West Virginia is a state of the United States in the region of Appalachia, also known as The Mountain State. West Virginia broke away from the Commonwealth of Virginia during the American Civil War and was admitted to the Union as a separate state on June 20, 1863 (an anniversary now celebrated as West Virginia Day in the state). It is the only state formed as a direct result of the American Civil War.
The Census Bureau considers West Virginia part of the South because of its location partly below the Mason-Dixon Line, even though the USGS designates it as a Mid-Atlantic state. Many southerners in other states, as well as citizens of West Virginia, do not consider it to be part of the South, but rather part of Appalachia. Many in the state′s Northern Panhandle, and North-Central region feel an affinity for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, while those in the Eastern Panhandle feel a connection with the Washington, D.C. suburbs in western Maryland and Virginia and southern West Virginians often consider themselves Southerners. The state is noted for its timber and coal mining heritage and labor union organizing mine wars in particular.
The area now known as West Virginia was a favorite hunting ground of numerous Native American peoples before the arrival of European settlers. Many ancient man-made earthen mounds from various mound builder cultures survive, especially in the areas of Moundsville, South Charleston, and Romney. Although little is known about these civilizations, the artifacts uncovered give evidence of a complex, stratified culture that practiced metallurgy.
European exploration and settlement
In 1671, General Abram Wood, at the direction of Royal Governor William Berkeley of the Virginia Colony, sent a party which discovered Kanawha Falls. In 1716, Governor Alexander Spotswood with about thirty horsemen made an excursion into what is now Pendleton County. John Van Metre, an Indian trader, penetrated into the northern portion in 1725. The same year, German settlers from Pennsylvania founded New Mecklenburg, the present Shepherdstown, on the Potomac River, and others followed.
King Charles II of England, in 1661, granted to a company of gentlemen the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, known as the Northern Neck. The grant finally came into the possession of Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and in 1746, a stone was erected at the source of the North Branch Potomac River to mark the western limit of the grant. A considerable part of this land was surveyed by George Washington between 1748 and 1751. The diary kept by the surveyor indicates that there were already many squatters, largely of German origin, along the South Branch Potomac River. Christopher Gist, a surveyor in the employ of the first Ohio Company, which was composed chiefly of Virginians, explored the country along the Ohio River north of the mouth of the Kanawha River between 1751 and 1752. The company sought to have a fourteenth colony established with the name Vandalia. Many settlers crossed the mountains after 1750, though they were hindered by Native American depredations. Presumably, few Native Americans lived within the present limits of the state, but the region was a common hunting ground, crossed also by many war trails. During the French and Indian War the scattered settlements were almost destroyed.
In 1774, the Crown Governor of Virginia John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, led a force over the mountains, and a body of militia under General Andrew Lewis dealt the Shawnee Indians, under Cornstalk, a crushing blow during the Battle of Point Pleasant at the junction of the Kanawha and the Ohio rivers. Native American attacks continued until after the American Revolutionary War. During the war, the settlers in Western Virginia were generally active Whigs and many served in the Continental Army.
Trans-Allegheny Virginia, 1776-1861
Social conditions in western Virginia were entirely unlike those in the eastern portion of the state. The population was not homogeneous, as a considerable part of the immigration came by way of Pennsylvania and included Germans, Protestant Ulster-Scots, and settlers from the states farther north. During the American Revolution, the movement to create a state beyond the Alleghanies was revived and a petition for the establishment of "Westsylvania" was presented to Congress, on the grounds that the mountains made an almost impassable barrier on the east. The rugged nature of the country made slavery unprofitable, and time only increased the social, political and economic differences between the two sections of Virginia.
The convention which met in 1829 to form a new constitution for Virginia, against the protest of the counties beyond the mountains, required a property qualification for suffrage and gave the slave-holding counties the benefit of three-fifths of their slave population in apportioning the state′s representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a result, every county beyond the Alleghenies except one voted to reject the constitution, which nevertheless passed because of eastern support. Though the Virginia constitution of 1850 provided for white male suffrage, the distribution of representation among the counties continued to give control to the section east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Another grievance of the west was the large expenditure for internal improvements at state expense by the Virginia Board of Public Works in the East compared with the scanty proportion allotted to the West.
Separation from Virginia
In 1861, only nine of the forty-six delegates from the area located in present state of West Virginia voted to secede. Almost immediately after the vote to proceed with secession prevailed in the Virginia General Assembly, a mass meeting at Clarksburg recommended that each county in northwestern Virginia send delegates to a convention to meet in Wheeling on May 13, 1861. When this First Wheeling Convention met, 425 delegates from 25 counties were present, but soon there was a division of sentiment. Some delegates favored the immediate formation of a new state, while others argued that, as Virginia′s secession had not yet been passed by the required referendum, such action would constitute revolution against the United States. It was decided that if the ordinance was adopted (of which there was little doubt), another convention including the members-elect of the legislature should meet at Wheeling in June. At the election on May 23, 1861, secession was ratified by a large majority in the state as a whole, but in the western counties 40,000 votes out of 44,000 were cast against it. Thus, the Restored Government of Virginia was formed with its capital in Wheeling.
The Second Wheeling Convention met as agreed on June 11 and declared that, since the Secession Convention had been called without the consent of the people, all its acts were void, and that all who adhered to it had vacated their offices. An act for the reorganization of the government was passed on June 19. The next day Francis H. Pierpont was chosen governor of Virginia, other officers were elected and the convention adjourned. The legislature, composed of the members from the western counties who had been elected on May 23 and some of the holdover senators who had been elected in 1859, met at Wheeling on July 1, filled the remainder of the state offices, organized a state government and elected two United States senators who were recognized at Washington, D.C. At that point, therefore, there were two state governments in Virginia, one pledging allegiance to the United States and one to the Confederacy.
The Wheeling Convention, which had taken a recess until August 6, then reassembled on August 20, and called for a popular vote on the formation of a new state and for a convention to frame a constitution if the vote should be favorable. At the election on October 24, 1861, 18,489 votes were cast for the new state and only 781 against. The convention began on November 26, 1861, and finished its work on February 18, 1862, and the instrument was ratified (18,162 for and 514 against) on April 11, 1862.
On May 13, the state legislature of the reorganized government approved the formation of the new state. An application for admission to the Union was made to Congress, and on December 31, 1862, an enabling act was approved by President Abraham Lincoln admitting West Virginia, on the condition that a provision for the gradual abolition of slavery be inserted in the Constitution. The Convention was reconvened on February 12, 1863, and the demand was met. The revised constitution was adopted on March 26, 1863, and on April 20, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation admitting the state at the end of sixty days (June 20, 1863). Meanwhile officers for the new state were chosen and Governor Pierpont moved his capital to Alexandria where he asserted jurisdiction over the counties of Virginia within the Federal lines.
The question of the constitutionality of the formation of the new state was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States in the following manner: Berkeley and Jefferson counties lying on the Potomac east of the mountains, in 1863, with the consent of the reorganized government of Virginia voted in favor of annexation to West Virginia. Many voters absent in the Confederate Army when the vote was taken refused to acknowledge the transfer upon their return. The Virginia General Assembly repealed the act of secession and in 1866 brought suit against West Virginia asking the court to declare the counties a part of Virginia. Meanwhile, Congress, on March 10, 1866, passed a joint resolution recognizing the transfer. The Supreme Court, in 1871, decided in favor of West Virginia.
During the American Civil War, West Virginia suffered comparatively little. George B. McClellan′s forces gained possession of the greater part of the territory in the summer of 1861, and Union control was never seriously threatened, in spite of the attempt by Robert E. Lee in the same year. In 1863, General John D. Imboden, with 5,000 Confederates, overran a considerable portion of the state. Bands of guerrillas burned and plundered in some sections, and were not entirely suppressed until after the war ended.
The area which became West Virginia furnished about 36,000 soldiers to the Federal armies and somewhat less than 10,000 to the Confederate. The absence in the army of the Confederate sympathizers helps to explain the small vote against the formation of the new state. During the war and for years afterwards partisan feelings ran high. The property of Confederates might be confiscated, and in 1866 a constitutional amendment disfranchising all who had given aid and comfort to the Confederacy was adopted. The addition of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution caused a reaction, the Democratic party secured control in 1870, and in 1871, the constitutional amendment of 1866 was abrogated. The first steps toward this change had been taken, however, by the Republicans in 1870. On August 22, 1872, an entirely new constitution was adopted.
Beginning in Reconstruction, and for several decades thereafter, the two states disputed the new state′s share of the pre-war Virginia government′s debt, which had mostly been incurred to finance public infrastructure improvements, such as canals, roads, and railroads under the Virginia Board of Public Works. Virginians, led by former Confederate General William Mahone, formed a political coalition which was based upon this theory, the Readjuster Party. Although West Virginia′s first constitution provided for the assumption of a part of the Virginia debt, negotiations opened by Virginia in 1870 were fruitless, and in 1871, that state funded two-thirds of the debt and arbitrarily assigned the remainder to West Virginia. The issue was finally settled in 1915, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that West Virginia owed Virginia $12,393,929.50. The final installment of this sum was paid off in 1939.
The residents (both Native Americans and early European settlers) had long-known of the underlying coal, and that it could be used for heating and fuel. However, very small "personal" mines were the only practical development. After the War, with the new railroads came a practical method to transport large quantities of coal to expanding U.S. and export markets. As the anthracite mines of northwestern New Jersey and Pennsylvania began to play out during this same time period, investors and industrialists focused new interest in West Virginia. Geologists such as Dr. David T. Ansted surveyed potential coal fields and invested in land and early mining projects.
The completion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) across the state to the new city of Huntington on the Ohio River in 1872 opened access to the New River Coal Field. Soon, the C&O was building its huge coal pier at Newport News, Virginia on the large harbor of Hampton Roads. In 1881, the new Philadelphia-based owners of the former Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad (AM&O) which stretched across Virginia′s southern tier from Norfolk, had sights clearly set on the Mountain State, where the owners had large land holdings. Their railroad was renamed Norfolk and Western (N&W), and a new railroad city was developed at Roanoke to handle planned expansion. After its new president Frederick J. Kimball and a small party journeyed by horseback and saw firsthand the rich bituminous coal seam which his wife named "Pocahontas", the N&W redirected its planned westward expansion to reach it. Soon, the N&W was also shipping from new coal piers at Hampton Roads.
In the northern portion of the state and elsewhere, the older Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) and other lines also expanded to take advantage of coal opportunities as well. By 1900, only a large area of the most rugged terrain of southern West Virginia was any distance from the existing railroads and mining activity.
Beginning in 1898, Dr. Ansted′s protégé William Nelson Page, a civil engineer and mining manager in Fayette County, teamed with investors to take advantage of the undeveloped area. They acquired large tracts of land in the area, and Page began the Deepwater Railway, a short-line railroad which was chartered to stretch between the C&O at its line along the Kanawha River and the N&W at Matoaka, a distance of about 80 miles (130 km). Although the Deepwater plan should have provided a competitive shipping market via either railroad, leaders of the two large railroads did not appreciate the scheme. In secret collusion, each declined to negotiate favorable rates with Page, and they did not offer to purchase his railroad since they had many other short-lines. However, if the C&O and N&W presidents thought they could thus eliminate the Page project, they were to be proved mistaken.
One of the silent partner investors Page had enlisted was millionaire industrialist Henry Huttleston Rogers, a principal in John D. Rockefeller′s Standard Oil Trust and an old hand at competitive "warfare" with deep pockets. Instead of giving up, Page (and Rogers) quietly planned and then built their tracks all the way east to across Virginia, using Rogers′ private fortune to finance the $40 million cost. When the renamed Virginian Railway was completed in 1909, three major railroads were shipping ever-increasing volumes of coal to export from Hampton Roads. West Virginia coal was also under high demand at Great Lakes ports as well.
As coal mining and related work became a major employment activities in the state, there was considerable labor strife as working conditions, safety issues, and economic concerns arose. Even in the 21st century, mining safety and ecological concerns were challenging to the state whose coal continued to power electrical generating plants in many other states.
Coal is not the only valuable mineral found in West Virginia, as the state was the site of the 1928 discovery of the 34.48 carat (6.896 g) Jones Diamond.
WEST VIRGINIA COUNTIES
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