Richmond is the capital of Virginia, a state in the AmericanSouth. Richmond has a population of 200,000 and the adjacent counties of Henrico and Chesterfield combine to create a local population of more than 1,250,000 people.
- For other places with the same name, see Richmond (disambiguation).
Richmond has been called a city of neighborhoods, each one with a distinct look, flavor, and identity. All are recognized by Richmonders as unique neighborhoods, almost as though the city were a collection of several small towns.
Previously inhabited by the Powhatan Indians, the site was settled in 1607 by Capt. Christopher Newport and Capt. John Smith, both English, and named after the London suburb of Richmond-upon-Thames, by William Byrd II. The settlement – little more than a trading post for furs, hides, and tobacco – did not become a city until 1742, and became the state capital of Virginia in 1782.
One of the oldest American cities, Richmond is much more progressive and diverse in culture than most areas of the South. Historically, Blacks in Richmond enjoyed certain limited liberties that would have been unthinkable elsewhere in the South. Most notably, nearly one in five African-Americans in the city was free. Black barbers and seamstresses owned their own businesses and, along with black ironworkers and other skilled free laborers, owned houses as well. Even as Richmond exported slaves throughout the Lower South, those slaves who remained in Richmond labored and lived under far different circumstances than slaves elsewhere. While the great majority of female slaves used to serve as domestics in their owners’ houses, male slaves would often work in Richmond’s tobacco-pressing factories, flour mills, the massive Tredegar Ironworks and other businesses, alongside free blacks and whites. It is because of these historic freedoms that Richmond is the birthplace of the First African Baptist Church. This church was formerly a church where Whites, Free Blacks, and Slaves would worship alongside each other. However, the church separated from the First Baptist Church once African Americans were given permission to establish their own Church in 1841.
The First African Baptist Church was regularly rented by whites for concerts, minstrel shows and political rallies, including a debate by working-class whites over union versus secession, held in a church where a slave-owning white minister led free blacks and slaves in regular worship: surprising as the scene might seem, to Richmonders during this time it was wholly unremarkable. Despite the city’s position in the confederacy, Richmond is not a typical Southern town. Richmond was and still is an industrialized urban center with strong economic ties to the North and West as well as the South. It was home to slaveowners and slaves, white immigrants and free blacks. Similar to nearby Baltimore, Richmond is known for its significant amount of Eastern European and Jewish cultural influence. Unlike most immigrants in cities further North, the majority of Richmonds immigrants have been in the area since the mid 1800s at the latest. It is because of this that they are very well established and often considered to be apart of Richmonds old money elite. Companies such as Ukrops Homestyle Foods, Thalhimer, Weinstein Properties, Markel Corporation, Schwarzschild Jewelers and the Sauer Company are all named for Wealthy Richmond immigrants. Neighborhoods such as Carver and Sauers Gardens were also founded by and named for Eastern European and Jewish immigrants. Despite this, the Shockoe Bottom entertainment area is where slave rebellion leader Gabriel had his head hung from a pike.
Despite the city being very Pro-Union, during the American Civil War, it served as the capital of the Confederacy. When the Northern Army invaded Richmond, the fleeing Confederate government set fires to the city’s munitions stores and government records they were unable to take with them. The fire grew out of control when winds picked up, and most of the city burned. The soldiers from the Union helped to put out the fires upon their arrival. The day after the city fell, Abraham Lincoln made a visit to the city. Though much of its colonial past has disappeared, it is rich in Civil War history and lore. There are, among other things, a Civil War prison site on Belle Isle, the house Robert E. Lee lived in, the state Capitol (which Thomas Jefferson designed and said was inspired by the Maison Carrée at Nimes, France) which served as the Confederate Capitol during the war, a museum of the Confederacy, the original Confederate White House, and Hollywood Cemetery in the heart of the city where more than 18,000 Confederate soldiers are laid to rest. Richmond has the most forged iron outside of New Orleans, and one of the first African American neighborhoods (Jackson Ward).