Category: Geography

PRIMARY DOCUMENT

Arriving in Virginia; an excerpt from “Short Report of the American Journey, Which Was Made from the 2nd of October of Last Year to the First of December of this Current Year 1702” by Frantz Ludwig Michel (1702)

In this excerpt from his “Short Report of the American Journey,” written in 1702 and translated from the German by William J. Hinke in 1916, Frantz Ludwig Michel (also Francis Louis Michel) of Berne, Switzerland, describes traveling to Virginia. He was interested in establishing a Swiss colony, but failed. His letters and reports, however, helped to motivate the creation of a joint-stock company, George Ritter and Company, that founded New Bern, North Carolina, in 1710.

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Cities of Virginia

Virginia’s thirty-eight incorporated cities are politically and administratively independent of the counties with which they share borders, just as counties are politically and administratively independent of each other. This separation of counties and independent cities evolved slowly beginning with the incorporation of the first city, Williamsburg, in 1722 and has no statewide parallel anywhere else in the United States. Virginia’s towns exercise some functions of self-government but in many respects are political subdivisions of the counties in which they are located. The General Assembly first passed an act in 1680 to establish towns for commercial centers in Virginia. When few towns resulted under the act, the assembly tried again in 1691 and in 1705 with the same result. Much of the colony was too sparsely populated and insufficiently productive to generate many thriving towns. Each time the assembly repealed the recent town act and after 1710 gave up the attempt to establish towns en masse altogether. Thereafter, when groups of individuals petitioned the assembly to establish a town, the legislature authorized trustees to lay out the town and sell lots. After establishment, towns that petitioned the General Assembly were incorporated under acts that gave them town charters and some self-government.

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Exploration, The Age of

The Age of Exploration began in earnest with the first voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and ended, at least where present-day Virginians are concerned, with the founding of Jamestown in 1607. When Columbus stumbled into two unknown continents, he had been looking for a quick route to the Far East, and, for decades to come, explorers focused on discovering that passage almost as much as they did on exploiting the New World. Early in the sixteenth century, the Spaniards conquered three major civilizations in Central and South America, and in the process unleashed a devastating biological exchange that killed an estimated 95 percent of the area’s inhabitants between 1492 and 1650. The Spanish then turned their sights north, planting short-lived colonies on the shores of present-day Georgia and South Carolina and pursuing what came to be known as the Chicora Legend: the belief that the best land, as well as a passage to China, could be found in the area of the Chesapeake Bay. While the French and later the English explored the far northern latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean, the Spanish slowly worked their way up the coast from present-day Florida, a quest that ended only when a Virginia Indian called Don Luís (Paquiquineo) led a fatal attack on a group of Jesuit missionaries in 1571. This defeat helped make room for the English, whose failed colonies at Roanoke in 1585 and 1587 led, finally, to the permanent settlement at Jamestown.

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Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia

The Fry-Jefferson map, first published in 1753, was the definitive map of Virginia in the eighteenth century. Created by two of the colony’s most accomplished surveyors, Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, A Map of the Inhabited Part of Virginia containing the whole Province of Maryland, with Part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina included their completed border survey for the western bounds of the Northern Neck and a portion of the Virginia–North Carolina dividing line. For the first time the entire Virginia river system was properly delineated, and the northeast-southwest orientation of the Appalachian Mountains was fully displayed. Published in eight known editions, or states, the map was widely copied, and served as an important resource for mapmakers like Lewis Evans and John Mitchell, whose Map of the British and French Dominions in North America (1755) was used to determine the boundaries of the United States as established in the Treaty of Paris (1783). John Henry also relied heavily on the Fry-Jefferson map as he plotted county boundaries in his New and Accurate Map of Virginia (1770), and Thomas Jefferson, Peter Jefferson’s son, used his father’s map to compile A Map of the country between Albemarle Sounds, and Lake Erie, which accompanied his Notes on the State of Virginia (written 1781).

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Late Woodland Period (AD 900–1650)

The Late Woodland Period lasted from AD 900 until 1650. It was a time when Virginia Indian societies underwent important social and cultural transformations. It traditionally has been dated from the supposed widespread adoption of maize agriculture. During this period scattered populations consolidated into large villages and towns, occasionally fortified; they also built burial mounds or ossuaries (large burial pits) and developed into some of the most socially and politically complex groups on the Atlantic Coast. The period’s end date comes almost five decades after the establishment in 1607 of the English colony at Jamestown. The new settlement eventually upended Virginia Indian societies, including the once-powerful Powhatan Indians of Tsenacomoco. Written records by John Smith and other English colonists have helped modern historians reconstruct those early Indian cultures, especially those on Virginia’s Coastal Plain; however, because such records reflect the writers’ European biases, archaeological evidence is critical to a full understanding of Virginia Indians during this period. This is especially true for regions west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where earlier Indian cultures had vanished by the time English explorers and colonists had moved this far west.

PRIMARY DOCUMENT

Letter from Robert Tindall to Prince Henry (June 22, 1607)

In this letter, dated June 22, 1607, colonist Robert Tindall writes to Prince Henry, King James‘s son and the patron of his voyage to Virginia, that they have safely arrived. Along with the letter, he says he includes a map of their exploration from Jamestown up the James River. This map has been lost; however if it existed, it would predate John Smith’s Map, making it the first map of Virginia.

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Lewis and Clark Expedition, The

The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) was a federally funded venture to explore the North American West. The expedition’s principal objective was to survey the Missouri and Columbia rivers, locating routes that would connect the continental interior to the Pacific Ocean. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803, in which the United States acquired some 828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River, facilitated the mission, allowing the explorers unprecedented access to land that had previously been owned by Spain and then France. President Thomas Jefferson invested his time, energy, and political capital into this project and took direct charge of its initial planning and organization. The expedition is named for its commanders, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Under their leadership the group of thirty-three, known as the Corps of Discovery, succeeded in reaching the Pacific and returning safely despite considerable challenges, ranging from navigating unfamiliar terrain to maintaining good relations with the numerous Indian tribes that lived in the Louisiana Territory. Along the way, the expedition gathered invaluable scientific, ethnographic, and cartographic information, creating a detailed written record of the journey in a series of journals.

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