Virginia 3rd District
The history of American slavery literally began along the tidal expanse of the James River. In 1607, the first English colonists chose one of the marshiest, least healthy spots along the broad river as the site of their settlement at Jamestown. Only a dozen years later, the first slave ship sailed up the James and offloaded its human cargo, giving birth to the biracial society of the American South. In the 21st century, the great plantation houses of the Tidewater, entire communities once adorned by the most impressive architecture of the day and attended by hundreds of slaves, still dot the banks of the James. Charles City County—the site of William Byrd II’s Westover, Benjamin Harrison III’s Berkeley, and John Carter’s Shirley—also was the birthplace of two successive presidents, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. The county’s population continues to be heavily African-American. The demography of the plantation remains.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District of Virginia is the descendant of a black-majority district formed in 1992, and redrawn three times since then. The district jumps back and forth across the James River to string together black precincts and communities in Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News. It moves upriver on the peninsula past Jamestown and Charles City County all the way to Richmond and eastern suburban Henrico County. It includes the Army’s Fort Eustis and all of the majority-black city of Portsmouth, a Navy port and industrial town with a charming old section. The population of Hampton and Newport News has shrunk since 2000, while nearby areas have grown. In 2008, the final two container shipping companies in Newport News announced that they were moving operations to a new cargo terminal in Portsmouth. Politically, the 3rd is the most Democratic district in Virginia and the state’s only black-majority district. Its economy depends heavily on the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, the largest industrial employer in Virginia, now owned by Northrop Grumman. The ships loom larger than life over nearby neighborhoods. During the Cold War, Newport News built two of the largest tankers ever made in the western hemisphere. In addition to its Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carriers and Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarines, the USS George H.W. Bush, the tenth and final Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, was commissioned in January 2009.