The state for lovers, the jewel of the South, and (depending on how you look at it) the birthplace of the United States.
The Commonwealth of Virginia is a state in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions of the U.S. with a long and storied history. The Colony of Virginia was founded in 1607 by English settlers (taking its name from the the Virgin Queen) at Jamestown, the first successful (after a really rough start) English colony in what's now the United States. The Jamestown colony was only successful thanks to aid from the local Powhatan Confederacy, an ethnically Algonquin tributary empire ruled by Wahunsenecah (often himself called "Chief Powhatan" either due to a misunderstanding or a case of l'etat c'est moi). Wahunsenecah initially sought to bring the English into his tributary system — they were useful to him because of their firearms, and he took their absolute cluelessness with local agriculture as a sign they could be made wholly dependent on him. With the arrival of more settlers and evidence of them being the outpost of a much more powerful entity, however, he then decided it would be prudent to offer himself and his lands as tribute to the English monarch. Neither approach worked very well considering the Powhatan had little understanding of English goals, motivations, or practices — a problem that certainly worked both ways — and the few years of peaceful coexistence between the two peoples quickly devolved, resulting in a conflict the Powhatan had little chance of winning.
Jamestown itself was abandoned in 1699 due to being razed one too many times by Powhatan raiders, but Virginia overall grew rapidly over the decades. With more than half a million people, it was by far the most populous (and, at the time, largest) of the Thirteen Colonies that seceded from the British Crown in 1776. Many of the main players in the Revolutionary War, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Richard Henry Lee, were of Virginian stock, and Virginia saw several pivotal battles, most notably the Siege of Yorktown where Charles Cornwallis surrendered his forces, drawing the war to a close and securing an American victory. Virginia soon lost its status as the most populous state to New York, and in 1792 lost much of its western territory when Kentucky was admitted as a state, but it remained the most populous and powerful Southern state for decades to come; four of the first five Presidents were Virginian.
During the American Civil War, Virginia's plantation-based economy, which was highly dependent on the forced labor of enslaved African-Americans, led it to join the secessionist Confederacy in 1861. It was by far the key state that held the whole enterprise together: Virginia hosted the Confederate capital at Richmond, supplied more men to the Confederate Army than any other state, and was the home state of some of the Confederacy's best commanders, including Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jubal Early, and George Pickett. Not all of the state agreed, however — the counties that favored remaining with the Union voted to separate and become the state of West Virginia, which was admitted to the Union in 1863. Unionist sentiment in Virginia was greater than is usually considered; many prominent Union commanders — David Farragut, George Henry Thomas, and Winfield Scott among them — were also Virginian, and the state supplied almost 40,000 men to the Union army, 6,000 of them former slaves who had escaped to Union lines. Virginia was the main battlefield of the Eastern Theatre of the war, and the site of such bloody engagements as Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia did an admirable job of holding off Union assaults for several years, but the Confederacy's small population, weak industrial base, and poor logistics — all exacerbated heavily by consistent Union victories further west — caught up with them in the end, and Lee finally surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant of the Union army in April 1865.
Virginia today is home to over 8.5 million people, making it the 12th most populous state. It is heavily influenced by its proximity to Washington, D.C.; Northern Virginia, or "NOVA," is part of the "DMV" (D.C.—Maryland—Virginia) metropolitan area, one of the wealthiest and most populous in the country. The federal government is a significant contributor to the economy, especially in the northern part of the state, with several towns and cities in the region being populated almost entirely by federal civil servants. The state also hosts several military bases (including the home of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet), which are also major employers, as are the private companies in areas sought by the feds (tech, languages, software, etc.). In addition to Washington D.C. and Maryland, Virginia also borders West Virginia to the... well, west, Kentucky and Tennessee to the southwest, and North Carolina to the south. Virginia also sits on the East Coast, sitting next to the Atlantic Ocean. Tourism — whether motivated by gorgeous mountains in the west or beaches in the east — is increasingly important. Amusement Park fans flock to the state for Busch Gardens Williamsburg and King's Dominion and their world-class roller coasters and other attractions, but most tourists are drawn to the state for its history; in addition to the preserved homes of Washington and Jefferson, Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown all heavily play up their historic past, with large parts of the cities acting as living museums.
Virginia law draws a very sharp distinction between cities and towns. All municipalities incorporated as cities are completely separate from counties. Beyond Nova, the largest metro area is the "Hampton Roads" conglomeration in the southeastern corner of the state, consisting of the cities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg, and Poquoson plus a few counties. The capital of Richmond is its third largest metro, and the largest contained entirely within the state (Hampton Roads includes a small piece of North Carolina).
The state is home to two of the oldest universities in the United States: the College of William & Mary and the University of Virginia. The former was established in 1693 and is thus the second-oldest university in the United States (after only Harvard). The latter was established in 1819 and was established by Thomas Jefferson (along with James Madison and James Monroe) as an explicitly secular institution, and one deliberately taking inspiration from the new "Humboldtian" university structure then taking form in Germany. Both are fully public universities; UVA was established as such (the fourth in the country to be so establishednote ), while William & Mary became a state institution in 1906.
The point that the states of the United States that are named 'commonwealth' are simply a difference in name and nothing more can be proven by the fact that the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia establishes an organization named the "State Police" that is the policing agency and highway patrol for the Commonwealth. Virginia's elementary and secondary education system is also organized differently from anywhere else in America. In every other state (except Hawaiʻi), K–12 education is almost always run by local or county-based public bodies that are separate entities from local governments, and (usually) have their own powers to levy whatever taxes their states allow (even if the local government physically collects those taxes). Not so in Virginia. K–12 schools are instead run by branches of city, town, or county governments legally known as "school divisions", which have no independent taxing power.* Instead, the local government levies all school-related taxes and provides its school division with the funds. That said, Virginia school divisions have elected boards, just like school districts elsewhere.
Politically, Virginia has changed a great deal over the years. Once avowedly conservative and Republican, it has undergone a stark progressive shift since 2000; the state has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate for the past four cycles, has two Democrats in the Senate, a Democratic governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, and a House delegation and state legislature dominated by Democrats. Most political scientists attribute this change to demographic change in Northern Virginia, out-of-state transplants relocating for federal work, and urbanization in general. The line of where the North and South meet is now typically considered wherever the suburbs in Virginia end (which, to the chagrin of the South, keep sprawling out further and further every year). However, this shift has proven not to be firm, as elections swung back towards the Republican party in 2021, leaving the state's future as a swing state up in the air.
One unique political note is that Virginia is the last state to prohibit its governors from serving consecutive terms. Currently, an outgoing governor must wait four years (the length of a gubernatorial term) before serving again. It's also one of only two states (the other being New Jersey) that holds its gubernatorial and legislative elections in the year after a Presidential election. This is thought to contribute to another political oddity—of Virginia's last 12 gubernatorial elections, dating back to 1977, one has been won by a member of the incumbent President's party.note
In fiction, Virginia shows up quite a bit in period pieces; works focused on the American Revolution and the American Civil War are quite popular. In modern works, most attention is focused on Northern Virginia, which is a rich setting for Spy Fiction due to being where the CIA and other agencies are headquartered, though some works set in Appalachia go further west.