Boundaries and Charters of Virginia

The Virginia Company received three charters from King James II, establishing the company's claim to land in North America. The Second Charter, issued in 1609, extended the grant inland to extend from sea to sea, west and northwest. Based on that grant, Virginia at one time reached across the continent to the Pacific Ocean.

Virginia was already occupied when the Spanish arrived in 1570, and the English in 1607. The Native American land claims were extinguished through a variety of techniques, including simple seizure of territory, warfare, treaties, and purchases. There were a few attempts by Native Americans to retain land ownership in certain locations using the colonial legal system, and several reservations were created. Those created for the Nottoway and Gingaskin were extinguished and land sold to non-native owners, but the reservation created for the Pamunkey tribe has survived to the present day (including the component now occupied by the Mattaponi).

Starting in 1620, Virginia's claims were reduced by the creation of new colonies, first in Massachusetts, then in Maryland and the Carolinas. During the American Revolution, Virginia voluntarily ceded to the new national government its claims to lands west of the Ohio River. One Virginian, Thomas Jefferson was instrumental in determining how the Northwest Territory would be governed and converted into new states.

After adoption of the Constitution, the counties on the far western edge of Virginia were organized as the new state of Kentucky, with Virginia's support. The final loss of territory occurred during the Civil War, when most of the remaining Virginia counties on the Appalachian Plateau formed the new state of West Virginia.

Virginia-Maryland Boundary

Virginia-North Carolina Boundary

Virginia-Pennsylvania Boundary

Virginia-Tennessee Boundary

Virginia-Kentucky Boundary

Virginia-District of Columbia Boundary

Virginia-West Virginia Boundary

Native American Land Claims in Virginia

Sectionalism: Regions of Virginia

Surveying in Virginia

Virginia Charters

Virginia Land Cessions

What's At the Corners?

In July 1609, the ship carrying Governor Gates to Jamestown, the Sea Venture, was shipwrecked on Bermuda after being separated from the rest of the "Third Supply" convoy traveling from London to Jamestown. Gates was accompanied on his flagship by other leaders of the colony. They were all forced to spend the winter building two smaller ships, the Patience & Deliverance, from the remains of the Sea Venture. Gates had to overcome a rebellion led by one of his clerks, thought to be Stephen Hopkins, who claimed that the governor's authority was valid only in Virginia and not on Bermuda. Three rebels were executed, though the life of the clerk was spared.

After reports reached England of the shipwreck, Shakespeare incorporated it into his new play, "The Tempest." King James made a more substantial decision, revising the boundaries of Virginia in the Third Charter to include Bermuda within the colony governed from Jamestown.

When the Mayflower sailed from Leyden and then London in 1620, it was headed to the Hudson River area. At the time, what is now part of New York fell within the boundaries of the colony of Virginia. The Mayflower ended up at Cape Cod, and those on board chose to land there rather than fight storms to sail further south. The Separatists had picked up a set of "Strangers" in London to help pay the cost of the trip, and both groups evidently were concerned that a decision to go ashore in an uncharted area could lead to confusion regarding government of the settlement.

If Gate's clerk was the same Stephen Hopkins on the Mayflower a decade after the Bermuda shipwreck, he may have contributed to the concern about the legitimacy of government in a region outside the official boundaries of the Virginia colony, and helped formulate the wording of the Mayflower Compact. The Mayflower Compact resolved that, and also documented the original destination of the ship (emphasis added):1

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.


Recommended Reading


1. Mayflower Compact (1620), from the Mayflower Web Pages, (last checked February 6, 2009)

The Fairfax Grant
Virginia's Cession of the Northwest Territory
Virginia Places