What Was the Geography in Colonial Virginia?

Colonial Virginia had a varied geography consisting of swamps, wetlands and waterways near the ocean, transitioning to the Piedmont plateau area inland followed by the foothills and small mountains of the Appalachians. There were also large fertile valleys like the Shenandoah Valley in the Piedmont and mountain regions.

The geography of Virginia posed significant challenges for the first settlers. While the swampy, hot, wet summers proved excellent for growing tobacco and other valuable crops, they also encouraged the proliferation of mosquitoes that carried yellow fever. This contributed to the high death rate of early settlers, particularly of indentured servants and slaves.

Beyond the wetlands, the abundant waterways winding through the lowlands and Piedmont region provided a natural highway system for the colonists to move well inland. Here they discovered the Appalachians, a natural barrier to moving further west. When Daniel Boone and others surveyed the Cumberland Gap at the corner of today’s Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia, this high tableland became a natural overland highway for colonists to explore and settle the lands westward.

While tidewater Virginia, the coastal swampy portion, makes up about one-quarter of today’s Virginia, colonial Virginia also included today’s mountainous West Virginia and Kentucky. For this reason, colonial Virginia was mostly hills and mountains, though that region was lightly populated.