"In the Beginning, all America was Virginia."
William Byrd II
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Van de Vyver Institute Diploma
Stories at the Museum, Saturday, 9/20/14. Free & open to all ages. Please use the new Learning Center entrance off Kensington. #rvakids #rva

Why is there a West Virginia?

Secession was the hope of some western Virginians as early as 1829-secession from Virginia. Westerners felt underrepresented in Virginia's legislature, overtaxed, and shortchanged in state spending. In many counties, rugged terrain made slave agriculture impractical.

Following the Richmond vote to secede from the Union, leaders in twenty-seven counties organized to remain. After a half-year of war, they were able to expand their base—reaching across the natural barrier of the Allegheny Mountains—to add twenty-one additional counties and consume two-fifths of the territory of Virginia.

Irregular Troops of Virginia, Alfred Wordsworth Thompson, 1861

The westerners were divided—even following admission of the new state into the Union in 1863. Pro-Confederate majorities existed in twenty-four of the forty-eight counties, and Confederate sympathizers were active in the others.

"Irregular Troops of Virginia/Riflemen of the Alleghenies"

These Confederates, shown here gathering in the Shenandoah Valley, were volunteering for Confederate service or already mustered in. Their uniforms and weapons were random, but if, as suspected, this drawing was made in June 1861, these western Virginians were among the victors at First Manassas (Bull Run) a few weeks later.

Where is West Virginia?

On this map you can begin to see the outline of the region that became West Virginia. Few slaves were in the lands held by western farmers, who resented the political power of eastern slave owners.

Map of Virginia: Showing the Distribution of its Slave Population, from the Census of 1860

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Division in the WestStates-Rights Meeting in Harrison [County], April 1861

This broadside records an unsuccessful protest by secessionists in Harrison County against the efforts of unionists there to participate in forming a "petty, feeble" new state. It asserts that Lincoln had "no power" to initiate his "unholy battle," that Virginians would not participate in "the destruction of their friends and brothers," and that the crisis was "inaugurating a civil strife in our very midst."