There are so many tidbits of information that should be considered when talking about the history of Richmond, Virginia. This capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia that lies along the fall line of the James River is actually rich in historical relevance. Incorporated as a city in 1782, it had plentiful contribution to the Revolutionary War history of the country. In fact, Richmond was known during the Civil War as the capital of the Confederate States of America.
Its history however as a modern city actually dates back to the early part of the 17th century, which was fundamental to the development of the colony of Virginia as well as the Revolutionary War in the United States along with the Civil War. Historical accounts about Richmond also point out that its location was actually a blessing since it was instrumental in developing such a diversified economy, thus allowing Richmond to become a hub for land transportation.
The rich and colorful history of Richmond began in 1607 when Captain John Smith, together with 120 men of Jamestown Virginia travelled up the Powhatan’s River that eventually became known as James River. They settled at the highest navigable location at the river, which essentially became the first attempts at settling at the Falls of the James.
In 1611, an expedition was organized by the governor of the new Jamestown colony. They sailed up the James and subsequently settled just below the falls, a place they referred to as Henricus. This also served as the location for the first hospital in North America and the home of Pocahontas. Eventually, conflicts with indigenous people began to emerge and come to full steam in 1617, after the death of Pocahontas. The following year, Chief Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas also died.
Chief Operchancanough was extremely aggressive and responsible for the widespread Indian attacks during a period known as the Powhatan uprising during 1622. This resulted in the destruction of all English settlement along James River as well as the massacre of almost 400 white settlers during the 1644 surprise attack.
A treaty two years later resulted in the possession of the land below the Falls of the James by the English. Shokoe Slip, Shockoe Bottom, and Church Hill, which was the site for the St. John’s Church, erected the year before, were merged to create the charter town of Richmond in 1742. It came under the governance of the Virginia House of Burgesses, which was in Jamestown.
Role in the Revolutionary War
VCU students which are eager to learn about the history of Richmond will learn about the important role of Richmond during the Revolutionary War. Richmond took center stage as Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech of “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” at the St. John’s Church. According to historians, this was the inspiration that motivated the House of Burgesses to approve a resolution in 1775 to incorporate Virginia troops into the Revolutionary War. After a year, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.
During the War of Independence of 1780, Richmond was recognized as the State capital of Virginia, from Williamsburg. British troops burned Richmond to the ground after a year during the watch of Benedict Arnold. It only took Richmond two years to recover from this devastating event in its history, and eventually be incorporated in 1782 as a city.
Richmond in Modern Times
In 1972, the James River flooded Richmond primarily due to the 16 inches of rain that Hurricane Agnes released over central Virginia. Even the 200-year old historical flood waters record was broken as the river rose 6.5 feet higher than anything ever recorded. A multi-million dollar floodwall was built 13 years later to ensure that the rising river waters will never overflow again.
The expanded floodwall eventually arrested years of economic decline as portions of the riverfront became available for development. By the 21st century, the revitalization efforts exerted resulted in restaurants, trendy apartments, hotels, and shops, populating the 1.25 mile long corridor. The corridor occupies the former location of the James River, Haxal Canal, and the Kanawha Canal.
In 1990, the State of Virginia validated its rightful place in the civil rights movements as the grandson of former slaves, L. Douglas Wilder was sworn in as governor. He was the first African-American voted into office in the State.
The “River City” has other interesting places to offer travelers, history buffs, and students alike. Known during the 1800 as the “Black Wall Street” due to the presence of various banks, Jackson Ward is still identified today as one of the most historic locations in the 40 neighborhood blocks of the city. Other notable attractions in Richmond are:
- Agecroft Hall
- American Historical Foundation
- Belle Isle
- Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia
- Bolling Haxall House
- Canal Boat Tours
- Canal Walk
- Capitol Square and Virginia State Capitol
- Carillon at Byrd Park
- Edgar Allen Poe Museum
- Egyptian Building at the VCU Medical Center
- Executive Mansion
- Farmers’ Market
- Historic Richmond Foundation
- Hollywood Cemetery
- James River Park System
- Jefferson Hotel
- John Marshall Hotel
- Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
- Library of Virginia
- Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site
- Main Street Station
- Maymont Park
- Monument Avenue
- Museum of the Confederacy
- Old City Hall
- Richmond National Battlefield Park
- Saint John’s Episcopal Church
- Valentine Richmond History Center
- Virginia Aviation Museum
- Virginia Center for Architecture
- Virginia Historical Society
- Virginia Holocaust Museum
- Wilton House Museum
The city’s history offers a rich and enlightening experience for the VCU student if they simply choose to set off on the journey.