Part of the James River and Chesapeake Bay Waterways, the Port of Richmond is just 15 nautical miles upriver (21 kilometers or 13 miles northwest) of the Port of Hopewell, Virginia. The Port of Richmond is about 77 nautical miles on the James River (117 kilometers or 73 miles northwest) of the Port of Norfolk. Capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Port of Richmond is politically independent of any county and the center for a large metropolitan area that covers much of Henrico, Chesterfield, and Hanover counties. The 2010 US Census reported a city population of over 204 thousand in the Port of Richmond and a metropolitan population of more than 1.2 million.
Tobacco has long been an important part of the Port of Richmond economy. Other important industries include printing and publishing, government, and manufacturing. Products manufactured in the Port of Richmond include chemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles, metals, and wood and paper products. Seven battles of the American Civil War were fought in the Port of Richmond area, and today's Richmond National Battlefield Park memorializes seven of those battles. The Port of Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery contains the graves of two US Presidents, John Tyler and James Monroe, as well as the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and some 18 thousand Confederate soldiers. The Port of Richmond is also home to the United States' first state-supported museum, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Before English colonists entered the future Port of Richmond area, as many as 20 thousand Powhatan people lived there. The Powhatan confederation contained about 30 affiliated tribes that had been organized by Chief Wahunsunacawh (known later as Chief Powhatan by white settlers) in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries.
A party of Englishmen led by Captain John Smith and Christopher Newport first explored the Port of Richmond site in 1607 soon after Jamestown was established. In 1637, Thomas Stegg opened a trading post on the James River, and Fort Charles was built there in 1645. In 1733, William Byrd of Westover named the infant settlement after England's Richmond upon Thames, and the new town was laid out by Major William Mayo in 1737.
The James River was an important waterway before Europeans settled in the Port of Richmond area. The Port of Richmond was founded as a trading center. Located at the head of navigation of the James River, the Port of Richmond is located at the west edge of the Coastal Plain, an area where the tides affect water levels in the rivers and where ocean-going ships can sail.
In 1619, the Falling Creek Ironworks was opened at Warwick, an unincorporated town about five miles south of what is now the downtown Port of Richmond. During the Indian Massacre of 1622, the factory and most of the people living there were all but destroyed.
Warwick was as far as many ships could sail upriver, and Warwick was a major port in the early Virginia colony. When Thomas Jefferson was Virginia's governor in 1781-1782, he noted that "Vessels of 250 tons?" could go upriver to Warwick. However, the British burned the town and destroyed its ships, warehouses, storehouses, mills, rope works, and tanner in April 1781. The town of Warwick disappeared, but the current Port of Richmond Deepwater Terminal now includes part of the earlier Warwick site.
Although there was conflict between colonists and Powhatan before the early 17th Century, conflicts increased after the death of Chief Powhatan in 1618. When the Powhatan attacked colonists, the English almost eliminated the tribes during the 1640s. The population was further decimated by the infectious diseases the Europeans brought with them to the New World.
After Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, the colonists began to enslave many Powhatan. Even after Virginia's House of Burgesses abolished Indian slavery in 1691, Powhatan continued to be enslaved well into the 18th Century. During the 18th Century, black slaves and some white indentured servants escaped the colonists, seeking refuge with the Powhatan. Powhatan and English cultures began to merge through unions and marriage, notably that of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, and many of the First Families of Virginia have both English and Powhatan ancestry.
In the 21st Century, the Commonwealth of Virginia recognizes eight tribes descended from the Powhatan confederation. As many as 3500 members are enrolled in the tribes, but there are as many as four times who are eligible. Two Powhatan tribes, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey, continue to live on their 17th Century reservations in King William County, Virginia.
In early 2011, six Powhatan tribes in Virginia began the process of securing Federal recognition. While the proposed bills were approved in committee, they have not yet been brought to the full House or Senate.
In 1774, the Virginia convention created a standing body of citizens opposing British rule. During the American Revolution, the Port of Richmond replaced Williamsburg as the capital of the Commonwealth. In early 1781, British troops under the command of Benedict Arnold pillaged the Port of Richmond. In 1785, construction began on the capitol building that was designed by Thomas Jefferson. In 1840, the James River and Kanawha Canal linked the Port of Richmond to Lynchburg. By 1860, several railroads served the city.
After Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, the capital of the Confederacy was moved to the Port of Richmond from Montgomery, Alabama, making the city an important Union target. In 1862, the Seven Days' Battles took place from June 25 through July 1 as the Army of the Potomac led by General George B. McClellan attempted to take the Port of Richmond. In 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant finally took the Port of Richmond. As the city was evacuated, much of its business district was destroyed by fire. However, the prosperous tobacco industry helped the Port of Richmond recover quickly during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.
During the 20th Century, two city-owned marine transportation facilities were built in the Port of Richmond: the Intermediate Terminal and the Richmond Deepwater Terminal. The Port of Richmond was completed in 1940 with funds provided by the city, the State, and the Federal government. Richmond Waterfront Terminals entered into a lease to operate the terminal. The Port of Richmond was built to be a general marine cargo facility.
For many years, the Port of Richmond handled cargoes dominated by tobacco and sugar. In 1960, the sugar trade ended with the embargo on trade with Cuba. Until newspapers changed their source to domestic paper, newsprint was also a major cargo group in the Port of Richmond. The Port of Richmond continued to ship cargoes of tobacco, newsprint, scrap iron, and general cargo until the late 1970s when the first container ocean-going vessels arrived in the Port of Richmond.
Until 2009, the import and export of tobacco and tobacco products was a major business in the Port of Richmond. Imported tobacco was transformed into tobacco products in North Carolina and Virginia and then exported to world markets. By 2009, most of this traffic had moved overseas.
In 1979, the City of Richmond created a task force to make recommendations about the future of the Port of Richmond. At the time, the Port of Richmond was part of the city Public Works Department. The task force recognized that the Port of Richmond was vital to the region's economy. The Port of Richmond Commission was established in 1982 to oversee port operations as an enterprise agency of the City.
The first Executive Director of the Port of Richmond was hired by the Commission in 1985, and Meehan Overseas Terminal replaced Richmond Waterfront Terminals as the operator. The same year, Independent Container Line Ltd. brought regularly scheduled services between northern Europe and the Port of Richmond.
The Port of Richmond Master Development Plan, the most ambitious in the port's history, was finished in 1995. Its $8.8 million capital improvement plan called for the extension of the wharf, a new entrance gate, a new truck processing facility, a vehicle maintenance building, a consolidated container lot, and site improvements that included paving and drainage.
In 1996, construction improvements began on the terminal. Improvements included improving the roads and container lot, repairing the wharf, and developing the south end of the Port of Richmond for future expansion. In 1996, Federal Marine Terminals bought Meehan's assets in the Port of Richmond and took over port operations.
The Port of Richmond Commission adopted the Port Strategic Plan 2003-2007 based on the Port 2020 Vision Study. The Commission's goal was to make the Port of Richmond an international and domestic multi-modal freight center that contributes significantly to the regional and State economies.
The Port of Richmond Security Plan went into effect in July 2004 in compliance with the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. With grants from the Homeland Security Transportation Security Administration, the Port of Richmond installed new entrance gates, perimeter fencing, exterior lighting, bollards, guardrails, and a vehicle restraint system.
A new container service started operating in the Port of Richmond in late 2006. Iceland's biggest shipping line, Eimskip Shipping Company, started providing monthly refrigerated and regular container line service that served the Port of Richmond; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Argentia, Newfoundland; and Reykjavik, Iceland. Cargoes on the route include frozen seafood, consumer goods, produce, bottled water, heavy equipment, vehicles, and recreational campers. To support its new business, the Port of Richmond installed container refrigeration plugs at the terminal.
In 2008, a new barge service was established for containers in the Port of Richmond to relieve highway congestion in the Hampton Roads area. The new service, 64 Express, was operated by the James River Barge Line and provided weekly service between the Norfolk International Terminal and the Port of Richmond.
The Port of Richmond faced challenges in 2009 with the national economic slow-down when marine cargo movement decreased across the country. Decreased traffic from Eimskip was the first challenge for the Port of Richmond. After that, Independent Container Line moved its operation to Wilmington, North Carolina, in the face of declining cargo volumes. When cargo traffic in the Port of Richmond decreased by 78%, Federal Marine Terminals decided not to renew its lease.
As a result, the Port of Richmond changed its business model from port operator leasehold to operation contract. This allowed the Port of Richmond to buy necessary operating equipment that included two cranes, reach stackers, top lifts, yard trucks, forklifts, bomb carts, and stevedoring gear.
Today, the Port of Richmond is increasing its multi-modal transshipment cargo volume in its efforts to be "Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Multi-Modal Freight Center." The Port of Richmond still serves Canada and Iceland through the Eimskip service, and it provides weekly barge services to Hampton Roads.
Today's cargo traffic includes aluminum, machinery, consumer goods, produce, frozen seafood, project cargo, wire coils and rods, pipe, bottle water, steel and steel products, chemicals, textiles, pharmaceuticals, forest products, and aplite. In 2010, the Port of Richmond celebrated its 70th Anniversary. The Port of Richmond continues to make major capital investments in port equipment and facilities.
Today, the Port of Richmond is recognized across the Nation for its progressive economy. The Port of Richmond has a diverse base of employment that includes chemicals, biotechnology, food and tobacco manufacturing, semi-conductors, and high-tech fibers. The Port of Richmond is consistently recognized as one of the best places to work and live in the United States.
The Port of Richmond has a vital cultural community, supporting several world-class museums and universities, a symphony, professional opera and ballet, and many art galleries and theater companies. The city is centrally located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, the Appalachian and Blue Ridge mountains, and Washington DC. The Port of Richmond is home to many chic restaurants and boutiques, entertainment and sports venues, and immediate access to one of the United States' most vast river park systems.