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Virginia was nicknamed the Old Dominion for its allegiance to the exiled Charles II of England during the Commonwealth and Puritan Protectorate (1653-59). It has one of the longest continuous histories of any American state, dating back to the settlement of Jamestown in the early 17th century. It is named after Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, and, following its original charter, was granted much of the land stretching westward from settlements on the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River and beyond, territories hitherto unexplored by Europeans.
The contributions of Virginians such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison played a critical role in shaping the United States, and in the early decades of the Republic, the state was known as the home of presidents. Although Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War (1861-65) and Virginian Robert E. Lee and other generals led the Confederate forces, the state evolved into a north-south bridge state in the 20th century. . At the turn of the 21st century, Virginia was one of the most prosperous states in the South and in the nation as a whole.
Its northern counties reflect the cosmopolitan character of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., which lies across the Potomac River to the north. Other parts of the state retain a conservatism tinge, shaped by centuries of agricultural life and aristocratic traditions that have made the term “Virginia gentleman” synonymous with gentleness and sophistication. History and nature make Virginia an important tourist destination.
Within its borders, there are many important historical monuments. These include colonial restorations and renovations, such as in Williamsburg; the homes of Washington (Mount Vernon), Jefferson (Monticello), and other famous Virginians; and many battlefields of the American Revolution and Civil War. Although the state of Virginia is becoming increasingly industrialized and urbanized, much of Virginia’s land remains forested as it descends from the mountains and valleys in the west to the beaches of the Atlantic coast.