Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. Since 1871 it has been an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and the Greater Richmond area. As of the 2010 census, the population was 204,214, in 2013, the population was estimated to be 211,172, with a population of 1,208,101 for the Richmond Metropolitan Area — making it the fourth-most populous city in Virginia.
Geographically, Richmond is located at the fall line of the James River, west of Williamsburg, east of Charlottesville, and south of Washington, D.C. Surrounded by Henrico and Chesterfield counties, the city is located at the intersections of Interstate 95 and Interstate 64, and encircled by Interstate 295 and Virginia State Route 288.
The site of Richmond had been an important village of the Powhatan Confederacy, and was briefly settled by English colonists from Jamestown in 1609, and in 1610–1611. The present city of Richmond was founded in 1737. It became the capital of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia in 1780. During the Revolutionary War period, several notable events occurred in the city, including Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech in 1775 at St. John's Church, and the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson. During the American Civil War, Richmond served as the capital of the Confederate States of America. The city entered the 20th century with one of the world's first successful electric streetcar systems, as well as a national hub of African-American commerce and culture, the Jackson Ward neighborhood.
Richmond's economy is primarily driven by law, finance, and government, with federal, state, and local governmental agencies, as well as notable legal and banking firms, located in the downtown area. The city is home to both the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, one of 13 United States courts of appeals, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, one of 12 Federal Reserve Banks. Dominion Resources and MeadWestvaco, Fortune 500 companies, are headquartered in the city, with others in the metropolitan area. Tourism is also important, as many historic sites are in or near the city.
Before 1607, the Powhatan tribe had lived in the region with one of their capitals there, known as Powhatan, Shocquohocan, or Shockoe.
In 1606, James I granted a royal charter to the Virginia Company of London to settle colonists in North America. After the first permanent English-speaking settlement was established in April 1607, at Jamestown, Captain Christopher Newport led explorers northwest up the James River, and on May 24, 1607, erected a cross on one of the small islands in the middle of the part of the river that runs through today's downtown area. Two attempts at English settlement were subsequently made (in 1609 and 1610), but each was abandoned, as the native inhabitants were not willing to give up their capital without a fight. In the 1610s, colonist John Rolfe began to grow a sweeter variety of tobacco at Henricus, and it became a lucrative commodity in the tidewater region, driving further expansion. In 1645, Fort Charles was erected at the falls of the James – the highest navigable point of the James River – as a frontier defense. New settlers moved in, and the community grew into a bustling trading post for furs, hides, and tobacco.
In 1737, planter William Byrd II commissioned Major William Mayo to lay out the original town grid. Byrd named the city "Richmond" after the English town of Richmond near (and now part of) London, because the view of the James River was strikingly similar to the view of the River Thames from Richmond Hill in England, where he had spent time during his youth. The settlement was laid out in April 1737, and was incorporated as a town in 1742. Early trade grew rapidly, primarily in the agriculture sector, but also in the slave trade. People were imported from Africa to Richmond's Manchester docks, and were bought and sold as slaves at the same market.
In 1775, Patrick Henry delivered his famous, "Give me Liberty or Give me Death", speech in St. John's Church in Richmond, crucial for deciding Virginia's participation in the First Continental Congress and setting the course for revolution and independence. On April 18, 1780, the state capital was moved from the colonial capital of Williamsburg to Richmond, to provide a more centralized location for Virginia's increasing westerly population, as well as to isolate the capital from British attack. The latter motive proved to be in vain, and in 1781, under the command of Benedict Arnold, Richmond was burned by British troops, causing Governor Thomas Jefferson to flee as the Virginia militia, led by Sampson Mathews, defended the city.
Richmond recovered quickly from the war, and by 1782 was once again a thriving city. In 1786, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (drafted by Thomas Jefferson) was passed at the temporary capitol in Richmond, providing the basis for the separation of church and state, a key element in the development of the freedom of religion in the United States. A permanent home for the new government, the Virginia State Capitol building, was designed by Thomas Jefferson with the assistance of Charles-Louis Clérisseau, and was completed in 1788.
After the American Revolutionary War, Richmond emerged as an important industrial center. To facilitate the transfer of cargo from the flat-bottomed bateaux above the fall line to the ocean-faring ships below, George Washington helped design the James River and Kanawha Canal in the 18th century to bypass Richmond's rapids, with the intent of providing a water route across the Appalachians to the Kanawha River. The legacy of the canal boatmen is represented by the figure in the center of the city flag. As a result of this and ample access to hydropower due to the falls, Richmond became home to some of the largest manufacturing facilities in the country, including iron works and flour mills, the largest facilities of their kind in the South. The resistance to the slave trade was growing by the mid-nineteenth century; in one famous case in 1848, Henry "Box" Brown made history by having himself nailed into a small box and shipped from Richmond to abolitionists in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, escaping slavery.
Richmond emerged from the smoldering rubble of the Civil War as an economic powerhouse, with iron front buildings and massive brick factories. Canal traffic peaked in the 1860s and slowly gave way to railroads, allowing Richmond to become a major railroad crossroads, eventually including the site of the world's first triple railroad crossing. Tobacco warehousing and processing continued to play a role, boosted by the world's first cigarette-rolling machine, invented by James Albert Bonsack of Roanoke in 1880/81. Contributing to Richmond's resurgence was the first successful electrically powered trolley system in the United States, the Richmond Union Passenger Railway. Designed by electric power pioneer Frank J. Sprague, the trolley system opened its first line in 1888, and electric streetcar lines rapidly spread to other cities across the country. Sprague's system used an overhead wire and trolley pole to collect current, with electric motors on the car's trucks.
Between 1963 and 1965, there was a "downtown boom" that led to the construction of more than 700 buildings in the city. In 1968, Virginia Commonwealth University was created by the merger of the Medical College of Virginia with the Richmond Professional Institute. In 1970, Richmond's borders expanded by an additional on the south. After several years of court cases in which Chesterfield County fought annexation, more than 47,000 people who once were Chesterfield County residents found themselves within the city's perimeters on January 1, 1970. In 1996, still-sore tensions arose amid controversy involved in placing a statue of African American Richmond native and tennis star Arthur Ashe to the famed series of statues of Confederate heroes of the Civil War on Monument Avenue. After several months of controversy, the bronze statue of Ashe was finally completed on Monument Avenue facing the opposite direction from the Confederate Heroes on July 10, 1996.
A multi-million dollar flood wall was completed in 1995, in order to protect low-lying areas of city from the oft-rising waters of the James River. As a result the River District businesses grew rapidly, and today the area is home to much of Richmond's entertainment, dining and nightlife activity, bolstered by the creation of a Canal Walk along the city's former industrial canals.