Roanoke Revealed

Commonwealth – What is it Wednesday?

Commonwealth – What is it Wednesday?

I’ve lived in a good number of states across the US from Connecticut to California and a bunch of places in between. None of them were in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or Virginia – until now. So, the idea of a Commonwealth was a bit foreign to me.

I’m still considered a “foreigner” in Roanoke, so it’s only fitting. That’s not much different than the “city folk” term I was branded with when first moving down (of course that would be up from here) to Potter, New York. It didn’t take long to be considered one of “us”, which I’m hoping will be the case soon here.

So, in my quest to graduate to consideration as a true Roanoker, I did some digging to determine the difference between a Commonwealth and a State. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

‘The name “Commonwealth of Virginia” dates back to its independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Virginia’s first constitution (adopted on June 29, 1776) directed that “Commissions and Grants shall run, In the Name of the commonwealth of Virginia, and bear test by the Governor with the Seal of the Commonwealth annexed.” The Secretary of the Commonwealth still issues commissions in this manner.’

Clear as mud on how this differs from a state, right?

Perhaps the most useful material I found was on

“Kentucky, Virginia, and Massachusetts were the hotbeds of revolution, taking pride in their fight against British rule. They departed from the Union and adapted the name “commonwealth” to show the difference in government.

When the United States of America was formed they, together with Kentucky (sic), retained their title as commonwealths instead of adopting the term “states.” Although called by another name, they enjoy the same privileges as the other states.”

Ultimately, what I’ve discovered on the difference between State and Commonwealth based on what’s written (after sifting through more material than I care to admit), is that, besides the moniker, there really isn’t one documented. BUT, when you’re in a Commonwealth, that’s not what holds true to the people who live there. So visitors beware – don’t go there.

Talking to people to get a read on the difference nets a very different perspective and some entertaining responses – most having to do with curious governmental decision justifications or rants concluded with the statement “That’s because we’re a Commonwealth.” Sometimes these words are uttered with pride, other times frustration, but always with a sense of unity.

So, when you’re in Roanoke, remember, Virginia is a Commonwealth, not a State.

On a somewhat related note, this masterful TED talk is a riot and instructional in so many different ways. It’s 18 minutes and worth the watch.


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