers who lived there. Richmond, the capital city of Virginia, is an English name. It comes from Richmond-on-the-Thames, a suburb of London. The city of Roanoke, which is located in southwestern Virginia, is an American Indian name that means “sea-shell,” or “wampum.”

Different cultural groups chose different areas of Virginia to settle. The first inhabitants of Virginia were the American Indians. Before the settlers came, they lived throughout Virginia. After the settlers arrived, most were forced inland.

The English and other Europeans settled primarily in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) and Piedmont regions. German and Scots-Irish immigrants moved inland and settled primarily in the Shenandoah Valley which was along a popular migration route.

Africans were settled primarily in the Coastal Plain (Tidewater) and Piedmont regions. The economy of these two regions depended heavily on tobacco agriculture which required a lot of labor.

As these groups migrated to Virginia and settled there, they adapted their old customs, beliefs and architecture to their new environment.

VS4c Capital Cities of Early Virginia

As the colony of Virginia grew, the needs of its people changed. The original capital located at Jamestown had many problems. The drinking water was contaminated by the salt water of the surrounding river and bay. This, in addition to mosquito born diseases, unhealthy living conditions and frequent fires, caused the leaders of the colony to look for a better location for the capital city.

The House of Burgesses decided that the village near the College of William and Mary would make a fine new capital. In 1699, they named the new capital of Virginia Williamsburg after their king, William III. Williamsburg had fresh water and the mosquitoes were not as abundant. The burgesses thought it was a safer and healthier place than Jamestown.

By the early 1700s, the population of Virginia was moving westward and the Piedmont region was becoming home to more and more settlers. As the population moved west, so did the capital. The city of Richmond was chosen as the site of the new capital. Richmond was a more central location than Williamsburg. Its inland location and distance from the Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay gave it added protection from possible attacks by the British. Its location on the James River also made it a major center of trade and commerce.

These were the reasons behind the decision to relocate Virginia’s capital from Jamestown to Williamsburg to Richmond. Richmond remains the capital of Virginia today.

VS4d Colonial Economics

When the colonists first arrived in Jamestown, they faced many hardships. In addition to harsh winters, diseases, and their lack of survival skills, the colonists were often poor. Most of their money had been spent on travel to the Virginia colony.

Money, which is a medium of exchange that includes currency, or paper bills and coins, was not often used in the early Virginia colony. There were no banks in colonial Virginia and very few people used paper money and coins to buy goods and services. A form of trading and exchanging called barter was commonly used in place of money.

Due to a lack of money, farmers and consumers could buy goods and services on credit. Credit is buying a good or service now and paying for it later. The farmers would pay their debts when their crops were harvested and sold. A debt is a good or service that you owe to another.

Many different forms of exchange, or money, were used during this time. Tobacco was a popular crop that was used for barter. Tobacco farmers would use their tobacco as money and pay for the goods and services their families needed. Rice, corn, animal skins, gunpowder, and livestock were also used in exchange for money.

This made saving money very difficult for the early settlers. To save means to put money away to spend at a later time. A lack of money was one more challenge colonists faced in the Virginia colony.

VS4e Life in Colonial Virginia

Virginia was the largest and most populated colony by 1775. Natural, human, and capital resources were used in colonial Virginia to produce the goods and services that people needed. The supply of resources influenced the food, housing, and clothing of the many people living in colonial Virginia.

Food choices in the colony were limited. Hunting and fishing provided meat and fish which could be eaten fresh, or more often, salted or smoked for later use. Local produce such as fruits and vegetables were grown. Corn was an important crop as it provided food for both the family and the farm animals. Women dried and stored the vegetables and fruits for winter meals. Farmers also raised livestock such as pigs, cows, and chickens for food. There were no supermarkets or grocery stores. Each family produced almost everything it ate.

The colonists had to find some type of housing, or shelter, for themselves and their families. Unlike the wealthy farmers who lived in large houses on plantations, most people lived in simple, one-room houses with dirt floors. In fact a typical farm family consisting of a father, mother, and four to six children, lived in a one or two-room wooden house that was often no larger than the size of a garage today. If the farmer owned slaves, they may have lived an outbuilding or in a cabin nearby.

Most clothing worn in colonial times were made of cotton, wool, and leather. Each household made their own clothes from the sheep they raised or from the crops they grew, such as cotton and flax plants.

Everyday life was different for the groups of people living in colonial Virginia. Most white Virginians made their living from the land as small farmers. A few owned large farms called plantations. Enslaved African Americans lived and worked on these plantations growing tobacco and other crops and tending to livestock. Enslaved African Americans had no rights. Many free African Americans owned businesses and property but they, too, were denied most rights.