The Greatest Virginians: Some Suggestions

Yesterday’s post inquiring into the greatest Virginians of the last four centuries has resulted in quite an interesting list.  And to think that I was anticipating the typical ahistorical nonsense of Lee, Jackson, and Stuart as somehow embodying all that is good in the universe.  I should never have questioned the sophistication of my readers (LOL).  Here are the suggestions, but feel free to contribute to the discussion.

George C. Marshall, Nat Turner, Douglas Southall Freeman, Glenn McMullen (invented jump shot), the Carter Family, Thomas Jefferson, John Smith, John Rolfe, Nathaniel Bacon, Emanuel Driggus, Woodrow Wilson

I love Rebecca Goetz’s suggestions, which include Netoaka, Wahunsonacock, Opechancanough, and Sir William Berkeley.  Rebecca has posted some thoughts over at Cliopatria where additional thoughts from readers are no doubt forthcoming.  My survey class in American history is beginning the year with the book Love and Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price.  One of the reasons I like the book is that it gives full agency to Virginia’s Native Americans.  In fact, it is is impossible to understand the actions taken by John Smith and the rest of the gang without understanding the motivations and initiative taken by Powhatan and others during those early years. 

One of my readers asked if I was planning to nominate William Mahone.   Is there anyone more important to postwar Virginia?  Mahone’s disappearance from Virginia’s political and racial history is evidence enough of his importance. 

6 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin Aug 30, 2007 @ 15:30

    Hi Ethan, — I think the contributors were intentionally moving off the beaten path under the assumption that Washington, Scott, Clay, etc. would make a strong showing in the end.

    Thanks for participating.

  • Rebecca Aug 30, 2007 @ 15:30

    I really like Kupperman’s Jamestown Project–I thought it was better on the ENglish context than Mancall’s new book Hakluyt’s Promise.

    Also good is Jim Horn’s A Land as God Made It.

  • Esrafuse Aug 30, 2007 @ 15:20

    Oh, come on. How can such a list not include George Washington, Winfield Scott, or Henry Clay?

  • Chris Paysinger Aug 30, 2007 @ 9:18

    I suggested Nat Turner purely because my students think he was seminal in changing Southerner’s perspectives of slavery. I only teach an American history survey course so I don’t deal too explicitly with Turner…so I’m no expert. But the overt challenge that Turner posed to not only white hegemony but in particular white “safety” makes 1831 an important year. The indication that slavery would not only be challenged from rabid, Northern abolitionists but also from within is very important. But I also do like Woodrow Wilson and the Carter family. I’m afraid if we did this here in Alabama, “Bear” Bryant or Joe Namath would win…but this is coming from an Auburn grad. Chris

  • Kevin Levin Aug 29, 2007 @ 17:02

    Hi Rebecca, — Turner is indeed an excellent suggestion, but I also like Ken Noe’s choice of the Carter Family. As for the book I am using I wanted to makes sure that I found something that was both entertaining and historically sound.

    I’ve also read Karen O. Kupperman’s _The Jamestown Project_ (Harvard University Press,2007), which I found to be quite good.

  • Rebecca Aug 29, 2007 @ 16:56

    I like the suggestion of Nat Turner.

    I also suggested “tobacco” over on Cliopatria. That’s generating some dissent. 🙂

    I really like Camilla Townsend’s Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma, although in my course this year I’m teaching Rountree’s Powhatan, Pocahontas, Opechancanough.

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