The first settlers in Virginia were Spanish Jesuits, who established a mission in 1570. A few months later, it was destroyed by Indians. The first English settlers were sent by Sir Walter Raleigh, but those efforts failed as well. Successful settlement began with the establishment of Jamestown in 1607. By 1612, the colonists had learned to cultivate tobacco, which was exported to Europe. The House of Burgesses, the first representative legislature in America, was formed in 1619.
Local government in Virginia often depended on politics in England. James I revoked the colony's charter in 1624 and placed it under royal rule. From 1652 to 1660, while Cromwell ruled in England, Virginia enjoyed a large measure of autonomy. The restoration of the monarchy also meant the restoration of royal rule in Virginia.
On June 28, 1776, a convention in Virginia adopted the state's new constitution, without submitting it to a referendum. The legislature was given a near monopoly of governing powers, which chose the leaders of the other two branches of government.
The Virginia Ratifying Convention in June 1788, support for the constitution finally obtained the support of 89 delegates against 79 opposed. Among those opposed was George Mason, who worried about the power to levy direct taxes:
The assumption of this power of laying direct taxes, does of itself, entirely change the confederation of the States into one consolidated Government. This power being at discretion, unconfined, and without any kind of control, must carry every thing before it. The very idea of converting what was formerly confederation, to a consolidated Government, is totally subversive of every principle which has hitherto governed us.
In this objection, Mason must be credit with getting his facts largely straight. One of the primary arguments used by the Federalists was that the Articles of Confederation did not provide the national government with enough tools to collect taxes for the national welfare. Changing this situation was their clear intent. Mason's fear that the constitution would put the states out of business, on the other hand, was exaggerated.
On June 25, 1788, Pennsylvania voted to ratify the constitution. In response to objections from Patrick Henry, the ratification came with the stipulation that certain amendments would be immediately considered. A number of the amendments that Virginia suggested were later incorporated into the Bill of Rights.
Following the war, Virginia was the largest state in the nation and four of the first five presidents hailed from there.
In January 1861, Virginia joined the secession of Southern states that produced the Confederate States of Ameria. During the Civil War, support for the Confederacy was concentrated in the eastern portions of the state. Areas of the west, where the economy did not depend on slaves, wanted to remain with the Union. In 1863, 50 western counties declared their independence from the rest of Virginia and were admitted to the Union as West Virginia. There was some controversy over the actions of two of these, Berkeley and Jefferson counties, and after the war, Virginia sued in the U.S. Supreme Court to have them returned. In 1871, the Supreme Court ruled 7-3 against Virginia's claim.