Petersburg, Virginia

Petersburg, Virginia
Petersburg, Virginia
—  Independent City  —
Downtown Petersburg

Nickname(s): The Cockade City
Location in the State of Virginia
Coordinates: 37°12′46″N 77°24′1″W / 37.21278°N 77.40028°W / 37.21278; -77.40028
Country United States
State Virginia
Founded December 17, 1748
 – Mayor Brian A. Moore
 – Independent City 23.2 sq mi (60.1 km2)
 – Land 22.9 sq mi (59.3 km2)
 – Water 0.3 sq mi (0.8 km2)
Elevation 134 ft (40 m)
Population (2010)
 – Independent City 32,420
 – Density 1,397.4/sq mi (539.5/km2)
 – Metro 1,126,262
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 – Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP codes 23803-23806
Area code(s) 804
FIPS code 51-61832[1]
GNIS ID 1497087[2]

Petersburg is an independent city in Virginia, United States located on the Appomattox River and 23 miles (37 km) south of the state capital city of Richmond. The city's population was 32,420 as of 2010,[3] predominantly of African-American ethnicity. The city's unique industrial past and its location as a transportation hub combined to create wealth for Virginia and the region.

The location on the Appomattox River at the fall line (head-of-navigation of the U.S. east coast rivers) early in the history in the Colony of Virginia caused Petersburg to become a strategic place for transportation and commercial activities, as well as the site of Fort Henry. As railroads emerged beginning in the 1830s, it became a major transfer point for both north-south and east-west competitors. The Petersburg Railroad was one of the earliest predecessors of the modern-day CSX Transportation (CSX) system. Several of the earliest predecessors of the area's other major Class 1 railroad, Norfolk Southern (NS), also met at Petersburg. Both CSX and NS rail systems maintain transportation centers at Petersburg. Due to the railroad network, during the American Civil War (1861–65), Petersburg was key to Union plans for the defeat of the Confederate capital of Richmond. The city was the site of nine months of trench warfare during the Siege of Petersburg. Battlefield sites are located throughout the city and surrounding areas, partly preserved as Petersburg National Battlefield.

The city is significant for its role in African-American history. Petersburg had one of the oldest free black settlements in the state at Pocahontas Island. In the post-Bellum period, a historically black college which later became Virginia State University (VSU) was established in nearby Ettrick in Chesterfield County. Also nearby, Richard Bland College, a junior college was established originally as a branch of Williamsburg's College of William and Mary. Two Baptist churches in the city, whose congregations were founded in the late 18th century, are among the oldest black congregations and churches in the nation.[4] In the 20th century, these and other black churches were leaders in the national Civil Rights Movement.

Petersburg remains a transportation hub, with the network of area highways include U.S. Interstate Highways 85, 95, and 295, and U.S. highways 1, 301, and 460. In the early 21st century, Petersburg leaders were highlighting its historical attractions for heritage tourism, and its industrial sites making use of the transportation infrastructure. Military activity has expanded at nearby Fort Lee, home of the United States Army's Sustainment Center of Excellence, as well as the Army's Logistics Branch, Ordnance, Quartermaster, and Transportation Corps.



Indigenous people

In 2006 archaeological excavations at Pocahontas Island found evidence of prehistoric Native American settlement dated to 6500 B.C. This is in the early third of the Archaic Period (8000 to 1000 BC). Varying cultures of indigenous peoples lived in the area for thousands of years.

When the English arrived in Virginia in 1607, the region was occupied by the Appamatuck, a significant tribe of the Powhatan Confederacy. They were governed by a weroance, King Coquonosum, and by his sister, Queen Oppussoquionuske. This Algonquian-speaking people later had a town at Rohoic Creek (formerly Rohowick or Indian Towne Run), on the western edge of present-day Petersburg.

Founding and early history

Petersburg was founded and settled by English colonists. By 1635 they had patented land along the south bank of the Appomattox River as far west as present-day Sycamore Street, and about 1 mile (1.6 km) inland. In 1646, the Virginia Colony established Fort Henry a short distance from the Appamatuck town, near the falls. Col. Abraham Wood sent several famous expeditions out from here in the following years to explore points to the west, as far as the Appalachian Mountains.

Some time around 1675, Wood's son-in-law, Peter Jones, who then commanded the fort and traded with the Indians, opened a trading post nearby, known as Peter's Point. The Bolling family, prominent tobacco planters and traders, also lived in the area from the early 18th century. In 1733, Col. William Byrd II (who founded Richmond at the same time) conceived plans for a city at Peter's Point, to be renamed Petersburgh. The Virginia General Assembly formally incorporated both Petersburg and adjacent Blandford on December 17, 1748. Wittontown, north of the river, was settled in 1749, and became incorporated as Pocahontas in 1752. Petersburg was enlarged slightly in 1762, adding 28 acres (110,000 m2) to "Old Town".[5]

Post-colonial period

During the American Revolutionary War, the British drive to regain control erupted in the Battle of Blanford in 1781, which started just east of Petersburg. As the Americans retreated north across the Appomattox River, they took up the planks of the Pocahontas bridge to delay the enemy. Although the British drove the Americans from Blanford and Petersburg, they did not regain a strategic advantage in the war. Cornwallis' forces surrendered at Yorktown soon after this battle. After the war, in 1784 Petersburg annexed the adjacent towns of Blanford (also called Blandford) and Pocahontas and the suburb of Ravenscroft, which became neighborhoods of the city. An area known as Gillfield was annexed in 1798.[6]

In the first two decades after the war, inspired by the Revolution's principles of equality, numerous Virginia slaveholders manumitted their slaves. Some of those freed were the mixed-race "natural children" of white planters, born to enslaved mothers outside of legal marriage. The number of free blacks in Virginia rose markedly between 1782 and 1810. Because of the availability of jobs in Petersburg, many free people of color in Virginia migrated to the growing urban community. They established First Baptist (1774) and Gillfield Baptist Church (1797), the first and second oldest black congregations in the city and two of the oldest in the nation.[7][8] The black churches were the first Baptist churches established in Petersburg.[9]

For years the center of the free black residential area was Pocahontas Island, a peninsula on the north shore of the Appomattox River. With access to waterways and a sympathetic population, this neighborhood was an important site on the Underground Railroad. Two surviving houses in the Pocahontas Island Historic District are associated with it.[10]

The Port of Petersburg became renowned as a commercial center for processing cotton, tobacco and metal, then shipping products out of the region. The city became an important industrial center in a mostly agricultural state with few major cities.

Residents' devotion to the cause during the War of 1812 led to the formation of the Petersburg Volunteers — who distinguished themselves in action at the Siege of Fort Meigs on May 5, 1813. President James Madison called Petersburg "Cockade of the Union" (or "Cockade City"), in honor of the cockades which Volunteers wore on their caps.[11]

Flourishing businesses helped the city make improvements. Starting in 1813, the city paved its streets. A development company created a canal to bypass the Appomattox Falls. Next came railroad lines to link the city to all points of the compass. As travel technology developed in the mid-19th century, Petersburg became established as a railroad center, with lines completed to Richmond to the north, Farmville and Lynchburg to the west, and Weldon, North Carolina to the south. The last major line was completed in 1858 to the east, with the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad connecting to an ocean port.

In 1851 the city introduced gaslights and by 1857 installed a new municipal water system. All these civic improvements helped attract and hold a substantial business community, based on manufacture of tobacco products, but also including cotton and flour mills, and banking.

Civil War

At the time of the American Civil War, Petersburg was the second largest city in the state, and the seventh-largest city in the Confederacy. Its 1860 population was 18,266, half of whom were black. Free blacks numbered 3,224 or one-third, attracted to the city for the job opportunities in industries and trades.[12] The Petersburg population had the highest percentage of free blacks of any city in the Confederacy and the largest number of free blacks in the Mid-Atlantic.[10] Many free blacks had settled on Pocahontas Island.[10] Because of this significant past and prehistoric archaeological evidence, the Pocahontas Island Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ninety percent of the population were native Virginians, as most of their ancestors had been in the state since the 17th and 18th centuries.

When the Civil War started in 1861, Petersburg's men responded. They provided the Confederacy several infantry companies and artillery units, as well as three troops of cavalry. In April 1861 more than 300 free blacks from Petersburg volunteered to work on the fortifications of Norfolk, Virginia with their own leader. Slaveholders "volunteered" the work of numerous enslaved men.[13]

In 1864, Petersburg was a significant target during the Overland Campaign of Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Its numerous railroads made Petersburg a lifeline to Richmond, the Capital of the Confederacy, and other major points. The depot at Pocahontas Island, built for the Richmond & Petersburg line, was an embarkation point for Confederate troops and supplies.

Remains of slave quarters on Petersburg Battlefield

During the war Petersburg was the headquarters of the Confederate Second Regiment of Engineers, whose members included Benjamin Morgan Harrod, the Harvard-trained civil engineer who later designed the water and sewerage systems of his native New Orleans, Louisiana.[14]

After the Battle of Cold Harbor, Grant stayed east of Richmond and headed south to Petersburg. Grant decided to cut off the rail lines into Petersburg, and thus Richmond's supplies. On June 9, troops under William F. "Baldy" Smith, of the 18th Corps, attacked the Dimmock Line, a set of defensive breastworks originally constructed in 1861 and 1862. They were to protect Petersburg against the Army of the Potomac under General George McClellan during the Peninsula Campaign. The Confederate troops numbered around 2,000. Union generals Smith and Winfield S. Hancock were reluctant to attack a fortified line. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard alerted Lee that he was facing the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg. Lee later arrived, and the 292-day Siege of Petersburg began.

On the Eastern Front, the trench lines were close together. One soldier in the 48th Pennsylvania, a coal miner in civilian life, remarked aloud, "We could blow that battery into oblivion if we could dig a mine underneath it." Colonel Henry Pleasants, division commander, took this idea seriously and moved it up the chain of command. The plan was given the go ahead. On July 30, the mine was exploded. Due to poor Union leadership and the timely arrival of Confederate General William Mahone, the Union lost the Battle of the Crater. They suffered more than 4,000 casualties. This famous battle was portrayed in the film Cold Mountain (2003) (based on the novel by the same name).

In early April 1865, Union troops pushed successfully on their left flank to reach both the railroad to Weldon, North Carolina and the Southside Railroad. With the loss of Petersburg's crucial lifelines to the rest of the Confederacy, the siege ended in victory for the Union Army.

The fall of Petersburg also signaled that the Confederate capital of Richmond could not be defended, and precipitated Robert E. Lee's last retreat march. Later that month Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, essentially ending the war. Confederate General Ambrose P. (A.P.) Hill died on the last day the Confederates occupied the Petersburg trenches. The use of an extended network of fortified entrenchments around Petersburg established a warfare precedent. Armies on both sides used trenches extensively in Europe during World War I (qv. Trench warfare).

Post-Civil War history

South Side Railroad Depot on Rock Street which served as the office of William Mahone when his Readjustor Party dominated Virginia politics

By the end of the war, the city was ringed with a series of fortifications. Many of these have been preserved within Petersburg National Battlefield Park and in neighboring Dinwiddie County.

The Freedmen's Bureau established new facilities for freedmen, including a mental health hospital in December 1869, at Howard's Grove Hospital, a former Confederate unit. In 1870 the General Assembly incorporated the Central Lunatic Asylum as an organized state institution, as part of an effort by the Reconstruction-era legislature to increase public institutions for general welfare. The legislature also founded the state's first system of free public education.

In the years after the Civil War, many freedmen migrated to Petersburg for rebuilding, work on the river, and to escape the white control prevalent in more rural areas. They found numerous churches, businesses and institutions founded by free blacks, and added new energy to the community. In 1874 James M. Wilkerson, Sr. founded the Wilkerson Undertaking Company. It continues to operate as the James M. Wilkerson Funeral Establishment, Inc. [2] and is one of the oldest black-owned firms in the United States. Although in the 1870s, conservative whites took power in the state and began to legislate racial segregation, African Americans continued to create their own businesses and community organizations in Petersburg.

During the 1880s, a coalition of black Republicans and white Populists held power for several years in the state legislature. This resulted in two major public institutions in Petersburg, as the legislature invested for education and welfare. In 1882, the legislature founded Virginia State University in nearby Ettrick as Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. It was one of the first public (fully state-supported) four-year historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the Mid-Atlantic. This was part of a drive to improve public education that started with the Reconstruction legislature.[15] John Mercer Langston, a national political leader and former dean of Howard University's law department, was selected as the college's first president.[16] An Oberlin College graduate, he was an accomplished attorney who had been a leader of abolitionists in Ohio and held national appointments. In 1888, Langston was elected to the US Congress on the Republican ticket, the first African American to be elected to Congress from Virginia. He was also the last for nearly a century.[16]

Also in 1882, the state legislature authorized moving the asylum facility to the Mayfield Farm and developing a new campus there. This is the site of the present-day Central State Hospital, which provides a variety of mental health services.

20th century

The limitations of Petersburg's small geographic area and proximity to Richmond were structural problems which hampered it in adapting to major economic changes in the 20th century. Other forces in the mid-20th century acted to pull people and jobs from the city. It suffered from competition with nearby Richmond, which grew to dominate the region in a changing economy as industries restructured.

World wars led to major federal institutions being constructed at Petersburg, which created local jobs. Soon after World War I started, the US Army established Camp Lee for training draftees. The facility was used again during World War II. In 1950 the camp was designated Fort Lee, and additional buildings were constructed to house the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps Center and School.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Virginia's conservative white Democratic Party-dominated legislature instituted Jim Crow laws, including imposing racial segregation. It also approved constitutional changes that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites. Those disfranchised suffered major losses in the ability to exercise their rights as citizens. For instance, without being able to vote, they could not serve on juries or be appointed to certain offices. The white legislature consistently underfunded services and schools for blacks.

With many African Americans having served the nation and cause of freedom in WWII, in the postwar years they pressed for social justice, an end to segregation and restoration of voting power. Even after the Great Migration of blacks to northern jobs and cities, Petersburg was 40 percent black in 1960. Those citizens were barred from free use of public spaces and facilities.[17] Major black churches, such as First Baptist and Gillfield Baptist, formed the moral center of the Civil Rights Movement in Petersburg, which gained strength in mid-century and was a major center of action.

Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, the pastor of Gillfield Baptist Church, had become friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early 1950s when they were both in divinity school. In 1957 they co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an important force for leadership of the movement in the South. Walker also founded the Petersburg Improvement Association (PIA), modeled on the Montgomery Improvement Association in Alabama.[18] According to Walker and other close associates of King, Petersburg had played an important role, a kind of blueprint for the national civil rights struggle. King spent time in the city on several occasions in the 1950s and 60s, and several of his top lieutenants were recruited from the local movement.[19]

African Americans in Petersburg struggled, with federal government support, to desegregate public schools and facilities. Through sit-ins in the bus terminal in 1960, the PIA gained agreement by the president of the Bus Terminal Restaurants to desegregate lunch counters in Petersburg and several other cities.[20] Virginia officials at the top levels resisted school integration and initiated the program of Massive Resistance. For instance, rather than integrate, the school board of neighboring Prince Edward County closed public schools for five years, starting in 1959.

In the 1950s, Petersburg became the southern terminus of the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, predating the U.S. Interstate Highway System.

In 1958 Petersburg was named an "All American City" for its quality of life. Retail and industry prospered there until about the early 1980s. De-industrialization and structural economic changes cost many jobs in the city, as happened in numerous older industrial cities across the North and Midwest. The postwar national movement of highway construction and suburbanization added to problems. Many middle-class families moved to newer housing in the suburbs and to nearby Richmond, where the economy was expanding with jobs in fields of financial and retail services. Some companies moved industrial jobs to states further south, where wages were lower, or out of the country altogether. Without sufficient jobs and decreasing middle-class population, city progress slowed.

The declining economy increased the pressure of competition and racial tensions. These flared from 1968 to 1980. Following the assassination of King in 1968, Petersburg was the first city to designate his birthday as a holiday, an observance that is now a national holiday.[21] Regional tensions were heightened by the city's two large annexations of adjacent portions of Dinwiddie and Prince George Counties in the early 1970s. Despite the large addition of suburban school-age children, a downward trend in public school enrollment continued. Projected industrial development of large tracts of vacant land in the annexed areas did not materialize. In 1985 city leaders were unable to keep Brown & Williamson tobacco company, a top employer, from relocating to Macon, Georgia. The company chose a job market with lower wages and a weaker labor union environment.

Partially due to the vacant land still available for potential industrial development, which had been used as justification for the earlier annexations, in 1986 the city failed in its attempt to annex a large section of neighboring Prince George County. It had hoped to enlarge its area for schools and tax base.

When negotiations soured in 1989 to build a new regional mall in Petersburg, the city suffered an economic setback. Numerous remaining retail merchants relocated to the new Southpark Mall area in adjacent Colonial Heights. In a typical postwar US pattern, suburban development through the late 20th century drew off retail from the former downtown area. It was once vibrant near the north end of Sycamore Street but had declined by the late 20th century because of structural changes in industries, and loss of local jobs and customers.

21st century

The city market that has been preserved and is still used as a market.

In the early 21st century, Petersburg leaders are highlighting its attractive historical and industrial sites, with associated access to an exceptionally wide transportation network. As of 2007, Petersburg continued to evolve as a small city, even as the nature of its commercial activities changed. Downtown Petersburg, known as Old Towne, began experiencing a rebirth. The Army has substantially expanded activities at nearby Fort Lee, home of the United States Army's Sustainment Center of Excellence, as well as the Army's Logistics Branch, Ordnance, Quartermaster, and Transportation Corps.


Petersburg is located at 37°12′46″N 77°24′1″W / 37.21278°N 77.40028°W / 37.21278; -77.40028 (37.21295, -77.400417)[22].

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 23.2 square miles (60 km2), of which, 22.9 square miles (59 km2) of it is land and 0.3 square miles (0.78 km2) of it (1.29%) is water.

Petersburg is located on the Appomattox River at the fall line, which marks the area where an upland region (continental bedrock) and a coastal plain (coastal alluvia) meet. The fall line is typically prominent where a river crosses its rocky boundary, as there are rapids or waterfalls. River boats could not travel any farther inland, making the location the head of navigation. The need of a port and abundant supply of water power causes settlements to develop where a river crosses the fall line. The most prominent example of fall-line settlement was the establishment of the cities along the eastern coast of the United States where the Appalachian Rise and the coastal plains meet.

Located along the eastern seaboard, approximately halfway between New York and Florida, Petersburg is just 23 miles (37 km) south of Virginia's state capital, Richmond and is at the juncture of Interstates 95 and 85. The city is one of 13 jurisdictions that comprise the Richmond-Petersburg Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Petersburg with the cities of Colonial Heights and Hopewell, and neighboring Dinwiddie and Prince George counties for statistical purposes. Petersburg is also a part of the Tri-cities, Virginia regional economy known as the "Appomattox Basin", which includes a portion of southeastern Chesterfield County.

Adjacent counties/independent city

National protected area

  • Petersburg National Battlefield Park (part)

Major highways


As of the census[1] of 2000, there were 33,740 people, 13,799 households, and 8,513 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,474.6 people per square mile (569.4/km²). There were 15,955 housing units at an average density of 697.3 per square mile (269.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 79.00% African American, 18.5% White, 0.20% Native American, 0.70% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.59% from other races, and 1.00% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 1.37% of the population.

There were 13,799 households out of which 27.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 30.1% were married couples living together, 26.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.3% were non-families. 32.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38 and the average family size was 2.98.

The age distribution was 25.1% under 18, 8.9% from 18 to 24, 27.5% from 25 to 44, 22.9% from 45 to 64, and 15.6% who were 65 or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 84.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 78.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $28,851, and the median income for a family was $33,955. Males had a median income of $27,859 versus $21,882 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,989. About 16.7% of families and 19.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.1% of those under age 18 and 15.8% of those age 65 or over.


Arnold Pen Co., Seward Trunk Co., Titmus Optical, Amsted Rail-Brenco bearings, and Boehringer Ingelheim, one of the top 20 pharmaceutical manufacturers, operate in Petersburg. The city has a long history as an industrial center for Virginia. It was home to many tobacco companies, including tobacco giant Brown & Williamson. The Southern Chemical Co., the original maker of Fleets Phoso-soda (used in hospitals world wide), was a well-known brand associated with the town.


Architecture and Arts

Petersburg Old Town Historic District
Intersection of Sycamore and Bollingbrook
Location: U.S. 1 and VA 36, Petersburg, Virginia
Area: 190 acres (77 ha)
NRHP Reference#:


Added to NRHP: July 04, 1980

Since the departure of the Tobacco company Brown & Williamson, Petersburg has invested heavily in historic preservation of its rich range of architecture. The city's numerous 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century structures in its historic neighborhoods provide unique character of place. Groups such as Historic Petersburg Foundation and Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities have worked to restore many of the city's buildings and recognized important districts.

The Petersburg Old Town Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as are other historic districts. People appreciate the preserved historic buildings and pedestrian scale of the downtown, as well as their architectural variety. The buildings are being adapted for new uses. Many restaurants, specialty shops, and up-scale apartments and condos have been developed, with more underway. Southern Living magazine featured this area, as did HGTV's What You Get For The Money.

The area has become a vibrant arts center. It has an area Arts League and a Performing Arts Center, Sycamore Rouge, "Petersburg's Professional Theatre for the Community". Sycamore Rouge produces a five-show mainstage theatre season and a "black box" theatre season, supplemented with live music and cabaret performances. The city celebrates a "Friday of the Arts" on the second Friday of each month, in which many locations feature local artwork and live music.

Numerous historic properties and districts are associated with the downtown area, and Pocahontas Island was listed as a historic district on the National Register. Among the city's most architecturally refined properties is Battersea, a Palladian-style house built in 1767-1768. On the city's western edge above the Appomattox River, the house is situated on 37 acres (150,000 m2). It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A non-profit group is working with the city to develop a long-term plan for the property.[24]


Petersburg is home to the Petersburg Generals of the Coastal Plain League, a collegiate summer baseball league. The Generals play at the Petersburg Sports Complex. The Generals began play in 2000 and won a league championship in their inaugural season.


Elementary and secondary schools

Petersburg City Public Schools Note: This section contains a listing only of the current and some of the past public schools serving the independent city of Petersburg, Virginia, all operating under the name of Petersburg City Public Schools. For history of the individual schools and the school system, see history section of this article, or click on links to individual articles as indicated below.

High school

Middle school(s)

  • Vernon Johns, Jr. Junior High School (former Anderson Elementary building)
  • Peabody Middle School

Elementary schools

  • A.P Hill Elementary
  • Robert E. Lee Elementary
  • Walnut Hill Elementary
  • Blandford Academy K-5
  • J.E.B Stuart Elementary
  • Westview Early Childhood Education Center


Schools closed, several buildings re-tasked [3]

  • David Anderson Elementary School (coverted to a middle school)
  • Virginia Avenue Elementary School-Closed in 2005
  • Westview Elementary (reduced to Head Start and early childhood education)

Independent schools in the Petersburg area [25] currently include:

  • Bermuda Run Educational Center
  • Blandford Manor Education Center
  • Grace Baptist School
  • Restoration Military Academy
  • Rock Church Academy
  • Robert A. Lewis SDA School
  • St. Joseph School

Higher education

The area is served by three schools of higher education:

City government and politics

The former U.S. Customs House, now serving as the Petersburg City Hall

The city of Petersburg has a council-manager form of city government. Therefore, the city is subdivided into seven wards and each ward elects one member each to the city council. The city council then hires a city manager.

The city council elects one of its members to serve as mayor and one member to serve as vice mayor, but generally those positions only have the authority of being chair and vice chair of the city council.

The members of city council:

Ward One: Treska Wilson-Smith
Ward Two: Mike Ross
Ward Three: Kenneth Pritchett
Ward Four: Brian A. Moore (Mayor)
Ward Five: W. Howard Myers
Ward Six: Ray Coleman
Ward Seven: Horace P. Webb (Vice Mayor)

Presently, W. E. Johnson III is Petersburg's city manager. Brian A. Moore serves as mayor and Horace P. Webb as vice-mayor.

Because Petersburg has a predominant black population (which votes heavily Democratic), the city has been a Democratic stronghold. It is represented by Rosalyn Dance in the House of Delegates (63rd District) and Henry Marsh in the State Senate (16th District). Both Dance and Marsh are both Democrats. Five of the City Council representatives are confirmed Democrats including the mayor and vice-mayor. All the local constitutional officers are also Democrats. In 2008, Petersburg gave the second-largest percentage of votes for the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama than any other municipality in the nation.

In 2009 for the first time in decades, the local Republican party actually nominated a candidate for constitutional office. When it became apparent that Petersburg's treasurer was going to lose the Democratic primary, Patrick N. Washington initiated a campaign to nominate Tammy Alexander as the Republican candidate for treasurer. In November, Tammy Alexander was defeated but captured a quarter of the votes, the largest percentage for a Republican in Petersburg in over thirty years.


The city is known as Baptist country which includes the oldest African-American congregation in the United States (First Baptist on Harrison Street). The two largest churches are Good Shepherd Baptist Church on Crater Road and Mount Olive Baptist Church on Augusta Avenue.

There are various religious traditions that have congregations in Petersburg with some history behind them. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South (known as the Southern Methodist Church denomination) was started in Petersburg on Washington Street.

Jehovah's Witnesses are very prevalent in the city with two kingdom halls located in the area.

Many Petersburg storefronts are occupied by Pentecostal/Charismatic/Non-denominational assemblies. Two of the oldest churches in the Pentecostal tradition that came to Petersburg are Bethesda Bibleway Church (founded by Bishop Bean) and Zion Memorial Apostolic Church (founded by Bishop Christian and now pastored by Bishop Samuel Wright,Sr). Zion is the largest Pentecostal church in Petersburg located on Youngs Road.

There is a Jewish synagogue, Congregation Brith Achim, which is officially non-denominational, but has a progressive-Conservative orientation with a Rabbi who was ordained by the Renewal movement of Judaism. Since 2000, there has been an emerging Hebrew Roots movement in Petersburg. Two Hebrew-Roots congregations are the Emmanuel Worship Center on Grove Avenue and Beth Yeshua For All People on South Crater Road.

The Petersburg Ward, a congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, meets at 1800 Johnson Road. It is part of the Richmond Virginia Chesterfield Stake. Members of this Ward are assigned to the Washington, D.C. LDS Temple.

There is also significant interdenominational forums in the city. Elder Joseph P. Green of Emmanuel Worship Center has organized Community Prayer that brings the faithful from various religious backgrounds. The United Outreaches is also another group that works across denominational lines in Petersburg and the surrounding areas.

Notable residents

See also


  1. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  2. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  3. ^ [1]. Weldon Cooper Center 2010 Census Count Retrieved September 9, 2011
  4. ^ Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The 'Invisible Institution' in the Antebellum South, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 137, accessed 27 December 2008
  5. ^ James H. Bailey, Old Petersburg, p. 16.
  6. ^ James H. Bailey, Old Petersburg, p. 17.
  7. ^ "Gillfield Baptist Church, Petersburg, VA", Virginia Commonwealth University Library, 2008, accessed 22 December 2008
  8. ^ "First Baptist Church, Petersburg", African American Heritage, accessed 22 December 2008
  9. ^ Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The 'Invisible Institution' in the Antebellum South, Oxford University Press, p. 137, accessed 27 December 2008
  10. ^ a b c Henry Chase, "Proud, free and black: Petersburg - visiting the Virginia location of the largest number of 19th century free [blacks]", American Visions, Jun-Jul 1994, accessed 27 December 2008
  11. ^ James H. Bailey, Old Petersburg, p. 18-19.
  12. ^ "National Register Nominations: Pocahontas Island Historic District", Heritage Matters, Jan-Feb 2008, National Park Service, accessed 30 December 2008
  13. ^ "Black Confederate Soldiers of Petersburg", Petersburg Express, accessed 22 December 2008
  14. ^ "Harrod, Benjamin Morgan". Louisiana Historical Association, An Encyclopedia of Louisiana Biography. Retrieved January 30, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Civil War history lesson: Petersburg, Va., embraces and expands its past",, 9 March 2005, accessed 22 December 2008
  16. ^ a b William Cheek and Aimee Lee Cheek, "John Mercer Langston: Principle and Politics", in Leon F. Litwack and August Meier, eds., Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, University of Illinois, 1991
  17. ^ Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice Raymond Arsenault, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, p.115
  18. ^ "Inventory of the Wyatt Tee Walker Papers, 1963-1982, n.d.", Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, 2000, accessed 31 December 2008
  19. ^ "King, Petersburg has special connection", Feb 15 2009 Progress Index
  20. ^ Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 115
  21. ^ Henry Chase, "Proud, free and black: Petersburg - visiting the Virginia location of the largest number of 19th century free slaves", American Visions, Jun-Jul 1994, accessed 27 December 2008
  22. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  23. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  24. ^ News and Information on Historic Battersea, Official Website
  25. ^ PETERSBURG VA Private Schools
  26. ^ "Dr. John Crews", FindArticles

Further reading

  • Luther Porter Jackson. A Short History of the Gillfield Baptist Church of Petersburg, VA, Petersburg, VA: Virginia Print Co., 1937
  • James Scott and Edward Wyatt, Petersburg’s Story: A History (1960)

External links

Coordinates: 37°12′47″N 77°24′02″W / 37.21295°N 77.400417°W / 37.21295; -77.400417

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