West Virginia is located in the eastern part of the United States. It is full of mountains, including the Appalachians. In fact, it is nicknamed the Mountain State and it is known for its scenic views and beautiful natural settings. The state has two panhandles. One is located in the east and one can be found in the north. For that reason, it also has the nickname of the Panhandle State. Part of the reason for the state’s odd shape is that many of its borders are based upon boundaries created by mountains and rivers.

Aside from its scenic views, West Virginia also has a reputation for being rich in timber, coal, gas, oil, and other natural resources. In fact, it is one of the leading U.S. states in the production of bituminous coal. The state also has a history of producing fine glass products. Unfortunately, it is one of the poorest states in the country. Although, more diverse industries have recently started operating in the state.

West Virginia became the 35th U.S. state on June 20, 1863. During the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, West Virginia was part of Virginia at first. However, the residents living in the area at the time chose to join the Confederacy and separate from Virginia, which largely supported the Union side of the conflict. The capital of West Virginia is Charleston, which is also the largest city in the state.

Indian hunters came to Kanawha Valley and Ohio Valley in search of mammoths around 14,000 years ago. Then, sometime around 9000 BC, a group of Archaic people came to the area. They were gatherers, hunters, and fishermen. The Mound Builders, also called Adena, came to the area from around 500 BC to 100 AD. Their earthworks can still be seen around Charleston and Moundsville. The Fort Ancient people absorbed the Adena culture and thrived in the area until sometime around 1650, when the Iroquois Confederacy took over. In the 1700s, when European explorers came to the area, it was still under the control of Indians, except for a few small settlements.

In 1609, the second Virginia Charter was signed. It called for the colonies western frontiers to be settled. From 1660, Governor William Berkeley also encouraged trade and exploration to the west. In 1670 explorers reached West Virginia’s famous Blue Ridge. The New River was discovered the following year, in the southwestern part of Virginia. It was the first westward-flowing river discovered in the area. That same expedition traveled down the river to Peter’s Falls, which is now on the border between West Virginia and Virginia. That expedition claimed the New River and tributaries of it for England. Indians, mountains, and conflicting land claims between the French and English delayed further exploration. A royal proclamation that prohibited people from occupying certain land was passed in 1763, further delaying the exploration and settlement process.

Even though populating certain parts of West Virginia was difficult, the number of people in the area continued to grow. The Trans-Allegheny area people had a desire to separate themselves from Virginia from an early time. There were efforts to create the state of West Sylvania in 1776, as well as an efforts to start the Vandalia Colony in 1769. The residents of the area became increasingly disappointed in the political, social, cultural, and academic issues in that area at that time. West Virginia was made up mostly of frontier families, who did not want to be governed by eastern aristocrats. Not only that, but eastern Virginia had a clear lead in taxing and voting, and those living in West Virginia were against slavery more because the topography of the area didn’t work well for farms and plantations than for any moral reasons. Nevertheless, eastern Virginia residents didn’t share those views, for the most part.

When the Civil War broke out, it only served to fuel the residents’ desire to become a separate state. The Virginia Secession Convention took place in April of 1861. At that time, most of the western delegates were against the idea of seceding. Another meeting was held in 1861 in Wheeling. That meeting was mainly attended by delegates from the west. They declared the efforts of West Virginia to become its own state as illegal. They said that the area was trying to overthrow the federal government. However, another convention was held in Wheeling the following month. That convention voided the government of Richmond and reestablished Virginia’s government. New state officers were soon elected, including Governor Francis H. Pierpont. Pierpont maintained control of the area’s government until West Virginia was granted statehood, which occurred on June 20, 1863. Part of the statehood agreement was that slaves in West Virginia would be freed gradually. It took until 1885 for West Virginia’s capital city to be permanently established as Charleston.

John Brown led a group of anti-slavery men in a raid against the Harpers Ferry armory in 1859. The capture and hanging of Brown in Charles Town caused major controversy over the topic of slavery across the nation. It is believed that Brown and his men essentially started the upheaval that turned into the Civil War. Around 32,000 soldiers joined the Union side, in support of Brown’s cause. It is believed that only about 9,000 soldiers joined the Confederate side, but those numbers may not be entirely accurate. However, during the actual War there weren’t many battles fought in West Virginia.

As the railroads expanded into the area in the 1870s, various industries began to develop in West Virginia. The area is rich in gas, salt, oil, coal, and timber. So, it’s resources were essential to the modern industrial age that spawned in the country. From 1912 to 1921, the National Guard was called upon twice to break up conflicts that arose among mining areas. The national statutes of 1933 and 1935 allowed minors to form organized unions, which somewhat quieted the violence between minors and mining company owners.

Based on population percentage, West Virginia was one of the top providers of soldiers in the Second World War, Korean War, and Vietnam War. In 1976 and 1980, John . Rockefeller IV was elected as West Virginia’s governor. That made national headlines because he was originally from New York City, not West Virginia. He was later elected U.S. Senator in 1984. Politically, the state has not been particularly dominated by either Republicans or Democrats over the years. Although, most of its registered voters have typically been democrats.

West Virginia Ethnic Group Research

When West Virginia gained its statehood, it also gradually freed all of its slaves. Many African American newspapers published from 1865 to the present day can be found at the Library of Virginia.

West Virginia History Databases and other Helpful Links

State Genealogy Guides

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