The recorded History of Virginia began with the settlement of the geographic region now known as the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States thousands of years ago by Native Americans. European settlement did not permanently occur until the establishment of Jamestown in 1607, by English colonists. Tobacco emerged as a profitable export crop, and the Virginia Colony became one of the wealthiest and most populated of the British colonies in North America.
As one of the original 13 United States that won their independence from Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War, Virginia produced more national leaders than any state, including four of the first five presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe). During the first half of the 19th century, the Virginia Board of Public Works assisted in engineering and funding transportation improvements such as turnpikes, canals and railroads. There were regional disparities, as the power of the eastern counties was felt to cause neglect of western needs. Several attempts to improve this factionalism failed.
When the issue of slavery finally divided the young nation, although it was a slave state, as were neighbors Maryland and Kentucky, Virginia was reluctant to secede in 1861. When it did, Virginia became the major battlefield of the American Civil War. The westernmost counties broke away from those in the eastern part of the state to form West Virginia, which was officially admitted to the Union as a separate state in 1863.