A popular and plausible tradition that appears in most histories and reference works is that King Charles II referred to Virginia as his loyal old dominion at the time that he was restored to the throne in 1660. After the Parliamentarians executed King Charles I in 1649 following their victory in the English Civil Wars, they forced the king's namesake son and heir into exile and governed without a monarch. Nevertheless, the governor and General Assembly of Virginia proclaimed Prince Charles the king; in 1652 Parliament sent a fleet and armed force to Virginia to require the colony to surrender and give up its allegiance to the exiled claimant to the throne.
Those phrases were in common use during the remainder of the colonial period. The evolution of them into Old Dominion probably began during the American Revolution, when the king's oldest colony became an independent commonwealth and one of the thirteen original United States. At least two instances are known from 1778 in which Virginia army officers wrote to other Virginians and referred to the Old Dominion without explaining what the phrase meant, suggesting that they believed that their correspondents were familiar with the term. It was a well-recognized nickname throughout the United States by 1800, and use of it flourished during the early years of the nineteenth century. John Pendleton Kennedy included it in the subtitle to his popular 1832 novel, Swallow Barn: Or, A Sojourn in the Old Dominion, which effectively created the literary genre known as the Virginia Novel. John Esten Cooke, for many years a popular author of history and fiction about Virginia, also employed the phrase in the subtitle of his 1854 historical romance The Virginia Comedians: Or, Old Days in the Old Dominion. Many Virginians by then included the words Old Dominion in titles of songs, political tracts, poems, novels, newspapers, historical works, debating societies, essays, educational institutions, and business firms. In 1859, Virginia natives residing in New York founded the Old Dominion Society of the City of New York.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Tarter, B. Old Dominion. (2014, January 30). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Old_Dominion.
- MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent. "Old Dominion." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 30 Jan. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 21, 2011 | Last modified: January 30, 2014
Contributed by Brent Tarter, founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.