one of the first industries in the colony of Virginia was shipbuilding
Source: National Park Service, Boat Building at Jamestown (painting by Sidney E. King)
Native Americans in Virginia made canoes that were stable enough for crossing the Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore. Human muscle propelled those canoes; Virginia's first inhabitants did not develop the technology of sailing ships powered by wind.
shipping by canoe was common long before European colonists arrived
Source: Federal Highway Administration, 1607 The Indian Canoe (painting by Carl Rakeman)
The Spanish priests in 1570 and the English colonists in 1607 arrived by ship. The trees in Virginia that were the raw material for canoes became the raw material for building sailing ships. Shipyards were a common site along the coastline.
In the 1900's, there were still shipyards at Alexandria and Quantico on the Potomac River. The shipbuilding industry continues today, most notably in the construction of aircraft carriers and submarines at Newport News. In addition, various shipyards on the Elizabeth River repair commercial as well as military ships, and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (in Portsmouth) business from the US Navy is constant.
ship maintainance and repair is a major business along the Elizabeth River
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers, IMG_4644 and IMG_4624
Since 1607, Virginia has always been engaged in international trade using ships constructed in other places. Modern tankers and container ships export products such as coal, soybeans, and tobacco. Imports of containerized cargo and bulk materials arrive at Hampton Roads ports, primarily.
In 2020, the largest container ship ever to visit the East Coast to that time stopped at the Virginia International Gateway (VIG) terminal. It could carry 15,072 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units at one time, but such vessels top at multiple ports to load/unload just a portion of their cargo. At the Portsmouth terminal,port workers moved 3,300 containers from the ship as imported goods, or onto it for export.1
massive container ships stop at the three terminals of the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads
Source: I-564 Intermodal Connector Project, Project Fact Sheet
colonial waterfronts were industrial areas of a town, with wharves and warehouses
Source: National Park Service, Colonial Yorktown Waterfront (painting by Sidney E. King)
a pre-World War II postcard shows a ferry that ran between the Eastern Shore and Princess Anne County (now the City of Virginia Beach) until the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel opened in 1964
Source: Boston Public Library, S. S. Pocahontas, automobile and passenger transport between Kiptoeke Beach and (Little Creek) Va., Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk honors its nautical history with a statue of a sailor at Freemason Harbor