History

The Richmond region’s history is documented going back more than 400 years to the birth of English-speaking America. In the city and its surroundings, Richmonders live in some of the most historic locations in the United States.

One of the first successful English settlements was Henricus, now commemorated as a living museum at Henricus Historical Park. As Virginia grew, tobacco became a major industry in the area, leading to the development of Richmond, which was chartered as a town in the 18th century. Leading up to the Revolutionary War, Patrick Henry delivered his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech at St. John’s Church.

Though it burned to the ground during the Revolutionary War, the city recovered and grew dramatically in the first days of the United States. In the 1780s, Thomas Jefferson designed the state capitol—the country’s second oldest state capitol in continuous use—and George Washington led the planning and initial construction of the Kanawha Canal, which was meant to open a waterway all the way to the Mississippi River.

Washington’s canal was never completed, but its story is retold on the recently-constructed Canal Walk in the city’s River District. Canal boat tours provide a historical overview of this important period in Richmond’s economic development.
 
Many people know that Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. Battlegrounds, monuments, and historic markers throughout the area locate the experiences of Richmonders during that time. The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar aims to tell the whole story of the war by approaching each topic from three perspectives—Union, Confederate, and African-American.

Tucked into a corner of downtown, Court End is home to a collection of museums that tell the diverse stories of Richmond and explain how the current city came to be. The Valentine Richmond History Center rotates exhibits that delve into the history of the city, covering topics ranging from firefighting to race struggles to histories of specific neighborhoods. It provides access to the Wickham House, a prime example of upper-class life in 19th century Richmond. Other sites in the Court End district include the John Marshall House, the Museum of the Confederacy, and the First African Baptist Church.

West of Court End lies the historic Jackson Ward district, an important center of African-American culture. Pre-Civil War houses line the blocks near the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site. Walker was born in Richmond just after the Civil War and became the first woman in the United States to found a bank. Her house, purchased by the National Park Service in 1979, still contains original family pieces. The nearby Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia maintains exhibitions of traditional African artifacts as well as items that tell the story of African-American entrepreneurship in Jackson Ward and Virginia.

History remains alive in Richmond. Museums and historic sites tell the stories of the past, but current debates in the city are heavily influenced by decisions made decades and even centuries ago.

Check out the visitors bureau's travel guide for the historic Richmond region for all the details on visiting sites in the area.