Letter from the President
A Milestone Anniversary
By Charles F. Bryan, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer
With earnest hopes in the midst of hard times, the Virginia Historical Society was founded 175 years ago. It is difficult today to conjure up what Virginia was like in 1831. It would have been impossible for our ancestors then to imagine what their state and nation would become 175 years later. The year 1831 began with a long-predicted but no less frightening portent, the total solar eclipse that darkened much of eastern America, terrifying many people. That summer Nat Turner's uprising in Southampton County shocked the whole country and intensified the sense of decline felt by many of the state's leaders. They were well aware that settlement of the West was taking place at the expense of older portions of America, especially Virginia. Between Independence and 1860, the state lost nearly a million residents, who were drawn west by hopes of greater opportunity than the poor prospects they found in the Old Dominion.
At the end of 1831 a group of leading citizens gathered in Thomas Jefferson's capitol in Richmond to found the VHS. Even as they looked to the future, many of them thought the great days of Virginia had passed. They wanted to create an organization that would collect the evidence of faded glory from the bygone days of colonization and Revolution.
Virginia and the VHS have come a long way since that tentative founding. They have borne witness to momentous events, from civil war and economic decay to the transformative era of World War II, followed by two generations of phenomenal growth in prosperity and population. Today's more than 7.5 million Virginians need the VHS as much as their predecessors did in 1831. Through all of the changes since that time, the mission of this grand old institution has remained intact: to preserve and interpret our past. Celebrate with us this year as we honor our forebears and mark 175 years of service to Virginia and the telling of its story.
Posted March 2006
• Letter archive
• Charles F. Bryan, Jr. biography