Southern Colonies > Colony & Dominion of Virginia

Colony & Dominion of Virginia


The Colony and Dominion of Virginia played a crucial and multifaceted role during the American Revolutionary War. As one of the largest and most populous colonies, Virginia was influential in both political and military aspects of the struggle for independence. Here is an overview of Virginia's role during the Revolutionary War:

Political Significance:

  1. Leading Figures:

    • Virginia was home to several key leaders of the American Revolution, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and Richard Henry Lee.
    • Patrick Henry's famous "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech in 1775 inspired many to join the Patriot cause.
  2. Declaration of Independence:

    • Richard Henry Lee introduced the resolution for independence to the Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, which led to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.
    • Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian, was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 4, 1776.
  3. Virginia Conventions:

    • Virginia's colonial government effectively ceased to function after the Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, fled the capital, Williamsburg, in 1775.
    • The Virginia Conventions, a series of meetings held between 1774 and 1776, managed the colony’s transition from British rule to independence. The Fifth Virginia Convention adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Virginia Constitution in June 1776, influencing the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

Military Activities:

  1. Early Conflicts and the Battle of Great Bridge:

    • One of the first significant military engagements in Virginia was the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775. This decisive victory for the Patriots led to the end of British control in Virginia.
    • Following the battle, Lord Dunmore retreated to Norfolk, which he later bombarded and burned in January 1776.
  2. Formation of the Continental Army:

    • George Washington, a Virginian, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army by the Second Continental Congress in 1775. His leadership was instrumental throughout the war.
  3. Benedict Arnold’s Raids and the Battle of Petersburg:

    • In 1781, the traitor Benedict Arnold, now fighting for the British, led a series of raids in Virginia, including the capture and burning of Richmond.
    • The Battle of Petersburg on April 25, 1781, was part of the British campaign in Virginia. Although a minor engagement, it demonstrated the strategic importance of Virginia in the British plan to divide and conquer the southern colonies.

Siege of Yorktown:

  1. Decisive Battle:

    • The Siege of Yorktown was the culminating battle of the Revolutionary War. In September 1781, American and French forces, led by General George Washington and General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau, laid siege to the British army commanded by General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia.
    • The successful Franco-American siege forced Cornwallis to surrender on October 19, 1781, effectively ending major military operations in the war and paving the way for American independence.
  2. Strategic Importance:

    • The victory at Yorktown demonstrated the effectiveness of the Continental Army and the critical support from French allies.
    • The siege highlighted Virginia's strategic importance, with its extensive waterways and central location providing vital logistical advantages.

Economic and Social Impact:

  1. Economic Disruption:

    • The war caused significant economic disruption in Virginia, affecting its agricultural economy, which relied heavily on tobacco cultivation and trade.
    • British blockades and raids damaged infrastructure and led to shortages of goods and supplies.
  2. Slavery and Social Change:

    • The war had a complex impact on slavery in Virginia. Many enslaved African Americans took advantage of the chaos to escape, and some joined the British forces in exchange for promises of freedom.
    • The ideals of liberty and equality promoted during the Revolution began to influence attitudes towards slavery, though significant changes would not occur until much later.

Post-War Period:

  1. Political Leadership:

    • After the war, Virginians continued to play key roles in the formation of the new nation. Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States, James Madison was a primary architect of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and George Washington served as the first President.
    • Virginia’s political influence was significant in shaping the early republic, with many of its leaders advocating for a strong yet balanced federal government.
  2. Economic Recovery:

    • Virginia faced the challenge of rebuilding its economy after the war. Efforts were made to diversify agriculture and develop manufacturing.
    • The state also focused on improving infrastructure, such as roads and canals, to facilitate trade and economic growth.


The Colony and Dominion of Virginia's involvement in the American Revolutionary War was marked by political leadership, significant military engagements, and profound social and economic changes. Its contributions to the war effort and the founding of the United States are integral to the nation's history.

Thirteen Colonies


Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 28

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