This is a story of a river and its people.

For thousands of years, the James River has been a silent witness to the most triumphant and most devastating moments in American history. Native Americans who first settled along its banks, lived by the ebb and flow of the river. They interacted with and humanized the environment. They created grasslands where there were forests. They formed roads and trails. They changed the composition of the forests-- saving plants and making them more resilient. By the time the first European ships docked in the New World, the environment was not a pristine, virgin wilderness. The English colonized the river, creating a rural settlement pattern that dominated the region for the next 400 years. Native Americans fought to preserve their history, their communities, and their lives. Unfortunately, war with the English and disease devastated Native populations.

Taking control over Native lands, the English changed the name of the river from the Powhatan Flu, to the James River after England's King James. Within two hundred years of their arrival the European colonists had both created a colonial plantation system that used enslaved African American labor and fought for their own independence from England. Within three hundred years, Virginia had become a slave society, rather than a society with slaves. The expansion of slavery in western territories and the rights of the states would lead to America's bloodiest conflict.

The landscape around the James River was altered physically, emotionally, socially, and economically. No other settlement pattern or landscape was as instrumental to the founding of both Virginia as a colony and America as the new nation.

Travel James River, VA offers several ways to discover the places that reflect this region's history.

  • Descriptions of each featured historic place on the List of Sites highlight its significance, photographs, and information on how to visit.
  • Essays provide context about the settlement patterns, daily life, and war &politics that took place on the banks of the river.
  • Maps help visitors plan what to see and to do. It will also provide directions to the historic places listed.
  • In the Learn More section, the itinerary links to regional and local websites that provide visitors with further information regarding cultural events, special activities, and lodging and dining possibilities.
  • Visitors may be interested in Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, located in Virginia. The itinerary can be viewed online, or printed if you plan to visit the James River region in person.

Travel James River, VA is part of the Department of the Interior's strategy to promote public awareness of history and encourage visits to historic places throughout the Nation. The National Register of Historic Places partners with communities, regions and heritage areas throughout the United States to create online travel itineraries. Using places nominated by State, Federal and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the itineraries help potential visitors plan trips by highlighting the amazing diversity of this country's historic places and providing public accessibility information for each featured site. James River, Virginia is the 40th National Register travel itinerary in this ongoing series.

Last updated: September 27, 2016


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