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Richmond History, Virginia

Richmond History – First Settlers

There are few cities in the United States with such a long and glorious past as Richmond, Virginia. The first Europeans to settle on the banks of the James River, where Richmond stands today, arrived in the early 17th century and met the Powhatan Indians, who had been living, hunting and raising crops in the area for centuries. There were several attempts to built forts along the river, but none of them lasted, as the Powhatans launched constant attacks against the fort garrisons. It was only in 1673 when William Byrd I was given the territory around James Falls. His heir, William Byrd II, marks the first paragraph in Richmond’s history, as the town’s founder and godfather. In 1737, he decided to name the newly established settlement Richmond, as the view over James River, reminded him of the Richmond district, near London.

Richmond History – The American Revolution and the Civil War

Richmond played a crucial role during the Independence War: it was the place where the “Liberty or death” speech was delivered by Patrick Henry. Also, Richmond became Virginia’s temporary capital during the war, because the state’s original capital, Williamsburg, was situated in a less tactical position (for more information on Williamsburg, see the Williamsburg Travel Guide and Williamsburg History articles). Virginia State Capitol building, Richmond’s most important historical landmark, also dates from the American Revolution and was designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. By the beginning of the 19th century, Richmond was a thriving community. The construction of the James River and Kanawha Canal helped commerce prosper, making Richmond one of the biggest manufacturing centers in the US. Richmond was also a strategic location in the slave commerce: in 1848, a man tried to escape slavery by traveling from Richmond to Philadelphia in a wooden box – Henry Box Brown is known legend. During the Civil War, Richmond had an important role as a confederate town. As the last bastion of the confederate army, Richmond was burnt down by the retreating army of General Lee. Immediately after the war ended, President Abraham Lincoln paid a visit in Richmond, in order to consolidate his position.

Richmond History – Modern Richmond

During the 20th century, Richmond history was to a lesser extent dramatic: the city continued to grow, adding new neighborhoods and diversifying its economic activities. In the early 1900s, Richmond was one of the most densely populated cities of the nation, and the first city to have a woman bank president, represented by Maggie L. Walker an African-American business woman. During the last years, the restoration of the James-Kanawha Canal was finished, giving a new boost to the downtown business with over 2 kilometers of new residences, shops and restaurants.

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