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The James River

At 348 miles long, the James River is the 12th longest river in the United States that remains entirely within a single state.

The river forms in the Appalachian Mountains near Iron Gate and flows into the Chesapeake Bay at Hampton Roads. Hampton Roads is the harbor area formed where the James River meets the Elizabeth and Nansemond Rivers; many boats pass through the channel which leads from Hampton Roads to the Chesapeake Bay and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean, making the James River an integral part of the importation and exportation of Virginia products.

History of the James

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the Native Americans who populated the area around the river east of Richmond called it the Powhatan River.

This name comes from the chief of the Powhatan Confederacy, the group of Native Americans that extended over most of Virginia’s Tidewater region. In 1607, English colonists constructed the first permanent English settlement in the Americas along the banks of the James River at Jamestown. These settlers named the river “James” after King James I of England.

For the Colony of Virginia’s first 15 years, the James River was the main avenue of transportation. After John Rolfe cultivated a strain of tobacco in 1612 that became immensely popular in England, the James became the primary means of exporting this cash crop from a constantly increasing number of plantations with wharfs along the banks of the river.

This financial success led to even more development of and immigration to the region, and navigation of the James River played a key role in the commerce and settlement of early Virginia.

James River Recreation

The James River offers residents and visitors numerous recreational attractions and parks. During the summer, fishing, swimming, hiking, kayaking, and canoeing can all be enjoyed along the river.

The river’s rapids and pools make whitewater rafting possible, as well, especially along a 2-mile stretch that ends where the river goes over the fall line in downtown Richmond. In all of America, this is the only place where extensive class III whitewater rafting conditions exist within sight of skyscrapers. East of Richmond, the James is perfect for water skiing and other large boat recreation.