Richmond: Founded on Rocks and Fire

Gridlock and hot tempers are nothing new in Richmond; the city was founded on them.

The location of Richmond is dictated by the fact that it is at the fall line of the James River. Basically, boats could travel from the Chesapeake Bay to the interior of Virginia, but only as far as Richmond due to the rocks of the falls. Merchants and traders would have to unload their goods, transport them around the rocks, and then put them back in the water upstream, or vice versa if they were transporting goods from the mountains. Ergo, it became a major trading post and is the reason that Virginia has an inland port, the Richmond Marine Terminal.

The bunch of rocks tying up travel and progress on the James River is also one reason Richmond became Virginia’s capital in 1780. Its central location at the fall line placed it between the contemporary capital of Williamsburg and the mass of population moving westward. Therefore, the city was in a much more advantageous location for trade. Plus, and this was a big bonus at the time, then Governor Thomas Jefferson believed Richmond was more protected from British attack than Williamsburg.

Jefferson’s plan did not work out all too well when, on January 5, 1781, the traitorous Benedict Arnold attacked the city. He informed Jefferson that if the city’s residents would load their supply of guns and tobacco onto the British ships, he would leave the city without doing any further harm. In an indignant reply, ole TJ said that the turncoat could shoveth that request where the sun doth not shineth. So, in a fit, Benedict Arnold ordered his men to burn down the city.

The soldiers didn’t just light the buildings on fire in Richmond, they lit a fire under the butt of the colonists, who were incensed at Arnold’s ungentlemanly behavior. Sampson Mathews, the Colonel of the Virginia militia, chased the British out of Richmond, picking them off little by little until they straggled back into Portsmouth. George Washington put a bounty out on Arnold and told the Marquis de Lafayette to hang him if they crossed paths. Because, what happens in Richmond, does not stay in Richmond.

So, when flaming liberals and hard-headed conservatives can’t seem to get anything accomplished, it’s not gridlock and hot tempers; it’s tradition. Immovable impediments to progress and fiery tempers are what made Richmond what it is.

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