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2013 Exhibit

West Virginia Sesquicentennial

A poster for WV Day 2013, celebrating the WV Sesquicentennial. The poster is blue, with an American flag in the middle and a map of WV over it.

On June 20, 2013, West Virginia celebrated the sesquicentennial of its existence. The circumstances surrounding the state's creation 150 years ago were unprecedented, possibly unconstitutional, and certainly ironic. A civil war then being fought to prevent secession at the national level led directly to what many viewed as secession at the state level. Hypocrisy? A century and a half later, these seemingly contradictory events still excite and confound those who wish to study and understand them. The West Virginia and Regional History Center's 2013 exhibit explores West Virginia's path to statehood and the immediate effects of the establishment of the 35th state.

To access a PDF slideshow of the exhibit, please use the following:

Pre-Statehood Tension

The first gallery of the exhibit focuses on the tensions in Virginia before West Virginia's statehood was declared, exploring the long history of differing needs and attitudes that drove eastern and western Virginia apart. 

The Deakins Line

Map of the Deakins line.

The borders of western Virginia were under constant dispute throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.  The borders between Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland in particular were hotly contested during the mid and late 18th century.  While the Mason-Dixon Line resolved the issues between Pennsylvania and Maryland in the 1760s, the line’s western limit failed to resolve the issue of Virginia’s claim to lands west of the Youghiogheny River extending as far as Pittsburgh.  

Compass in a wooden box used by Franics Deakins.

The clash over Maryland’s western border with Virginia was resolved when both sides agreed to a boundary line extending due north from the Fairfax Stone to the Mason-Dixon Line.  The eminent surveyor Francis Deakins surveyed the line in 1788 using this very compass, made by one of America’s scientific instrument makers, Benjamin Rittenhouse. This is the sole surviving example of a surveyor’s compass that actually bears Rittenhouse’s signature.

The Two Virginias 

While West Virginia owes its existence to the Civil War, the notion of separating Trans-Allegheny Virginia from eastern Virginia dates back to the colonial era.   The region almost became a separate colony in the years leading up to the American Revolution.  On that occasion, war led to the preservation of Virginia rather than to its division. Though the state remained politically whole, many factors contributed to a relationship between the two distinct regions of Virginia that was strained at best in the ensuing decades.     

The Allegheny Mountains represented a natural barrier between the two sections of the state that made western Virginia a far away frontier, out of sight and out of mind to most Virginians, including the vast majority of the state’s legislators, during the late 18th century.  As the 19th century progressed, western Virginians grew increasingly dissatisfied with the state government’s inattention to their interests.  Improvements in transportation infrastructure were sorely needed, as was increased access to public education.  Perhaps above all, westerners were angered by the way taxation and representation favored the east.  Due to these and other concerns, calls for the separation of western Virginia from eastern Virginia arose periodically throughout the first half of the 19th century.

 Benjamin Franklin Grants Monongalia County?

Land grant

Virginia once claimed a section of southwestern Pennsylvania that included Fort Pitt, with a boundary line that ran north from the Deakins Line, east of the Monongahela River, to a point roughly on the same latitude as the confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers.  Just seven years before this grant was issued, the tract of land described within, in present-day Greene County, was part of Monongalia County.


Map of Vandalia Colony

Present-day West Virginia almost became a 14th British colony in the years immediately prior to the Revolutionary War.  Benjamin Franklin was among a group of investors who petitioned King George III to create the colony “Vandalia,” which would have included nearly all of western Virginia along with parts of southwestern Pennsylvania and eastern Kentucky.  Ironically, war led to the prevention of the “rending” (or breaking apart) of Virginia in this instance.  King George’s authority to sanction the new colony ceased when the colonies declared independence in 1776.

Map of Virginia's district of West Augusta.

The district of West Augusta included territory that was broken up in 1776 to form three counties – Monongalia, Ohio, and Yohogania.  The small part of Yohogania that Virginia retained after 1780 was added to Ohio County.


No issue vexed western Virginians more than the lack of state support for improving transportation in Trans-Allegheny Virginia.  Roadways were few and far between and stagecoach service non-existent in the late 18th century and well into the following century.  The state government also did its best to impede the development of for-profit turnpikes, canals, and railroads.  The lack of access to transportation was devastating to the region’s economy and contributed immensely to both a sense of isolation and alienation from eastern Virginia.

Map of Virginia, 1826

Vance Young Map of Virginia, 1826: While only a handful of roads existed in Virginia when the Fry Jefferson map was drawn (see 8th slide), by 1826 eastern Virginia was crisscrossed with roadways.   In comparison, Trans-Allegheny roads were literally few and far between.  Residents complained that the few that did exist were often impassable.

Posted Broadside Announcing Bids Sought for Road Building Contact near Morgantown, 1827 (bottom right)

Selection of tourist maps and certificates for shares in the 1854 Clarksburg and Philippi Turnpike Company.

Tourist’s Pocket Map, 1849 (top)

This “Tourist’s Pocket Map” of Virginia offered little hope for travelers wishing to explore Virginia’s western regions. Other than Harpers Ferry, which was accessible by federal roads, only Lewisburg could be reached by stagecoach.  Wheeling fared much better in terms of accessibility, not due to the efforts of Virginia, but to its situation on the Ohio River.

“I shall leave no stone unturned to affect our object.” (left)

In 1829, Thomas Ray of Morgantown wrote to Harrison Hagans in Preston County regarding his determination to see money appropriated for a road connecting Winchester to Clarksburg and Marietta.

Road Maintenance (center)

Throughout western Virginia, as in many things, citizens were forced to fend for themselves.  This included undertaking major internal improvements with their own labor and funds. This 1848 document records a citizens’ contract to pay John Scott for the upkeep of “the road” in their district.

1854 Stock Certificate for Shares in the Clarksburg and Philippi Turnpike Company (right)

John Stealey paid $50.00 for two shares of stock to provide funds for the road construction.

The Fry Jefferson Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia 
The Fry Jefferson map of the most inhabited part of Virginia.

One of the most famous of American maps, this was the preeminent map of Virginia and Maryland for decades after its creation. Commissioned by the English government as part of the comprehensive mapping of the British colonies, the map was initially published in 1753, but was reissued later with improvements in the western portion of the map.  Created by Peter Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson’s father), and Joshua Fry, a mathematician at the College of William and Mary (and Thomas Jefferson's tutor), the map was based on actual surveys and other first-hand information. This map was a watershed in the history of the mapping of Virginia and remained the prototype for the region for the second half of the century. Not only was it the first map to show with some accuracy the western parts of Virginia, but it was the first to depict the road system in the colony.

Internal Improvements

Lack of adequate transportation arteries in western Virginia was a major impediment to the region’s economic growth during the early nineteenth century. Unfortunately, the Virginia Legislature did little to remedy the problem and in some instances intentionally impeded progress by denying charters to proposed road, canal, and railroad ventures. Projects that were approved were generally inadequately funded, leaving the brunt of the burden on private financing and tolls. Citizens were routinely forced to buy stock and pay tolls to help fund construction, and often had to provide for road maintenance with their own labor. Many projects were canceled or “delayed” because the residents could not fund them.  Projects that did succeed often had the backing of elite citizens who enjoyed close ties with the east.  

Several papers detailing infrastructure projects like turnpikes, railroads and canals.

“You will cease to scramble over . . . rocks as you mount the summit of Rich Mountain.” (center)

The roads that the Virginia Assembly adequately funded were generally those advocated by elite western citizens with strong ties to Virginia’s eastern leaders. In this 1849 letter, one such gentleman, Gideon Camden, proudly informs David Goff of Beverly that it will soon be easy to traverse Rich Mountain as the Legislature has passed a bill he supported to build a new turnpike, “on state account.” This roadway would come to be known as the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike.

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Wheeling (top right)

This document reveals the influence of Virginia’s elite in affecting major infrastructure decisions, in this case the route of one of the most important arteries into western Virginia, the B&O Railroad. Whereas many westerners advocated a more central route, this letter from James Bennett to his brother Jonathan, in Weston, reveals the influence of Andrew Hunter in adoption of an extreme northern route running through the Eastern Panhandle where Hunter owned extensive property.

“A matter of great importance to us . . .” (top left)

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal followed a northern route that did little to assist the economy of Virginia’s interior sections. In this 1830 letter, William Nayler of Romney complains to his State Senator, Charles Faulkner, about the decision causing the C&O to bypass the South Branch of the Potomac.  That decision was devastating to commerce in Hampshire, Hardy, Pendleton and surrounding counties.

“The Freed Men Refused to Work the Roads.” (bottom right)

After four years of war and no repairs, road conditions in Eastern Virginia were terrible.  In the past, slaves worked the roads for their masters, however Governor Pierpont wrote to Senators Willey and Van Winkle that freed men (ex-slaves) refused to do the work, “poor whites” refused to work unless the “negroes” work, and the “gentlemen can’t work, but the gentlemen are the ones who use the roads.”

Posted Broadside Announcing Proposals Sought for Road Construction Contacts in Philippi, 1850 (bottom left)

James River and Kanawha County Circular, 1836
papers on the James River and Kanawha Company Circular, 1836.

Intended as a major artery connecting western Virginia with eastern markets, the James River and Kanawha Canal was considered essential to the economic growth of the heart of western Virginia.  Though the project was successful in gaining a charter from the Virginia Legislature, funding was inadequate for its completion and the project was eventually abandoned. This document informs stockholders about the schedule for making payment installments into the Bank of Virginia.

Frontier Life at the Turn of the Century 
Currency issued by banks in Western Virginia, 1845, an American Long Rifle, circa 1800, and a letter by Peter Van Winkle.

Currency Issued by Banks in Western Virginia (top)

Another way in which eastern leaders impeded economic development in western Virginia was via banking.  The Virginia Legislature repeatedly refused requests to authorize the establishment of western banks. Those banks that were established suffered the insult of having the currency they issued devalued by eastern banks by 10% or even more. The 1856 $10 note from the Northwestern Bank in Wellsburg and 1845 $5 note from the Merchants & Mechanics Bank in Wheeling would have been worth less in eastern Virginia than in their own communities.

American Long Rifle, ca. 1800 (center)

The muzzle-loading Kentucky Long Rifle (also known as the Pennsylvania Long Rifle) was the weapon of choice on the western Virginia frontier throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Unlike the standard smooth-bore musket of the age, the long rifle had a grooved barrel that imparted a spin on its projectiles that resulted in both increased distance and accuracy. In addition to its use for protection and food, the rifle was key to frontier economy which included a lively trade in wild-game meats and furs.   

“I believe a national institution capable of regulating the currency and exchanges should be created” (bottom)

Peter Van Winkle of Wood County addressed several issues in this 1842 letter regarding the financial crisis in the country and the state of Virginia including the need for a national bank “so that a dollar in New Orleans will be worth a dollar in…Parkersburg.” The devaluation of western Virginia currency by eastern Virginia banks was one of many ways in which western Virginia’s economic growth was checked by eastern rivals.

Frontier Economics at the Turn of the Century 
Ledger of transactions in Shepherdstown and Martinsburg, 1791.

This ledger documents transactions in the area of Shepherdstown and Martinsburg, in present-day Jefferson and Berkeley Counties, and shows a brisk whiskey trade in 1791.  Transactions are recorded in the currency of Britain:  pounds, shillings, and pence.

Ledger of the Woodbridge Mercantile Company, 1803.

The Woodbridge Mercantile Company operated in the Ohio Valley area in the 1800s, based near present-day Wood County, WV.  This ledger shows that the economy was partially based on a barter system, with one customer offering fur skins as partial payment for goods like sugar and ladles in 1803.  Transactions are also recorded in British currency.

Life in Eastern Virginia vs. Western Virginia
Sketches by Henry Howe illustrating the differences between life in eastern Virginia (agriculture, slavery) and western Virginia's more rugged lifestyle.

These sketches, from Henry Howe’s Historical Collections of Virginia, published in 1845, illustrate the differences between eastern Virginia’s agriculture-based, slave-supported lifestyle, and the more rugged lifestyle of the western mountaineers.  While these stereotypical images represent an oversimplification, the economic differences between the two regions were, in fact, quite pronounced.  Economic prosperity, and consequently political power, in the east rested in the hands of a comparatively small group of large-scale plantation owners and speculators.  Western Virginia’s population was composed mostly of small-scale yeoman farmers, laborers, and frontiersmen.

Collection of textbooks, school slates, and ledgers from various schools.

The Monongalia Academy Minute Book (top left)

Western Virginians who desired more than rudimentary education for their children had little choice but to band together and pool their resources to create local academies.  The Monongalia Academy, established in Morgantown in 1814, provided education to sons of upper class northwestern Virginians who could afford to pay tuition.  This minute book shows the trustees’ efforts to choose a site for a building, which was constructed in 1831 on the northeast corner of Spruce and Walnut streets.

Do you know how to play? (top right)

We don’t!  This antebellum boyhood game belonged to future West Virginia governor A. B. Fleming. The attached note reads, “Resolved that the undersigned abstain from falsehood, stealing, biscuits, sausage & wood from the 1st April 1860. J.C. Simms, A.B. Fleming, C.L. Davis, Esq.”

Early Regional Textbooks (middle right)

These textbooks were published in Buffalo and Wheeling, in 1824 and 1844, respectively.  The books were intended for use by younger students studying reading and writing.

John J. Davis School Slate, ca. 1845 (bottom right)

In place of paper, which was a luxury in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, slate boards like this one were commonly used by school children. Rather than chalk, most students wrote their lessons with a slate pencil.

1830 Monroe County School Ledger (bottom left)

This ledger contains student records, including the tuition they were charged for the number of days they attended school.

"The People Must Be Educated..."
Document describing the creation of the Literary Fund in 1814.

Education in antebellum Virginia was largely reserved for those who could afford tutors and private schools. While attempts were made to provide free public education, they were either defeated or hindered by the legislature and the county courts. Opposition was partly fueled by a disdain for evangelical clergymen who made up a large portion of the advocates for free schools.

A program that met with limited success was the Literary Fund, which was established by the Legislature in 1814. Unfortunately, funding was woefully inadequate and inequitably allocated. Only modest funds reached western Virginia where need was greatest. A sizeable percentage ended up going not to educating the masses but into the coffers of the University of Virginia.

Land Tax Inequalities
Document listing delinquent parcels in Harrison County.

In nineteenth-century Virginia, land for which delinquent taxes were overdue was forfeited to the state. The land was sold for the benefit of the state’s Literary Fund, which was intended to fund public education.  This document, which lists delinquent parcels in Harrison County, reveals that there were two sets of laws regarding delinquent lands:  one for western counties, and another with more favorable terms for the state’s eastern counties.

"Our situation is indeed perilous," Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia 

The Constitution adopted by Virginia in 1776 was a rampart for eastern Virginia power. Drafted by Virginia’s wealthiest men, the document specified that only landowners could vote.  Western Virginians were designated as “peasants” and accorded a status similar to that of eastern Virginia’s plantation slaves.

Providing no provision for amendment, the Constitution laid the foundation for a deep rooting of government operating under feudal rules. Jefferson recognized the Constitution’s shortcomings and in 1801 called for a convention “to fix the constitution, to amend its defects….” Motivated by the fear of losing their slaves and power to “fanatic abolitionists” and “the peasantry” in the west, easterners constantly refused to heed Jefferson’s advice.

"A crisis in the internal affairs of Virginia..."
Document calling for a convention to amend Virginia's constitution

Underpinned by the Jacksonian Democracy movement, agitation by western Virginia citizens for a convention to amend Virginia’s constitution grew rapidly during the 1820s. Westerners pointed to the rights guaranteed to them in the United States Constitution to highlight the glaring injustices imposed upon them by Virginia’s leaders.  Among the foremost complaints was the fact that Virginia was one of only two states in the Union that still restricted voting privileges to landowners. As many western laborers and frontiersmen did not meet this basic qualification, they were effectively disenfranchised, thus enabling the continuing domination of the eastern “oligarchy.”


Map showing sectional character of vote for and against a constitutional convention, 1828

Map Showing Sectional Character of Vote For and Against a Constitutional Convention, 1828 (from Ambler’s Sectionalism in Virginia)

Due to the many inequities embedded in Virginia’s 1776 constitution, western Virginians began repeated calls for constitutional reform during the first decades of the nineteenth century.  Among the most vexing issues was the manner in which the state’s population was calculated to determine representation of each county in the state legislature.  While western counties favored the practice of counting all white population, eastern counties strove to preserve the historic practice of including slaves as a portion of the population.  The latter practice increased eastern Virginia’s representation in the legislature to far beyond what was warranted on the basis of white population alone. The few counties in the south of what is now West Virginia that voted against a constitutional convention may have done so because they had large numbers of slaves, mostly in the salt industry, to boost their population.

Map showing the vote of Virginia on the tariff of 1828

Map Showing the Sectional Character of the Vote of Virginia on the Tariff of 1828

In 1828, the U.S. Congress passed a tariff bill that was intended to tax imports so that foreign products could not undercut the price of goods manufactured in America, mostly in the North. Western Virginians supported the bill.  The eastern half of the state spurned the bill, which drove them to purchase more expensive domestic goods in place of heavily taxed imports.  The bill indirectly caused Britain to import less U.S. cotton, which further weakened the southern economy and precipitated the Nullification Crisis.

Map showing the vote by counties for and against the Constitution of 1830

Map Showing the Vote by Counties For and Against the Constitution of 1830

Western Virginia delegates were highly dissatisfied with the revised 1830 constitution, particularly in its failure to grant their region the level of representation it merited based on its current white population.  This map demonstrates the overwhelming divide between eastern and western Virginia on this issue.  Calls for a separation of the western part of the state were heard even at this early date.

Map showing the vote on a resolution to legislate for the abolition of slavery

Map Showing the Vote … on a Resolution to Legislate for the Abolition of Negro Slavery

This map shows the division between eastern and western Virginia on the issue of slavery.  Western Virginians, who had far less invested in slavery, generally viewed slavery as an economic and humanitarian evil.  Eastern Virginians looked upon slaves as a valuable form of property.

Map showing the sectional character of the vote on nullification

Map Showing the Sectional Character of the Vote on Nullification

In a nutshell, “nullification” refers to a state’s right to nullify, or disregard, any law passed at the national level that conflicts with the state’s own interests.   In this case, delegates were asked to vote on whether or not they approved of South Carolina’s 1832 Ordinance of Nullification, which declared the nationally imposed tariffs null and void within the “sovereign” boundaries of the state.  This bold declaration that a state had the power to “nullify” national legislation had obvious implications as the battle over slavery escalated.  This map demonstrates the east vs. west, Union vs. State-Rights political divisions in Virginia.

Virginia Constitutional Conventions 

Documents concerning constitutional conventions

Proceedings of the 1829 Virginia Constitutional Convention (top left)

Published in 1830, this volume documents the numerous resolutions passed and defeated during the 1829 convention to amend the 1776 Virginia constitution. Though delegates were sent from throughout the state, the eastern counties held a decided majority. To add insult to injury, the Virginia Legislature chose to base representation at the convention on the 1810 census rather than the 1820 census which showed significant gains in population in western counties.

Print of George Catlin’s Painting, “Virginia Constitutional Convention,” 1829 (top right)

Among the delegates present at the 1829 convention were former United States presidents James Madison and James Monroe, and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. All three voted against reforms to eliminate the inequalities of the government.  Madison held that easterners had a right to superior legislative power over the westerners due to the vast superiority of the value of their property.

“Their votes were enough to turn the scale and blast our hopes” (center)

Phillip Doddridge, convention delegate from Wood County, published a scathing letter in March 1830, expressing his anger and disappointment regarding the newly amended state constitution.  Doddridge firmly believed that western Virginia had been betrayed by leaders, especially former President James Madison and Winchester delegate John R. Cooke. Both claimed to be strong reformists yet both voted against nearly all true reform measures.  Doddridge considered the actions of Madison and Cooke to be “calculated to work together for the purpose of effecting perpetual Western Slavery.”

John R. Cooke to Phillip Doddridge, December 1829 (bottom left)

Penned by Cooke, a delegate from Winchester, during the 1829 Virginia Constitutional Convention, Cooke enclosed in this missive  a pamphlet he had authored titled, “An Uncompromising Friend.” Cooke portrayed himself as an unwavering reformer.

Delegate John R. Cooke’s Published Reaction to Phillip Doddridge’s Critical Letter (bottom middle)

“We’d sooner commit the new amended constitution to the flames” A Call for Separation!  (bottom right)

The hopes of western Virginians for more equitable government in Virginia were dashed by the results of the 1829 Virginia convention, which simply perpetuated eastern Virginia’s superiority.  After a meeting to discuss matters in Beverly, Randolph County, the town’s citizens published a preamble and resolutions expressing their complete disdain for the recently amended constitution and boldly called for division of the state. They were not alone in their position.  Indeed, citizens throughout western Virginia gave voice to the notion of separating from eastern “tyranny.”

1855 Circular Published by Delegate S. M. Gallahu
1855 circular published by Delegate S. M. Gallahu

S. M. Gallahu, a member of the Virginia Legislature from Jackson County, was evidently in league with eastern Virginia’s ruling elite.  In this letter to constituents, he explains his reasons for voting against the funding of a railroad that would have provided a sorely needed means of transportation in western Virginia.  Shifting to the issue of taxation, he attempts to ease regional tension by promising that, while taxes may be unfair to the west at present, in ten years’ time equity will be achieved by shifting representation solely to white population.

Virginia Constitutional Convention, 1850-1851
Documents detailing the proceedings of the 1850 Virginia Constitutional convention

Proceedings of the 1850-1851 Constitutional Convention (top right)

Western Virginia’s demand for constitutional reform led to another convention in 1850-1851. This time, the results were somewhat better. Among the changes were reapportionment for the House of Delegates (though not the Senate), universal white male suffrage, and the institution of direct elections (as opposed to appointments) for several state offices. On the negative side, taxes on slaves were lowered which had the effect of increasing the tax burden of non-slaveholding westerners.

Kanawha’s George Summers’ Address to the Convention (bottom right)

In this passionate address to the 1850-1851 convention, Kanawha County Delegate Summers chides the Virginia Legislature for having placed the power of government in the hands of a minority, thereby abandoning the “true principles of republicanism.”

Young Waitman Willey Finds His Voice (top left)

Waitman T. Willey (1811-1900), who started his law career under the tutelage of 1829 Delegate Philip Doddridge, delivered a statistically fact-filled defense for reform at the 1850-1851 convention.  Willey followed his report with a passionate declaration that if reform should fail again, “You will compel us to assume an attitude of antagonism towards you...  We shall be forced to destroy our assailants to save our liberty.”  Such statements were tantamount to a threat of revolution.

Samuel Price’s Convention Notes (bottom left)

Samuel Price represented Greenbrier County at the 1850-1851 constitutional convention.  Price took these notes as various delegates spoke to the assembly.  Despite being a western Virginian from a geographical standpoint, Price maintained close ties with eastern Virginia’s ruling elite.  In the following decade, he would win election to the post of Lieutenant Governor of the Confederate State of Virginia.

Slavery and Abolition
Documents concerning the abolition of slavery

Abolitionist Hymnal (top right)

This book of songs, The Liberty Minstrel, published in 1844, exemplifies the strong feelings of those who wanted to abolish slavery and the religious themes in their arguments.

“Where is the preacher...that has the boldness to hold up these sins in their true light...” Francis H. Pierpont, February 9, 1858 (bottom right)

Francis Pierpont posed this question to Brother Reese, a fellow member of the Methodist Church, in this letter. Pierpont, referring to the slave market where men, women, and children were bought and sold, asked why “all the feelings of humanity were spurned” and “Godly reproof” was not “administered to the perpetrators” by church leaders.

“The friends of gradual emancipation soon saw that of all the ill winds that would blow upon their cause, this storm of abolitionism was the worst.” (top left)

Henry Ruffner was one of Virginia’s leading educators as well as a prominent Presbyterian minister. He was also a slave holder, yet an abolitionist.  In his famous 1847 pamphlet, “Address to the People of West Virginia,” Ruffner argues many points regarding the wisdom of ending slavery, attempting to bring a level of constructive sanity, as he sees it, to the issue.  He points out that the extremism of northern abolitionists only hinders the efforts of more moderate anti-slavery advocates, and he argues for gradual emancipation for not only moral reasons but economic ones as well.  Ruffner also decries the unfair political advantage accorded eastern Virginia by the “three-fifths rule,” which allows slaves to be counted as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of determining representation in the legislature.

Images of Eastern-Panhandle African Americans (bottom left)

The dates of these tintypes, and the names of the subjects, are unknown.  All are thought to depict slaves or former slaves who resided in present-day West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle during the Civil War era. The apparel depicted, and the very existence of the photographs themselves, suggest that the sitters were emancipated by the time these pictures were taken.  All, however, had likely spent most of their lives in bondage.  Note that the photograph in the center of this group contains the image of a young man with a bugle or trumpet. The subject’s military jacket and kepi hat suggest that he might have been a Union bugler or perhaps a member of a regimental band.

Founding Father Waitman T. Willey
1850 portrait of Waitman T. Willey

Delegate Waitman T. Willey, ca. 1850

Painted by the noted regional artist David Gilmour Blythe (1815-1865), this portrait was made just prior to Willey’s departure from Morgantown for the 1850-1851 Virginia Convention.  The portrait, which captures Willey’s dashing and alert demeanor, was hanging in the Willey home (pictured at right) when Confederate raiders under General William E. ‘‘Grumble’’ Jones descended upon Morgantown in April 1863. Family legend holds that the portrait was slashed by Confederate bayonets when rebels entered Willey’s house to arrest him but found him absent. The image above shows the recently restored painting.

Photograph of Waitman T. Willey's Home in Morgantown, WV

Waitman T. Willey’s Home in Morgantown, WV

Built ca. 1839-1842 in the Classic Revival style, Willey’s home is now listed on the National Register of Historical Places.  It still stands on Wagner Road in Morgantown.

Waitman T. Willey, Slave Master

It is hard today to understand the acceptance of slavery by otherwise enlightened citizens of 19th century America.  A pillar of both church and community, Waitman T. Willey, author of a provision to gradually abolish slavery in West Virginia, was himself a slave owner.  Willey revealed his attitudes towards slavery on many occasions during his life.  It is clear that he shared the presumption of white superiority that was common throughout America, North and South, during his age, but he considered Southern claims that slavery was a natural order sanctioned by God to be “abhorrent blasphemy.” 

Tax book revealing that Waitman T. Willey owned two slaves in the year WV achieved statehood.

This 1863 Monongalia property tax book reveals that Willey owned two slaves in the year in which West Virginia achieved statehood.

Daniel Webster, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Predicts the Separation of Virginia, 1851

Daniel Webster was one of relatively few northern politicians who supported a national compromise on the issue of slavery.  The following remarks by Webster, delivered in Washington, D.C., in 1851, reveal his awareness of the possible “rending” (separation) of Virginia over slavery and other issues which emerged in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1850-1851.  

Ye Men of Western Virginia, who occupy the slope from the Alleghenies to the Ohio and Kentucky, what benefit do you propose to yourselves by disunion? Do you look for the current of the Ohio to change and bring you and your commerce to the tide-waters of Eastern rivers?  What man in his senses would suppose that you would remain a part and parcel of Virginia a month after Virginia ceased to be a part and parcel of the United States?

From Disunion to Statehood

The second gallery of the exhibit focuses on the path from Virginia's secession from the Union in 1861 through West Virginia statehood, including some of the challenges that faced the new state. 

1861 Virginia Ordinance of Secession 

Document concerning the 1861 Virginia ordinance of secession.

On February 13, 1861, when delegates assembled in Richmond to decide the course Virginia would take in the in National Crisis, the majority from both east and west were intent on remaining with the Union.  To the dismay of western Virginians, the tide quickly turned when Fort Sumter fell and President Lincoln called for volunteers, “... to cause the laws to be duly executed...”

On April 17, the delegates voted Virginia out of the United States. Despite a state law requiring a referendum vote by the people to make the ordinance legal, Virginia dispatched troops to capture the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry only hours later.

Virginia Secession Convention, 1861

Documents concerning the Virginia Secession convention of 1861.

“To the Voters of Barbour County” (top left)

Southern sympathizer Samuel Woods posted this broadside during his campaign to represent Barbour County at the Virginia Convention in 1861.  An attorney residing in Philippi, Woods advocated the eastern party line of states’ rights and the protection of slavery at all costs. Woods won election to the convention and later signed the Ordinance of Secession.  A handwritten note on the back of this broadside reads, “Mr. Lincoln, Dear Sir, I send a circular of a Union Man up to the rail, (signed) John Fitzspurgeon.”  The writer evidently intended to send the broadside to Lincoln to inform him of Woods’ traitorous position.

Political Cartoon Published in Harper’s Weekly, May 1862 (bottom left)

“Whew! That Old Man, JEFF DAVIS, has been trying to hatch a Rotten Egg!”

“Friends of Southern Rights” April 16, 1861 (bottom center)

This invitation, an offer to attend a discussion of Southern rights issues, was a guise for radical secessionists to gather next door to the Virginia Convention the day before the vote to decide Virginia secession. The “fire-eaters” intended to intimidate the delegates into voting Virginia out of the Union.  Many radicals were prepared to rebel against Virginia Governor Letcher, overthrowing his government if the convention failed to vote in favor of secession.

Samuel Price letters to Jane Price, March 1861 (top right)

A Secession Convention delegate from Greenbrier County, Samuel Price wrote to inform his wife Jane that “the convention is so conservative” that “there is no danger of secession...”  The letter corroborates reports that Virginia secession would not have occurred had a vote been taken prior to the Confederacy’s attack on Fort Sumter several weeks after this letter was written.

Ballots for the 1860 Presidential Election (bottom right)

Documents concerning the Virginia secession convention.

Federal Relations Committee Report, March 9, 1861 (top center)

This committee laid out 14 proposals to the Secession Convention, among them a justification of slavery and a defense of states’ rights. The committee also called for a special meeting of representatives from the eight slave states still in the Union. Their goal was to form a united front of states interested in achieving compromise rather than disunion.

John Carlile’s Speech Before the Virginia Convention, March 7, 1861 (top right)

Clarksburg’s John S. Carlile was a leading pro-Union advocate in western Virginia.  He used his considerable regional influence to rally citizens against secession in an effort to keep Virginia in the Union.  After secession, Carlile was one of the first proponents of forming a new state. To the disappointment of many, he would later vote against the statehood bill in the United States Senate because the emancipation of slaves was attached as amendment.

Henry A. Wise, Virginia Governor 1856-1860, Confederate General 1861-1865 (top left)

Post-War Letter from Governor Henry Wise to Charles J. Faulkner (bottom left)

Former Virginia Governor Henry Wise was so hostile to the Union that he refused to take the Oath of Allegiance when the Civil War ended. In this letter he explains to Faulkner that, since he never fought for the Confederacy, only for Virginia, there was no need for him to take the oath. Wise labeled himself an “unsubmitting rebel”.

Eyewitness to the Secession Vote, “A Sad and Sorrowful Picture” (bottom center)

Gideon Cranmer recorded the last emotional plea against secession by the President of Convention, John Janney, and the intimidation and threats against pro-Union delegates it spawned. He also reported Henry Wise’s reaction to the assembly regarding a proposal to postpone the vote. Removing a horse pistol from his coat, Wise announced, “Too late, in 15 minutes Harpers Ferry will be in the possession of Virginia troops.”

Political Cartoon Lambasting Secessionists (bottom right)

This cartoon is directed toward secessionists, but was delivered to John J. Davis of Harrison County.  Davis stood against secession, but turned against the statehood movement when emancipation became a condition. Other penciled-in comments label Davis a traitor, placing him in the same category with secessionists.

Letters to Waitman T. Willey regarding secession, 1861

Letters to Waitman T. Willey Regarding Secession, March 27 - May 16, 1861

These letters were sent to Willey by citizens and convention delegates from the Shenandoah Valley who were against secession.  They urged Willey to return to Richmond and to seek a compromise in the present emergency. If that failed, each writer resolved to take different paths, including submission to the Confederacy, fight the “invading Yankees,” and reject secession by forming a new government.   The correspondents included A.H.H. Stuart of Staunton, cousin of Confederate General Jeb Stuart, and a Mr. Fraysee, resident of Appomattox Court House.

Letter from E.B. Hall to F.H. Pierpont, March 28, 1861

Letter from E.B. Hall to F. H. Pierpont, March 28, 1861

Ephraim B. Hall, a Unionist delegate from Marion County, vents his frustration to Pierpont over the terrible newspaper coverage which is constantly misquoting Hall.

Effects of Virginia's Secession 

Dcouments regarding the new definition of treason

New Definition of Treason, May 1861

Confederate Judge John Allen of Hardy County hereby issued new instructions and a new definition to the county grand jury for the crime of treason. Indeed, the charge had, for all intents and purposes, reversed its meaning!  Treason now meant aiding and abetting the government of the United States.

C.D. Hubbard response to Waitman Willey's letter

“Glad to hear you are again safe.”

C.D. Hubbard corresponds with Waitman Willey, expressing his relief that Willey made it home safely from the Richmond secession convention.  Many Unionist delegates were threatened with physical harm by the street mobs outside the convention.

Northwestern Virginians Rally After Secession Convention 

Broadside calling for Americans to rally and "rescue" their country, 1861.

“Our chains are being forged . . . in that damnable Convention.”  April, 29, 1861

This broadside was posted in Northwest Virginia soon after Virginia seceded. It calls for Americans to rally and rescue their country.  John Carlile, a Unionist delegate at the Convention in Richmond, was one of the driving forces in separating Western Virginia from Virginia and is billed here as the rally’s featured speaker.

First and Second Wheeling Conventions, 1861

Documents pertaining to the first and second Wheeling Conventions, 1861

“Now is the time for a new separate state of West Va, to stand ‘now and forever’ under the ‘glorious Stars and Stripes’” (top left)

Methodist minister Gordon Battelle was among the first western Virginians to propose a meeting “to take the initiatory steps for a provisional Western state government.”

Delegates Instructed to "initiate proceedings as will lead to the promotion" of a New State (top center)

This "true copy" of Wheeling Convention resolutions, recorded by delegate John J. Davis, documents actions taken toward independence in response to Virginia's secession upon the May 23 vote -- actions that were promised by "North Western Virginia" prior to the vote.  In this document, care is taken to justify the split, including reasons of economy and geography, among others.

Photo of Francis Harrison Pierpont, Governor of Restored Virginia (top right)

"Consolidation of Our Union" in Interest of "Every True American" (bottom left)

These words of George Washington were invoked by delegates in a set of resolutions drafted at the First Wheeling Convention during May 13 to 15, 1861.  These resolutions threatened to create an independent state for the westerners if the upcoming vote of May 23  supported Virginia’s secession from the Union.

Complimentary Admission to the North Western Virginia Convention, June 14, 1861 (bottom center)

This admission ticket was given to Lieutenant F.A. Cather of Flemington, Taylor County, by his father, Thomas Cather, who was a delegate at the convention.

Proceedings and Ordinances of the Second Wheeling Convention (bottom right)

Prior to modern news media, the printing and wide distribution of pamphlets was one of the primary means of distributing information to citizens about the decisions being made by their government.

Second Wheeling Conventions, June and August, 1861

Illustration from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper depicting the second Wheeling convention.

These sketches, from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (above) and Harper’s Weekly (below), depict the Second Wheeling Convention, during which delegates formed the Restored Government of Virginia and then proposed the creation of a new state, Kanawha.  When the delegates met again to create the new state’s constitution in November 1861, they would change the state’s name to West Virginia.

Illustration in Harper's Weekly depicting the second Wheeling Convention.

Toward Separation 

Excerpt from "A Declaration of the People of Virginia,

“We ... imperatively demand the reorganization of the government of the Commonwealth [of Virginia], and that all acts of said [Secession] Convention and Executive, tending to separate this Commonwealth from the United States, ... are without authority and void; and the offices of all who adhere to the said Convention and Executive, whether legislative, executive or judicial, are vacated.”

Excerpt from “A Declaration of the People of Virginia,” passed during the first session of the Second Wheeling Convention on June 17, 1861, and signed by the delegates three days later, on June 20, 1861.

A message from President Abraham Lincoln to Francis H. Pierpont, encouraging speed and attentiveness when organizing the newly formed Restored Government of Virginia.

“Make haste slowly.”

This cryptic message from President Abraham Lincoln to Francis H. Pierpont, encourages Virginia’s Union governor to proceed with both speed and attentiveness in organizing the newly formed Restored Government of Virginia.


Selection of documents in a clear case concerning post-secession life in Virginia

“The Black Republicans have robbed the Exchange Bank” (bottom right)

At the time secession occurred, money appropriated to build a state asylum for the insane in Lewis County was being held in the Weston Bank.  Newly elected loyal Virginia Governor Pierpont commissioned John List to retrieve the money and deposit it in a Wheeling Bank before the Confederate State of Virginia could whisk it away to Richmond.  A race to the bank ensued.  List got there first as his telegram reports, and the money, almost $27,000, was deposited safely in the Restored Government of Virginia coffers.  In the letter on the right, Dr. Bland, a physician for the Confederate Army, cried to State Auditor Bennett in Richmond, “The Black Republicans have robbed the bank!”

“To Provide for the Formation of a New State…” August 20, 1861 (top left)

This ordinance was passed by the 2nd Wheeling Convention, declares the People of Virginia, by their delegates assembled “. . . do ordain that a new state . . . be formed . . .”.  All persons qualified would be allowed to vote on the question of the new state.

Arrest Warrant for Peregrine Hays, June 3, 1862 (top right)

Hays, a Confederate and kinsman of “Stonewall” Jackson, was charged with treason against the United States.  This writ was issued by Federal Judge John J. Jackson of Parkersburg, also a kinsman of the Jackson family and a Lincoln supporter. Note the word “again” was inserted in the order to take Hays.

Lincoln Telegram (center left) 

Confederate Currency (center)

“Your Senators will be admitted.” July 7, 1861 (bottom left)

A determined U.S. Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio telegraphed Governor Pierpont to inform him the senators from the Restored Government of Virginia would be admitted “whether the old seats are vacated or not, but I intend to have them vacated tomorrow.”

Confederate Currency Worthless by 1864

A Confederacy coin on a small cloth stand with a blue background.

As the war tilted against the Confederacy in 1864, the value of its currency was seriously compromised.  The Confederate coin in this exhibit was accompanied by a note written by Peregrine Hays, a childhood playmate of Stonewall Jackson and later a rebel soldier.
In the note of July 1864, he acknowledges the currency problem: "Received of Mrs. William Dunsmore a spurious gold dollar..."

Governor and Mrs. Pierpont 

Selection of items concerning Governor and Mrs. Pierpont displayed on a blue cloth

Photos of Julia Augusta Robertson Pierpont (top) and Francis Harrison Pierpont (bottom)

“I had a little fun with some of the newly pledged officers of the Confederacy” May 17, 1861 (bottom left)

In a letter to her husband, Governor Pierpont’s wife Julia proudly tells of facing down two Confederate officers who came to the Pierpont home demanding to search the house for a rifle belonging to a friend. Julia, not to be “intimidated,” stood her ground, refusing to allow the soldiers entry.

“I don’t want you to come home” May 27, 1861 (bottom center)

In this letter, Governor Pierpont’s wife Julia warns her husband not to return home because a reward has been offered for his capture, along with that of John S. Carlile and John Burdette.

“My Dear I Am the Governor”  June 20, 1861 (bottom right)

Governor Francis H. Pierpont informs his wife on June 20, 1861, that the convention in Wheeling has “conferred” upon him the position of Governor of Virginia.

Pierpont China and Pressed Glass Tableware (top)

The artifacts in this case were all personal possessions of Governor Francis H. Pierpont. Included, from left to right, are:  a spoon holder made in Sandwich, Massachusetts, ca. 1850; a pickle dish made in Portland, Maine, ca. 1870; an egg cup, manufacture unknown, ca. 1860; and a sugar bowl made in Pittsburgh, ca. 1850. The platter in the rear of the case is a Canova pattern, blue and white Staffordshire, manufactured by Mayer, ca. 1835. The platter was a gift to the Pierponts from Mrs. Pierpont’s parents, Reverend and Mrs. Samuel Robertson. These pieces are a recent gift to the WVRHC by noted Harrison County historian Jack Sandy Anderson.

"A Traitor's Peace"

A broadside declaring the Copperhead's call for peace for destroy the Union.

The Copperhead movement was formed by northern Democrats who sought to negotiate peace with the Confederacy. This broadside, published by the Congressional Union Committee, declares that accepting the Copperhead’s call for peace would destroy the Union. It reprints the Southern peace conditions published in the Richmond Examiner, October 16, 1863.

John J. and Anna Kennedy Davis 

A selection of letters and photos from John J. and Anna Kennedy Davis displayed on a blue cloth

Photo of John J. and Anna Kennedy Davis, 1862 (top left)

“You and I are no longer citizens of the same government.” April 20, 1861 (center left)

Anna Kennedy of Baltimore and her fiancé, John J. Davis of Clarksburg, were among many couples who were not in perfect agreement on the issue of secession.  Correspondence in the WVRHC documents their evolving thoughts during this tumultuous period in history. In this letter, Davis lamented to his betrothed that they had become “foreigners” due to Virginia’s secession, adding “I hope we shall never be so in feeling.” 

“Surely, surely you will not support it” May, 1861 (bottom left)

In this letter, Miss Kennedy expresses her opinion that the Lincoln government is tyrannical, advising Mr. Davis that “if you fight, it will not be for oppression.” Despite their differing views, Kennedy and Davis were married in Clarksburg in August 1862.

Copperheads and Death Threats: February – October, 1862 (bottom right)

In these letters from Davis to Anna Kennedy, he declares his support of John Carlile’s vote against the statehood bill in the U.S. Senate because it had been amended to emancipate slaves in West Virginia. Both Davis and Carlile were now counted as “Copperheads”, standing for slavery and the “Union as it was”.  This opposition to the new state resulted in threats against Davis such as these, warning him, “The less you say here after the better … if you respect your personal safety”.

Envelope from Miss Kennedy's letter to her husband, 1861. It is a union flag that is worn around the edges

Envelope from Miss Kennedy’s letter to her husband, 1861.

Edwin M. Stanton

Pair of glasses in a brown lined case next to a photo of a man with a beard.

Glasses and Portrait Photograph of Edwin M. Stanton, U.S. Secretary of War, 1862-1868 (top left & inset)

Selection of documents, a photo, and glasses in a brown case which belonged to Edwin M. Stanton.

Stanton Telegram to Governor Pierpont, August 1862 (top right)

Regarding the enemy crossing Cheat Mountain and military action in Virginia.

The Rending of Maryland? “There never was a government broken up without war.”  Francis H. Pierpont, April 28, 1861 (bottom left)

Francis Pierpont wrote to John J. Davis shortly after Virginia secession, warning Davis that war was imminent.  Pierpont also reveals that he has been informed that Maryland Governor Frank Thomas had “arranged for the secession of Western Maryland if Eastern Maryland went out.”

The State of Kanawha, 1862

Map allegedly proposed by Edwin Stanton, describing would become West Virginia as "Kanawha."

This 1862 map illustrates a plan allegedly proposed by Edwin Stanton, United States Secretary of War, to completely reorganize Virginia and surrounding states. “Kanawha” was the first suggested name for the new western Virginia state; a vote was taken on December 3, 1861, during the First Constitutional Convention, to change the name to “West Virginia.”  It is likely that the creator of the map did not hear about the name change until weeks later.  Note that the states of Maryland and Delaware would have been permitted to annex portions of eastern Virginia.

The Statehood Movement Progresses
Selection of documents concerning WV statehood displayed on a blue background.

Slavery and the Constitutional Convention of 1861-1862 (center)

Abolitionist and Ohio County representative Gordon Battelle wrote a pamphlet titled “An Address to the Constitutional Convention and the People of West Virginia,” urging his fellow delegates to tackle the slavery question.  Battelle, one of eight delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1861-1862 who were ministers, volunteered as chaplain to the First Virginia Volunteer Infantry and died of typhoid fever in Washington, D.C., on August 7, 1862.

Photo of Reverend Gordon Battelle (bottom center)

Minority Report at Wheeling Convention Opposes Division of State! (top left)

The citizens of northwestern Virginia, living in a region bordering North and South, were of divided loyalties and diverse viewpoints.  It should therefore be unsurprising that a resolution was introduced at the Convention to abandon the question of separation, in order to avoid alienating the "earnest cooperation of every true patriot.“

Willey warned: Carlile is causing “great injury to the . . . new statehood,” July 24, 1862 (center right)

E. C. Meoderwell informed Senator Willey of John Carlile’s attack on the Statehood Bill during a speech Carlile delivered in Clarksburg.

“The life of the church and the new state hangs on the same contingency,” June 27, 1862 (bottom left)

These letters, addressed to Waitman Willey, were penned by ministers, emphasizing the important link between the church and statehood. The Christian church, particularly the Methodists, played a significant role in the statehood movement.  Church leaders, ministers, and lay people championed education, social reform, and internal improvements in western Virginia throughout the 19th century.  Clergymen such as Gordon Battelle, Wesley Smith, and Moses Tichenell were among the most eager advocates of forming a new state.

“Confidential,” May 19, 1862 (bottom right)

Henry Dering of Morgantown addressed a poignant issue in his correspondence with Waitman Willey. If McClellan takes Richmond and the Reformed Government moves to the state capital, “old Virginia” will “throw obstacles in the way” of the new state movement.

Waitman Willey's Politics 

A petition from a formal presentation by Waitman Willey to allow West Virginia to enter the Union

“The animosity existing at this time between the North and the South is hardly greater than what has at times distinguished the relations between East and West Virginia, arising from a diversity of interests and geographical antagonisms.”

Excerpt from a speech by Waitman T. Willey, Senator for the Restored Government of Virginia, during his formal presentation of the Virginia legislature’s request to form a new state from Virginia’s territory.  This petition was the first step in getting Congress to pass a bill admitting West Virginia to the Union.

A section from the constitution of West Virginia

The Willey Amendment:  Slavery and the New State

One stumbling block on the road to statehood was slavery -- what position would the new state take on the issue?  Opinions within the potential state and the U.S. Senate were sharply divided between retention, abolition, and gradual emancipation.  The impasse was resolved by Senator Waitman Willey, who proposed a compromise known as the Willey Amendment.  It provided that all slaves under 21 years of age on July 4, 1863, would be free on reaching that age.  Willey's compromise led to the passage of the statehood bill and paved the way for the creation of West Virginia on June 20, 1863.

The amended Constitution featuring the Willey Amendment is on display.

Constitutional Convention 

Selection of documents relating to the statehood of West Virginia

Willey’s Response to Hagans' Anxieties Regarding the Statehood Bill, May 7, 1862 (bottom left)

Willey explained to Harrison Hagans his belief in the wisdom of moving cautiously in the process of forming a new state.

Constitution Changes Necessary for Statehood (bottom right)

Senator Peter G. Van Winkle’s rough draft of “Address of the Delegates composing the New State Constitutional Convention to their Constituents” (February 1863) explains the changes made to the West Virginia constitution, which were a condition of Congressional approval of statehood.  The rough draft rests on a clipboard which Van Winkle used during his political career.

Photograph of William G. Brown Sr. and Daniel D. Farnsworth, ca. 1860 (top left)

Brown was one of West Virginia’s first U.S. congressmen; Farnsworth served at the Second Wheeling Convention and in the new state government.

Photograph of John Carlile of Harrison County (center left)

“The powers of Government reside in all the citizens of the State and can be rightfully exercised only in accordance with their will and appointment.” Article I – Constitution of West Virginia (top center)

This assemblage of committee reports, proposals, and amendments documents West Virginia’s first Constitutional Convention. Delegates met in Wheeling in November 1861 and produced a Constitution establishing the foundational principals for the new state government. The Constitution was passed by referendum, 18,862 to 514 on April 3, 1862.

The Amended Constitution Featuring the Willey Amendment, February 18, 1863 (top right)

One stumbling block on the road to statehood was slavery.  Opinions within the potential state and the U.S. Senate were sharply divided between retention, abolition, and gradual emancipation.  Senator Waitman Willey proposed a compromise known as the Willey Amendment.  It provided that as of July 4, 1863, all slaves under age 21 would be free on reaching that age.  Willey’s amendment was ratified by the people of the proposed new state, paving the way for passage of the statehood bill in the U.S. Congress.

"Thus is the Great Measure Consummated:" The Diary of Waitman T. Willey 

An open diary that belonged to Waitman Willey, displayed on a blue surface, with Willey's photograph in front.

On this page of Waitman T. Willey’s diary, the Senator has pasted a newspaper announcement of Lincoln’s proclamation of West Virginia statehood. Beneath the clipping, Willey offers his personal reflection on this triumphant achievement.

Lincoln's Statehood Proclamation

A document proclaiming West Virginia's statehood

After the revised constitution was adopted on March 26, 1863, Abraham Lincoln wrote a proclamation admitting West Virginia to the Union sixty days from the proclamation’s date (April 20, 1863).  During the following two months, West Virginians nominated and elected their new state officers, including West Virginia’s first governor, Arthur I. Boreman.  On June 20, 1863, West Virginia officially became the 35th state in the Union.

Celebrating Statehood 

Selection of documents concerning the celebration of WV statehood on a blue background

“When the names of states are inscribed on our banner . . . that of Western Virginia will not be omitted” September, 1864 (bottom right)

Edward Everett, 1860 vice presidential candidate from Massachusetts, wrote to Wheeling newspaper editor Archibald Campbell, expressing his admiration for the loyal people of Western Virginia. Everett also quoted from Daniel Webster’s 1851 speech regarding Western Virginia and separation from Virginia.

“All is life and hilarity in honor of the new state.”  January 1, 1863 (top center)

As word of the passage of the new statehood bill reached Western Virginia, residents around the region celebrated the news. Henry Dering wrote Senator Waitman Willey that there was rejoicing in Morgantown and “we had a grand illumination... most houses were lit-up” in the jubilee. Governor Pierpont received a telegram from a Weston resident declaring the “town was brilliantly illuminated ... the crack of musketry is reverberating hill to hill.”

Telegrams Report to Western Virginia the Day to Day Status of the Statehood Bill in Congress, December, 1861 (left)

Updates tracking the West Virginia Statehood bill were sent to Wheeling Intelligencer Editor Archibald Campbell as the resolution was debated in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, having passed the Senate in July, was held up in the House by a proposed amendment to abolish all slavery.  The third telegram announces the news, “The New Statehood Resolution passed the Senate” when actually the House had passed the bill, sending it on to the President for his signature.

An oil lamp from 1860. It has a narrow, short base and a round globe on top with circular scale-like designs.

This oil lamp with a marble base, ca. 1860, was owned by Governor Francis Pierpont and is similar to those lit during the “grand illumination” of Western Virginia homes celebrating the passage of the New State Bill in Congress.

Post-Statehood Complications 

Selection of documents (listed below) concerning post-statehood complications in WV, displayed on a blue background.

Congress Passes Statehood Act (left)

On December 10, 1862, the U. S. House of Representatives passed the statehood act giving congressional approval for the new state. The U. S. Senate approved the act earlier in the year.

“I desire to be informed what counties constitute the state.” (top right)

Salmon P. Chase, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, notes here that he has yet to receive official word about the status of the two counties that were added to West Virginia in early 1863 by popular vote, Berkeley and Jefferson.  The state of Virginia would later sue to have them returned.

Group Portrait of West Virginia Statehood Leaders, ca. 1862 (bottom center)

Possible identification (left to right): 1st - Arthur Boreman; 3rd - Andrew Wilson; 4th - D.D.T. Farnsworth; 5th - Henry Dering; 6th - Gibson Cranmer.

“I went on to Washn [Washington D.C.] and had a talk with him and found to my chagrin that he had and does still ignore the separate state organization of West Va.” (bottom right)

Governor Arthur Boreman writes to Senator Waitman T. Willey of his difficulty in securing recognition and funds for the state over two years after it was added to the Union.

Oaths of Allegiance 

Documents concerning oaths of allegiance in post-war West Virginia, displayed on a blue background

Defense of the “Oath Law” by E. B. Hall, Attorney General of West Virginia (center)

In February 1865, Governor Boreman approved the “Oath Law,” which denied the right to vote, as well as other political rights, to citizens who could not prove their loyalty to the Union, meaning that former Confederates were disenfranchised by the law. Because of this, the constitutionality of the law was frequently challenged.

“I  ______, do solemnly swear . . . ”  , 1865-1868 (bottom right)

Affidavits swearing to never having borne arms in rebellion against to United States, the Restored government of Virginia, and West Virginia were required to vote, obtain leases, and hold office, among other activities.

Judge John Allen’s Oath of Allegiance, July 3, 1865 (middle right)

Judge Allen of Hardy County was a staunch Confederate.  After the war, he was not allowed to practice law until he signed this oath binding him to supporting all laws “made during the existing rebellion” including the emancipation of slaves. At one time Allen owned and sold slaves.

Instructions for the U.S. Marshal Regarding Property Confiscation (bottom left)

“We have signified our willingness to take the prescribed oath and to live inconformity to its requirements.”  May 27, 1863 (top left)

Listed in this letter to Senator Waitman Willey are the names of several Confederate Officers still held at Fort Delaware as prisoners of war. Though more than willing to take the oath for their release, the officers needed Willey to help cut through the red tape.

“. . .  that damnable bill.” 1862 (middle left)

The U.S. Congress passed several ordinances ordering the confiscation of property owned by persons in rebellion against the United States. In this letter to Jonathan Bennett, a friend warns him to either take the oath or face losing his property and being arrested.

West Virginia Taking Shape 

Map of West Virginia before Berkeley and Jefferson counties joined

West Virginia, ca. June 1863

This map of West Virginia was made before Berkeley and Jefferson Counties joined the 35th state. On May 28, 1863, elections were held in both counties.  As only loyal Virginians were allowed to vote, the vote in favor of joining the new state was overwhelming.  Note that Mineral and Grant counties had not yet been created.

Map showing the boundaries of West Virginia after the addition of Berkeley and Jefferson counties

Map Showing the Boundaries of West Virginia After the Addition of Berkeley and Jefferson Counties (ca. 1865-1866)

State Boundaries in Question

Documents on state boundaries of West Virginia

Supreme Court Affirms Boundaries in Virginia v. West Virginia (top left)

In 1867, the state of Virginia sued West Virginia for the return of Berkeley and Jefferson Counties, arguing that when Congress approved West Virginia’s statehood, those counties were not included, and that the votes held in those counties, which supported joining West Virginia, were fraudulent. In 1871, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of West Virginia, stating that the Virginia legislature was bound by the actions of its governor, who had provided for the elections.

Unrest in Jefferson County (center)

In this proclamation by Governor Boreman, dated October 1865, he urges the citizens of Jefferson County not to be swayed by a small group of people advocating for an illegal vote to return the county to the state of Virginia.

Photo of Arthur Boreman, First Governor of West Virginia (top right)

Legal Battles for Berkeley and Jefferson Counties (bottom)

(Right) Senator Peter G. Van Winkle writes to Senator Waitman T. Willey on October 5, 1865, mentioning letters he had published in the Wheeling Intelligencer.  His letters refute the arguments made by Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts, who claimed that Congressional approval, not just legislation from both states involved, was needed for the transfer of Berkeley and Jefferson Counties from Virginia to West Virginia.

(Left) Governor Boreman writes to Senator Willey on February 19, 1866, asking Willey to push a bill through the U.S. Congress as fast as possible to help defeat objections raised by the state of Virginia.  On March 7, 1866, Congress recognized and consented to the transfer of Berkeley and Jefferson counties from Virginia to West Virginia.  In 1871, Virginia took the issue to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of West Virginia.

Document concerning the Blue Ridge mountains being the state line of West Virginia

“...use your best efforts to have the Blue Ridge made the dividing line between the two states.”

After 1863, some citizens of Virginia still wanted to join West Virginia. S.W. Moore of Lexington, VA, wrote to Senator Willey in July of 1865, in hopes that the entire Shenandoah Valley could become part of West Virginia.  J.H. Triplett of Winchester, VA, wrote to Willey in January of 1866, claiming that the citizens of Frederick County were never able to properly vote on the question of which state they wanted to join. West Virginia’s first constitution provided for Frederick County to be added to the state along with Berkeley and Jefferson, if approved by local election, but Frederick County citizens voted to stay with Virginia.

Great Seal of West Virginia 

Example of a document with the West Virginia seal on it

Designed by Joseph H. Diss Debar, the state seal includes the motto “Montani Semper Liberi.”  A farmer, symbolizing agriculture, and a miner, symbolizing industry, stand beside a large rock, symbolizing strength, which is inscribed with the date of West Virginia’s admission to the Union.

Black and white illustration of the West Virginia state seal

United States 35 Star Flag, ca. 1863

A 35-star United States flag hanging displayed on a wall

The 35 Star United States Flag was only in use for a period of two years (July 4, 1863-July 3, 1865)—Nevada became the nation’s 36th state on October 31, 1864, but the new flag design did not become official until the following Independence Day.  Due to its brevity, period examples of the flag are somewhat rare today.  While a great many were produced for use by Union military regiments, a large number of these did not survive the war.  This flag, acquired from a private collector in Louisiana, is too large to have been carried on horseback.  Measuring more than 9 ½ feet in length by 6 feet in height, it was likely made for display over a public building.

Confederate Virginia's Sentiments 

A book displayed with a card in front discussing the Confederacy's reluctance to give up the land that became West Virginia

“...whereas the traitors there, contemplating a division of this time-honored commonwealth, with the aid of the public enemy, have set up a pretended government over the same...”

Confederate Virginia adopted a resolution on January 18, 1862 (and again on October 8, 1863) denouncing the Restored Government of Virginia and refusing to “consent to the loss of a foot of her soil” to the new state of West Virginia.

Defending West Virginia 

Document concerning West Virginia Legislature's Rifle Company

West Virginia Legislature’s Rifle Company (above)

In 1863, the state legislature formed a rifle company to defend Wheeling, then capital of West Virginia, from General John Morgan’s raid.  John J. Brown’s honorable discharge from that rifle company lists the names of all West Virginia legislators who served.

Spencer repeating rifle displayed against a blue background surrounded by documents

Spencer Carbine, ca. 1861 (above)

The Spencer repeating rifle was capable of firing 20 rounds per minute which represented a great advantage over the musket. Also shorter and lighter than the musket, the U.S. Army was reluctant to purchase them until Lincoln himself ordered their use after personally witnessing a demonstration. This Spencer Carbine was recovered from the Rich Mountain Battlefield.

Epaulets of John J. Brown displayed against a blue background

 Epaulets of John J. Brown (above) 

John James Brown, of Preston County, was Major of the 148th Regiment of the Infantry of the Virginia Militia until 1860.  Brown also served as a delegate to the Second Wheeling Convention and the Constitutional Convention, a member of the first three legislatures in West Virginia, and a member of the Legislative Rifle Company in 1863 (see left).

Letter displayed against a blue background

“There is another thing you may set down as settled.  This difficulty is not going to be settled without a fight.  I am satisfied on that head.”

An excerpt from F.H. Pierpont’s letter to Waitman T. Willey on April 3, 1861, when Willey was attending Virginia’s Secession Convention.

West Virginia Civil War Medals

medal against a gold background

For Liberty (above) (issued for those who died of disease and wounds received in battle):

William K. Smith, Company F, 14th Regiment, Infantry Volunteers

medal against a light gold background

Honorably Discharged:

John H. Blaney, Company A, 6th Regiment, Cavalry Volunteers

Over 4000 Civil War service medals have yet to be claimed; for more information, see

A letter from Governor Pierpont to Governor Boreman

“If [Grant should fail,] just as sure as you and I live all the action of the restored government of Virginia will be rescinded and you and I will be trespassers from the beginning” - Pierpont to Boreman, May 18, 1864

This remarkable letter from loyal Virginia Governor Pierpont to West Virginia Governor Boreman reveals the precarious position that both leaders held.  At the time, General Grant was trying to wear down the Confederate Army during the Overland or Wilderness Campaign.  The outcome of the war, however, was still in doubt.  Had the Confederacy prevailed, Pierpont and Boreman would have been charged with treason and possibly even faced execution.

A series of documents against a blue background concerning West Virginia's statehood

Letter from Captain A. J. Squires, Company D, 6th West Virginia Cavalry, March 4, 1863 (left)

In a letter to his sister, Matildah, Captain Squires of Preston County, encouraged her to “get out the vote” for the new state. He wrote, “I want the people of Preston to all go to the election and vote for the New State for Preston is the most loyal County in the State, has proven herself So in Votes and volunteers, and I want her to confirm it again in the coming election.”

Society of the Army of West Virginia certificate of membership for F.H. Pierpont, 1872, and Society of the Army of West Virginia ribbon, undated (center)

“I will not indulge in any remarks on this national calamity, as you know ... how much depended upon him in reinstating the secession states in their proper position in the Union.” (1865) (right)

Excerpt from Peter G. Van Winkle’s letter to Waitman T. Willey regarding the assassination of President Lincoln.  Though West Virginia had achieved statehood and the war was over, there was still much to be done to put the Union back in order.

Statehood, the Civil War, and WVU

A WVU cadet uniform circa the 1800s displayed

West Virginia University Cadet Uniform, ca. late 1800s (above)

West Virginia University owes its existence to West Virginia statehood.  The notion of establishing a land-grant university occurred to the state’s founders even before West Virginia came into existence.  Military training was compulsory at land-grant colleges and, indeed, one of the motives for their very existence. 

documents and a cadet uniform pertaining to how West Virginia statehood interacted with WVU

“...we anticipated that it might be necessary to have further legislation by Congress before we could become grantees under the act of Congress referred to, as we were not in existence as a state at the time of the passage of said act...” (bottom left)

John H. Atkinson, Chairman of the Committee on Education in the West Virginia State Senate, writes to U.S. Senator Waitman T. Willey in 1864 for help securing West Virginia’s lands from the Morrill Act.

“I am utterly disgusted with the tenacity with which the upper class hold on to the idea that the state must cherish the University and that Miserable Military Institute.” (top left)

Virginia Governor Pierpont writes to West Virginia Senators Willey and Van Winkle on March 8, 1867, since Virginia had no representation in Congress at the time.  Pierpont complains that Virginia has yet to receive the lands due to the state under the Morrill Act, and bemoans Virginians’ preference for the University of Virginia and Virginia Military Institute, which he refers to as “hotbeds of treason.”

Alexander Martin, First President of West Virginia University (right)

This letter was written by Martin while he was president of West Virginia University. A Scottish immigrant and Methodist minister, Martin had served as both a clergyman and educator in western Virginia and the surrounding region prior to the Civil War. Martin also served as a consultant to the West Virginia Constitutional Convention committee on education, which laid the groundwork for the later establishment of West Virginia University.

Confederates at WVU 

A selection of documents and items concerning the confederacy at WVU

University President in Same Town He Raided During the Civil War: A Story of Sectionalism after Achievement of Statehood (bottom right)

Sectarian tensions remained within West Virginia after the war, as evidenced by the affairs of West Virginia University.  As President of WVU in 1882-1883, William Lyne Wilson conducted its business with what's been described as "heroic equanimity" in the face of tensions still remaining between North and South.  He claimed that "West Virginia is neither a Northern nor a Southern State, and that students from every section should be welcomed with equal hospitality..."  Yet only about 20 years earlier he took part in a Confederate raid on Morgantown, declaring it "the meanest Union hole we have yet been in, [including] the residence of Senator Willey."  When Wilson left WVU to serve in the United States Congress, the faculty and administration were still in contention along sectarian lines, a legacy of the Civil War, and earlier.

West Virginia University

The men highlighted in this case were involved in the war and/or the statehood movement.  Most fought for the South and its antebellum culture.  Nevertheless, shortly after the war, their names started to appear on the WVU Board of Regents, replacing well-known statehood founders.  Many of these men made valuable contributions to the growth and quality of WVU.

Letter from Confederate Soldier P.B. Reynolds to his mother, 7th August 1863 (left)

“If matters look as dark in the country as they do in the army these is dark times indeed.”

This letter describes Reynolds’ participation in Lee’s Gettysburg Campaign.  About a year after writing this letter, Reynolds was captured and sent to a federal prison.  After the war, he joined the Baptist faith and became a minister.  He also continued his education and later became a professor, chaplain, and vice-president of WVU.

Charles James Faulkner (July 6, 1806 - November 1, 1884) (top right)

Faulkner served in the Virginia State Legislature, U.S. Congress (1851-1859), and was U.S. minister to France for 14 months before the Civil War. Arrested for treason in 1861, Faulkner was later exchanged and served on Stonewall Jackson's staff. After the war, he was re-elected to the U.S. Congress (1875-1877), and served on West Virginia University’s Board of Regents.

John Robinson (b. 1831) (bottom center)

Robinson served in the Confederate Army and Confederate Virginia’s legislature. He later served on WVU’s Board of Regents (1877-1897).


A special section of the exhibit focuses on two artists who depicted the state during this critical period: Joseph H. Diss Debar, designer of the West Virginia State Seal, and famed author and illustrator David Hunter Strother, a.k.a. "Porte Crayon," who served as topographer and cavalry officer in the Union Army. 

Joseph H. Diss Debar
Two side-by side illustrations by Joseph H. Diss Debar, who designed the WV state seal. On the left, a group of WV legislators wait for news on Gettysburg.

The designer of the West Virginia State Seal, Joseph H. Diss Debar (1820-1905) served as West Virginia’s first Commissioner of Immigration among many other posts and activities.  A talented sketch artist, Diss Debar documented a wide assortment of places and events in West Virginia history during the Civil War and statehood period.  The title of the sketch on the left, “Members of the W. Va. Legislature receiving doubtful news pending the Battle of Gettysburg, 3d July 1863,” reveals the anxious hours spent by the leaders of the nation’s 35th state, which had come into being less than two weeks before the Battle of Gettysburg.  They knew full well that their state’s very existence depended on a Union victory.

George Washington's Survey Equipment 

Compass and other survey equipment used by George Washington.

Samuel Jackson, one of the founder’s of Monongalia’s iron industry, acquired these surveying instruments from George Washington sometime after 1781.

Note Washington’s initials which are engraved at the right end of the finely engraved rule. 

David Hunter Strother

Born in Martinsburg, Strother served as a topographer and a cavalry officer in the Union army during the Civil War.  He was also a magazine writer and illustrator, known by his pseudonym, Porte Crayon.

Collection of diaries and sketchbooks used by David Hunter Strother.

“The vote of this miserable county defeated me in the last election”  Charles J. Faulkner (bottom).

According to David Hunter Strother, it was with the above words that Confederate officer Charles J. Faulkner ordered the destruction of homes and personal property of the residents of Morgan County in February 1862. Strother’s personal losses included both home furnishing and artwork housed in his Berkeley Springs cottage.  Fortunately, the Strother Family grandfather clock was in the family’s Martinsburg home, Norborne Hall, when the raid occurred. 

Strother’s John Brown Sketchbook, October 18 (left).

Strother’s Diary, February 18, 1862 (top).

“…At the head of my Cavalry I crossed the river and rode toward Berkeley. Burned houses, fences obliterated, barns & cottages pulled down & dead horses marked the track over which Jackson’s Army advanced and retired. Entering the town a few frightened women & children crept out to see the troops come in…. My own daughter came running out to meet me with a kiss of welcome.”  

Strother family grandfather clock, made of a warm-toned medium brown wood.

The Strother Family grandfather clock descended in the family until it was donated to the West Virginia and Regional History Center in 2013 in honor of West Virginia’s sesquicentennial. 

Pencil illustration by David Hunter Strother. A man sits on a wooden bench, looking to the right. He is wearing a jacket and winter hat.

“Lock’s Old Stephen”

David Hunter Strother (1816-1888) was one of many western Virginians with deep Virginia roots who were traumatized by the thought of having to betray either state or country.  Strother eventually chose to side with the Union only after being forced to make a decision at gunpoint.   

Like many Virginians, Strother grew up with the institution of slavery.  While he was not an abolitionist, his many drawings of African Americans, like “Lock’s Old Stephen,” contain a dignity and sense of realism that was rare in artists’ depictions of blacks in his day.   When Strother covered John Brown’s Raid for Harpers Weekly in October 1859, he cast the abolitionist as a lunatic.  His views towards both Brown and slavery changed dramatically during the course of the Civil War.  In a speech written after the war, he cast Brown as a visionary martyr who had set in motion events that brought to an end an evil institution and contributed to a more righteous and stable America.

Joseph Andrew Jackson Lightburn

Also on display is a special exhibit of recently acquired items pertaining to General Joseph Andrew Jackson Lightburn of Lewis County, who fought for the Union during the Civil War. Highlights include an honorary sword given to Lightburn, his commission as general, and the scabbard that may have saved his life.

Joseph Andrew Jackson Lightburn

items relevant to joseph andrew jackson lightburn

Compass and Sun Dial Used by Lightburn During the War (left)

Lightburn’s 1860 Model Colt Revolver (bottom right)

Also known as an “Army Revolver,” Lightburn used this .44 caliber weapon during some of the fieriest fighting of the war, including the battles at Vicksburg, Missionary Ridge, Kennesaw Mountain, and Atlanta.

Who was Joseph A.J. Lightburn?

Lightburn (1824-1901) grew up in Pennsylvania and Lewis County, (West) Virginia along the West Fork River.  One of his closest friends was Thomas Jackson, a neighbor boy of the same age who would later be known as “Stonewall” Jackson.  Sadly, the bonds of friendship were broken as each took up arms on opposite sides during the Civil War.  Lightburn was solidly against secession, throwing his support in favor of establishing a Loyal Government of Virginia.  He was elected as a delegate for Lewis County to the Wheeling Conventions.  After the war, he became a Baptist preacher and served in the West Virginia State Legislature.

Lightburn's Weapons

Selection of Joseph A. J.  Lightburn's weapons

Honorary Sword from a Grateful Lewis County, July 4, 1865 (center left)

During an elaborate Homecoming Celebration in Weston, General Lightburn was presented this sword and a gold sash by the citizens of Lewis County.  The inscription on the scabbard reads, “Brigadier General J. A. J. Lightburn from the Citizens of Lewis County, West Va. as a testimony of their appreciation of his gallant service in the suppression of the Rebellion of 1861. Weston, [West] Va., July 4th, 1865”.

Lightburn’s “Wounded” Scabbard (center right)

Lightburn narrowly escaped a mortal wound during battle at Vicksburg when a bullet hit his sword’s scabbard instead of shattering his thigh.  During the Civil War, amputation was the usual treatment for leg and arm wounds.  Amputations of larger portions of a limb were associated with lower chances for survival.

Lightburn’s Bullet Mold and Cap Box (bottom right)

Designed for making two different shapes of bullets, this mold can turn out a round, smooth bore ball like the one on display, as well as a minie ball. The minie was conical shaped and proved more accurate. The cap box stored the percussion caps placed over the nipple of the weapon.

Lightburn's Military Career
Documents relating to Joseph A.J. Lightburn's military career displayed on a blue background

Epaulets of a Colonel, 1861-1862

Lightburn was commissioned Colonel of the 4th (West) Virginia Infantry Regiment by the newly minted Governor of the Restored Government of Virginia, Francis H. Pierpont, in the summer of 1861. Lightburn is wearing these very epaulets in the photograph in slide 2.

Lightburn’s Battle Reports Pertaining to the Campaign in Georgia, Summer, 1864

Lightburn commanded the 2nd Brigade, and several times led the 2nd Division, in the 15th Corps of McPherson’s Army during Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.  The last report in this group is dated July 23, 1864 and documents the fighting to capture the portion of the Georgia Railroad between Atlanta and Augusta.  

Close-up documents displayed on a blue background

Colonel’s Epaulet (top)

See previous slide for description.

Commission as Brigadier General of Volunteers, 1863 (bottom)

Joseph A. J. Lightburn was appointed Brigadier General by President Abraham Lincoln on March 16, 1863. This document bears both Lincoln’s signature, on the lower right, and that of his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, in the lower middle.