In early U.S. history, Virginia was a flourishing settlement, and ultimately became a centralized location for many important events in American history. Many famous people from Virginia are forever etched in the history of the United States because of their valuable contributions to the birth and growth of a nation. While there are numerous famous historical figures from Virginia, the state is also called home to several famous entertainers, sports figures and authors as well.
There is good reason Virginia is known as the "birthplace of Presidents". A number of them hail from Virginia, right from the start.
You can't discuss famous people from Virginia without mentioning a man who was a brand new country's first President and set the standard for this new leadership. George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia in 1732. He did not start off prestigious, but over time made a name for himself in the military, politics and as a savvy business man; forever etched in U.S. history as both a Virginian and American.
Mount Vernon is the home of George Washington. He was born about an hour south of the home he eventually inherited.
Washington served in the military in his younger years and was eventually nominated as General and Commander-in-Chief during the Revolutionary War. After serving two terms as President in the years 1789-1797, Washington was asked to stay as leader, but he graciously stepped down insisting if he were to continue as President, this would defeat the purpose of the Revolutionary War to escape rule under a King; he had no intentions of becoming one.
This set an extremely important precedent for U.S. government. Another perhaps lesser known fact is that Washington was an extremely successful businessman; many of his innovations were ahead of his time. His farming techniques were state of the art and his flourishing estate was proof. He was also an expert surveyor. With all his career accomplishments, he considered himself a farmer first and foremost.
"General George Washington" speaks to his guests during a 2012 event at Mount Vernon
Thomas Jefferson was born in Goochland County, Virginia in 1743. One of his biggest claims to fame is the fact he was the author of the Declaration of Independence. He was an avid participant in all things political in the early formation of America as a country. Jefferson also served in various governing positions such as Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State as a Virginia Delegate.
Additionally, he served as 3rd President of the United States, being elected in 1801 and serving until 1809. Another famous and important fact is Jefferson was the ideology behind the amendments of freedom of speech, assembly and religion, which are all pivotal to American's foundation. Additionally, he was the President behind the Louisiana Purchase which led to significant territorial acquirement and expansion of the United States.
Monticello, the home Jefferson spent many years designing and constructing. This photo was taken during a tour a few years ago.
James Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia in the year 1751, and another famed political figure in early American history; he was the 4th President of the United States. Before being elected to lead the nation, Madison was very active in issues of a political nature, especially those pertaining to Independence as he was quite influential when it became to these matters. Madison had penned a work entitled "Virginia Plan", which ultimately would become the foundation for the U.S. Constitution; Madison has gone down in history as "Father of the Constitution."
Born in 1758 in Westmoreland County, James Monroe would become U.S. President #5. He was born in Virginia and would spend a good amount of his life here. Monroe was a good friend of Jefferson and eventually even build a house practically next door to Monticello (Jefferson's Home). Today that home, Ash Lawn-Highland, is open to the public for tours. Monroe and his wife had called their home "Highland", however, a later owner changed its name to Ash-Lawn. Monroe lived out his last days in New York State; he died in 1831.
Other presidents born in Virginia included William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson.
Other Historical Figures
Patrick Henry's statement "Give me liberty or give me death" is probably what he is best remembered for after he made this statement in 1775. Born in Hanover County, Virginia in 1736, Henry was a staunch advocate for the colonies' independence. He served five terms as the Governor of Virginia and was present for most of the volatile activity which occurred at the onset of the Revolutionary War; he also served in the Continental Congress.
Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson
Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson is a legendary leader in the Confederate Army whose reputation as a strong soldier and leader is famous; he earned the nickname "Stonewall" during the Civil War during the first Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) because it was claimed he and his troops stood up like a stone wall. A statue of Jackson sits on the remains of the Manassas Battlefield in Prince William County, Virginia as a commemoration to the General. He began his military career several years earlier when he served in the Mexican American War in 1846-1849.
A memorial to Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson sits on a hill at the National Manassas Battlefield in Manassas, Va.
Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee is a famed Virginian as he was the General of the Confederate Army the last few months of the U.S. Civil War. Prior to the war, he served in the Mexican War and served as superintendent at West Point from 1852-1855. Lee was a devout Virginian and turned down a position to lead the U.S. Army in the Civil War because he feared having to invade his beloved home state. Instead, he resigned his officer's commission in the Army and joined the Confederate Army, ending up leading it. History says this was a difficult decision for him to make, but he could not bring himself to fight against his home. After the war and released on parole, he went on to become president of Washington College in Lexington, Va.
Lewis and Clark
William Clark and Meriwether Lewis are also honorary mentions for famous Virginians. While not known for government or military service, they played an integral part in U.S. history because they were the explorers who went west and surveyed the land, which eventually lead to Westward Expansion and the Louisiana Purchase. The Lewis and Clark expedition, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, occurred from November 1803 to September 1806.
George Mason, a staunch advocate of liberty, hailed from Mason Neck, Virginia. One of the perhaps lesser-known founding fathers of the U.S., Mason was the man who penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights which served as a model for other important documents, such as the U.S. Bill of Rights, French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, and the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Mason was a fourth-generation Virginian.
Bust of George Mason is on display outside the visitors' center at Gunston Hall, the home Mason built and raised his family in. Gunston Hall is located in Northern Virginia.
Entertainers and Authors
Virginia has also been called home for several famous entertainers such as Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, Warren Beatty and Sandra Bullock, who have all hailed from the state of Virginia. Richmond, Virginia is home to two very famous authors, Patricia Cornwall and Edgar Allan Poe. Cornwall is a writer of many modern mystery novels and is known for her suspense medical thrillers which feature her character creation of Dr. Kay Scarpetta.
Famed poet and short story author Edgar Allan Poe was born in Massachusetts, but after becoming orphaned at a young age, he went to live with foster parents John and Frances Allan in Virginia. Poe lived a large part of his life in the state, although he eventually relocated to Baltimore, Maryland.
Virginia is also home to two famous sports figures, Lawrence Taylor, who plays national league football and Arthur Ashe, the very popular and famed tennis player. Other popular sport celebrities include MLB's David Wright and Justin Verlander.
Photo description by author: Lawrence Taylor signing autographs in Jan 2014
Over the centuries many native and transplanted Virginians have achieved a claim to fame. The list of famous people who have Virginia roots is extensive and is largely composed of historical figures since Virginia played such an integral part of early U.S. History. Yet, even in modern times, there are many famous people with Virginia roots.
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