19th Century

Richmond was fundamental to the formation of American freedom and American slavery. These histories continue to shape Richmond, and the city has recently started to come to terms with its legacy.

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The City of Richmond was founded in 1737 by Colonel William Byrd II, and has been the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1780.” In 1755, Patrick Henry delivered his celebrated “Liberty or Death” speech atop Church Hill at St. John’s Church. European demand for tobacco grew over the eighteenth century as colonial settlers transformed the city into a tobacco-producing industrial powerhouse. Staple crop production in Richmond and Virginia came to rely almost exclusively on slave labor by the the late seventeenth century. Richmond was one of the only industrialized antebellum cities in the South, and industrial slavery shaped the city’s private and public life until the American Civil War. Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy for the most of the Civil War (1861-65) and witnessed massive industrial growth after 1865. Apart from being the political center of the Confederacy, Richmond served as the Confederacy’s industrial and military hub. As Northern forces made their way towards Richmond, Confederate troops burned a sizable portion of the city. In the years following the Civil War, both African and white Americans rebuilt the city from the literal ashes of the war. Richmond was the second largest slave trading cities in the country during the mid-nineteenth century. The buying and selling of enslaved people in Shockoe Bottom was a major economic industry for the city of Richmond. It was not until the 1990s that the Richmond community begin to publicly address the slave trade and its lasting impact. The process of reconciling slavery with the city's popular history is an ongoing effort that remains incomplete.
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Richmond served as the capital for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865. Many monuments and historic sites in the mark the history of the Confederacy.

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To get involved, consider visiting some of the historical sites below: The city is working to incorporate the slave trade and its legacy into the city’s public history through preservation and interpretation efforts, like the Lumpkin Jail Project. Attend a community meeting associated with the project.

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