Danville is an independent city in the U.S. state of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 43,055. It is bounded by Pittsylvania County, Virginia and Caswell County, North Carolina. It hosts the Danville Braves baseball club of the Appalachian League.
Danville is the principal city of the Danville, Virginia Micropolitan Statistical Area.
In 1728, English colonist William Byrd headed an expedition sent to determine the true boundary between Virginia and North Carolina. One night late that summer, the party camped upstream from what is now Danville, Byrd was so taken with the beauty of the land, that he prophesied a future settlement in the vicinity, where people would live “with much comfort and gaiety of Heart.” The river along which he camped was named the “Dan”, for Byrd, supposing himself to be in the land of plenty, felt he had wandered “from Dan to Beersheba”.
The first European-American settlement developed in 1792 downstream from Byrd’s campsite, at a spot along the river shallow enough to allow fording. It was named “Wynne’s Falls,” after the first settler. The village had a “social” reason for its origin, growing from the meetings of pioneering Revolutionary War veterans, who gathered annually to fish and talk over old times.
In 1793, the General Assembly authorized construction of a tobacco warehouse at Wynne’s Falls, marking the start of the town as "The World’s Best Tobacco Market,” Virginia’s largest market for "bright leaf" tobacco. The village was renamed Danville by act of the Virginia Legislature on November 23, 1793. A charter for the town was drawn up February 17, 1830, but by the time of its issue, the population had exceeded the pre-arranged boundaries. This necessitated a new charter, which was issued in 1833. In that year, James Lanier was elected the first mayor, assisted by a council of “twelve fit and able men.” By the mid-19th century, William T. Sutherlin, a planter and entrepreneur, was the first to apply water power to run a tobacco press, and he became a major industrialist in the region.
On September 9, 1882, Danville mayor John H. Johnston shot and killed John E. Hatcher, his chief of police. Hatcher had demanded an apology for a statement Johnston had made regarding unaccounted fine money. Johnston was charged with murder, but he was acquitted at trial, as the Southern "culture of honor" was still strong.
On March 2, 1911, Danville Police Chief R. E. Morris, who had been elected to three two-year terms and was running for a fourth term, was arrested as an escaped convicted murderer. He admitted that he was really Edgar Stribling of Harris County, Georgia, and had been on the run for thirteen years.
The restructuring of the tobacco, textile, and railroad industries all had an adverse effect here, resulting in the loss of many jobs in Danville. The region has struggled to develop new bases for the economy. The losses have made it difficult to preserve the city's many architecturally and historically significant properties dating from its more prosperous years. In 2007 Preservation Virginia President William B. Kerkam, III, and its Executive Director Elizabeth S. Kostelny announced at a 2007 press conference held in Danville at Main Street Methodist Church that the entire city of Danville has been named one of the Most Endangered Historic Sites in Virginia.
American Civil War
At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Danville had a population of some 5,000 people. During those four years of war, the town was transformed into a strategic center of Confederate activity. Local planter and industrialist William T. Sutherlin was named Quartermaster of its depot, the rail center was critical for supplying Confederate forces, a hospital station was established for Confederate wounded.
A prison camp was set up, with the conversion of six tobacco warehouses, including one owned by Sutherlin, for use as prisons. At one time they held more than 5,000 captured Federal soldiers. Starvation and dysentery, plus a smallpox epidemic in 1864, caused the death of 1,314 of these prisoners. Their remains have been interred in the Danville National Cemetery.
The Richmond and Danville Railroad was the main supply route into Petersburg, where Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was holding the defensive line to protect Richmond. The Danville supply train ran until General Stoneman's Union cavalry troops tore up the tracks. This event was immortalized in the song, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down".
Danville became the last headquarters of the Confederate States of America within the space of a few days. Jefferson Davis stayed at the mansion of William T. Sutherlin from April 3 to 10, 1865. Here he wrote and issued his last Presidential Proclamation. The final Confederate Cabinet meeting was held at the Benedict House (later destroyed) in Danville. Davis and members of his cabinet left Danville when they learned of Lee’s surrender at Richmond, and moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. On the day they left, Governor William Smith arrived from Lynchburg to establish his headquarters.
Civil Rights Movement
Heightened activism in the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia occurred in Danville during the summer of 1963. Since the early 20th century, most blacks were excluded from voting by elements of the state constitution, despite their federal constitutional rights; legal racial segregation had been imposed when whites regained control of the state legislature following the Reconstruction era, and Jim Crow discrimination also supported white supremacy. On May 31, representatives of the black community organized as the Danville Christian Progressive Association (DCPA), demanding an end to segregation and job discrimination in the city. They declared a boycott of white merchants and marched to City Hall in protest of conditions.
Most of the marchers were high school students. They were met by police and city workers armed with clubs. These men sprayed the young protesters with fire hoses and hit them with clubs. Around forty protesters needed medical attention. Marches and other protests continued for several weeks. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Danville and spoke at High Street Baptist Church about the brutality of the police force. He called it the worst police brutality he had seen in the South.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sent organizers to Danville to support the DCPA. They helped lead protests, including demonstrations at the Howard Johnson Hotel and restaurant on Route 29. The hotel was known for discriminating locally against blacks as customers and excluding them as workers. A special grand jury indicted 13 DCPA, SCLC, and SNCC activists for violating the "John Brown" law. This law, passed in 1830 after a slave uprising, made it a serious felony to "...incite the colored population to acts of violence or war against the white population." It became known as the "John Brown" law in 1860 because it was used to convict and hang abolitionist John Brown after his raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859.
By the end of August, over 600 protesters had been arrested in Danville on charges of inciting to violence, contempt, trespassing, disorderly conduct, assault, parading without a permit, and resisting arrest. Because of the large number of arrests on these charges, often the jails were overcrowded and protesters were housed in detention facilities in other nearby jurisdictions. The demonstrations failed to achieve desegregation in Danville; town facilities remained segregated until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and African-American residents were not able to vote until the federal government enforced their constitutional rights under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.