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Richmond has a long, varied history that spans nearly four centuries, but many of the turning points its past are tied to the city’s prominent roles in the two major domestic conflicts in American history—the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
It was from the lectern of Richmond’s
St. John’s Church
(Virginia’s oldest, still standing and open to tourists in the aptly-named Church Hill district) that Patrick Henry delivered the celebrated charge “Give me liberty or give me death” in 1775. Shortly after in 1780, Richmond replaced Williamsburg as Virginia’s capital, only to be set alight by the British and Benedict Arnold in 1781.
The city recovered, rebuilt and continued to develop into one of the South’s most important commercial and political centers. One of the darker chapters of the city’s history, the period between the wars also saw Richmond become one of major centers of the American slave trade. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Richmond was designated the capital of the Confederacy, and remained the seat of Jefferson Davis’ government until its capture by Union troops in the spring of 1865.
As with most American cities, the 20th century brought expansion for Richmond. By the dawn of the new millennium, greater Richmond found itself with a population pushing 1.1 million, a modern, bustling downtown and a reinvigorated riverfront—a reworking of the nation’s oldest canal system into a tourist destination with restaurants, hotels and shops. Still, the city has not lost sight of its past, instead seeking to preserve it in institutions the
Civil War Visitor Center
in the old Tredegar Iron Works, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center, and the famed series of statues on Monument Avenue.