Where Was Virginia?

Where was Virginia? That may seem like an easy question to answer. Looking at a present-day map, however, only provides a small part of the extraordinarily complex answer to this question.

Civil War Virginia (Library of Congress image)
Civil War Virginia

When the Virginia Company of London was created, its charter stated that Virginia Colony extended from what is now Maine to northern Florida. A re-chartering in 1609 changed this to include parts of Canada and the future Northwest Territories, and to extend Virginia west to the Pacific Ocean. The southern boundary in 1609 was moved to follow a line that ran through the future South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi and then continued on to the Pacific Ocean.

The first colonies to be formed from Virginia were Maryland in 1632 and Carolina in 1663. There were no additional major changes for nearly one hundred years. At the end of the French and Indian War, the western boundary of Virginia was set at the Mississippi River, and the lands west of the Mississippi were given to France. In 1774, the Quebec Act transferred all lands north of the Ohio River to Quebec. Virginia, as well as the newer colonies of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut challenged this act in 1776, as all thirteen colonies banded together to win independence from England.

As early as 1772, the British government had opened up settlement in the trans-Allegheny area of Virginia, which was referred to as Fincastle County. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the government of Virginia renamed this area Kentucky County. New counties were created from Kentucky County, but distance made the area difficult to govern. It was ceded to the Federal government in 1789, and became the state of Kentucky in 1792.

In 1784, the newly formed state of Virginia ceded its land north of the Ohio River to the Federal Government. This area, known as the Northwest Territory, eventually became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin (it also included a small part of Minnesota).

The last major boundary change in Virginia did not take place until 1862. Several counties in northwest Virginia split over the issue of secession, and formed the Union state of West Virginia.

SLPL has a large collection of print materials about Virginia counties. These books contain indexes and abstracts of county records, histories of Virginia counties, and biographical sketches of prominent Virginians. You can locate these types of materials in our Online Catalog by searching these keywords:

virginia culpeper county genealogy

virginia culpeper county history

Note: Just change “culpeper” to whichever county you are interested in!

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