Why is Richmond the capital of Virginia ?

Jamestown, the first permanent settlement in America, was the first capital of Virginia. But the marshy peninsula on which it sat was unsuitable for a more expansive city, and the capital was soon moved to higher ground in Williamsburg.

In the early days of the Virginia colony, when all settlement was on the banks of navigable waterways on the eastern seaboard, Williamsburg was perfectly sited. But as settlements moved westward and the colony’s borders ran west to the Mississippi River, and as far north as Pittsburgh and Detroit, there arose a sentiment to move the capital to a more central location as early as the mid 1700′s.

Thomas Jefferson, who had not liked the city since his college days at William & Mary College, introduced a bill in the 1776 revolutionary legislature to move the capital, but it was defeated by a vote of 62 to 38.

Re-introduced in each of the succeeding legislatures, the bill was defeated, though by declining majorities.

Finally, in 1779, with the realization that the capital was exposed to easy attack from the British Navy, and with Jefferson’s insistence, the legislature voted to move the capital. Richmond, Staunton, Fredericksburg, and Charlottesville were all considered as possible sites, but Richmond won.

Jefferson envisaged a grand capital with magnificent buildings, a scheme that many of his fellow Virginians found odd in the middle of a revolution whose outcome had not yet been decided. Jefferson was persuaded to scale down his grandiose plans. Land confiscated from loyalists was reserved for capital buildings on Shockoe Hill, where the present state capital stands.

Removal of the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond did not remove the danger of British attack. For in its first year, a British force lead by Benedict Arnold, the famous American turncoat, led a raiding party up the James River to Richmond. Government papers were quickly rowed across the river to Manchester (now southside Richmond) for safekeeping. Arnold’s army occupied the city for a couple of days, burned a few buildings, scattered state papers hither-thither and departed down river.

A bill was introduced in the legislature the following session to move the capital again, but was defeated. The capital has been in Richmond ever since


  1. Laurie K Martin says:

    I remember going to Jamestown on field trips. This article brought back alot of memories for me, plus I learned a few things I didn’t know. I really enjoy your blogs about our area, and the funny stories you sometimes post on here too. Keep up the great work!

  2. Deena M says:

    You sure don’t think about these things when you are sitting in traffic on Broad Street!!! Interesting story

  3. stedman windell says:

    Interesting information.

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