Old Dominion


Old Dominion is one of the best-known nicknames for Virginia, along with Mother of Presidents and Mother of States. The nickname probably derives from the fact that Virginia was the first, and therefore the oldest, of the overseas dominions of the kings and queens of England. The seal and coat of arms of the colony in use from 1607 until 1624, when the Virginia Company of London directed the colonization of Virginia, included the words, “En Dat Virginia Quintam” (also spelled “Quintum”), indicating that Virginia was the fifth of the realms, or domains, of the Crown. At that time, the kings and queens of England also claimed the thrones of Scotland, Ireland, and France (dating back to the Norman Conquest in 1066). The same words appeared on the seal between 1625, when Virginia became the English king’s first royal colony, and the 1707 Acts of Union that combined the kingdoms of England and Scotland into the kingdom of Great Britain. The motto on the seal of Virginia was then altered to “En Dat Virginia Quartam,” there being thereafter four, not five, royal dominions. That motto was used on the colonial seal until the beginning of the American Revolution (1775–1783).

A popular and plausible tradition that appears in most histories and reference works is that King Charles II referred to Virginia as his loyal old dominion at the time that he was restored to the throne in 1660. After the Parliamentarians executed King Charles I in 1649 following their victory in the English Civil Wars, they forced the king’s namesake son and heir into exile and governed without a monarch. Nevertheless, the governor and General Assembly of Virginia proclaimed Prince Charles the king; in 1652 Parliament sent a fleet and armed force to Virginia to require the colony to surrender and give up its allegiance to the exiled claimant to the throne.

King Charles II

There is no known documentary proof for the story that at the time of his restoration as king in 1660 Charles II gratefully called Virginia his faithful old dominion, but it is possible that he did. Virginia historian Robert Beverley (d. 1722) wrote in his History and Present State of Virginia (1705) that by then there was a “Tradition, that the King, in Compliment to that Colony, wore at his Coronation a Robe made of the Silk, that was sent from thence.” When Charles II acknowledged a gift of Virginia silk that Governor Sir William Berkeley presented to him in 1663, the king referred to the colony as “our auntient Collonie of Virginia,” and one of “our own Dominions.” In 1699 the General Assembly referred to Virginia as “his majesties ancient colony and dominion,” and in 1700 in an address to the king the assembly used the phrase, “your MajestOld. In 1962 when the General Assembly converted the Norfolk division of the College of William and Mary into an independent four-year institution of higher education, it gave the new school the name Old Dominion College, changed in 1969 to Old Dominion University. It has ever since been the largest and one of the best-known institutions of higher learning in southeastern Virginia. Its name clearly indicates to Virginians and to other Americans in which state it is located.

  • Heinemann, Ronald L., John G. Kolp, Anthony S. Parent Jr., and William G. Shade. Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: A History of Virginia, 1607–2007. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007.
  • Wallenstein, Peter. Cradle of America: Four Centuries of Virginia History. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007.
APA Citation:
Tarter, Brent. Old Dominion. (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/old-dominion.
MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent. "Old Dominion" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 13 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2020, December 07
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