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West Virginia

West Virginia: A History

Otis K. Rice
Stephen W. Brown
Copyright Date: 1993
Edition: 2
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    West Virginia
    Book Description:

    " An essential resource for scholars, students, and all lovers of the Mountaineer State. From bloody skirmishes with Indians on the early frontier to the Logan County mine war, the story of West Virginia is punctuated with episodes as colorful and rugged as the mountains that dominate its landscape. In this first modern comprehensive history, Otis Rice and Stephen Brown balance these episodes of mountaineer individualism against the complexities of industrial development and the growth of social institutions, analyzing the events and personalities that have shaped the state. To create this history, the authors weave together many strands from the past and present. Included among these are geological and geographical features; the prehistoric inhabitants; exploration and settlement; relations with the Indians; the land systems and patterns of ownership; the Civil War and the formation of the state from the western counties of Virginia; the legacy of Reconstruction; politics and government; industrial development; labor problems and advances; and cultural aspects such as folkways, education, religion, and national and ethnic influences. For this second edition, the authors have added a new chapter, bringing the original material up to date and carrying the West Virginia story through the presidential election of 1992. Otis K. Rice is professor emeritus of history and Stephen W. Brown is professor of history at West Virginia Institute of Technology.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2733-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Prehistoric Times
    (pp. 1-10)

    A Land of Grandeur. In 1784, nearly two hundred years before a popular song referred to West Virginia as “almost Heaven,” Thomas Jefferson wrote that the contrast between the “placid and delightful” Shenandoah Valley and the “wild and tremendous” mountains at Harpers Ferry, the Potomac gateway to the state, was worth a journey across the Atlantic Ocean.¹ Jefferson might have found equally awesome beauty in Hawks Nest, a crag towering 585 feet above the turbulent New River, spectacular waterfalls in the Kanawha, Little Kanawha, and Blackwater rivers, the serenity of the Canaan Valley, and numerous other natural formations in West...

  5. 2 Explorations and Early Settlements
    (pp. 11-17)

    An Unknown West. For about one hundred and twenty-five years after English colonists landed at Jamestown, settlements in Virginia did not extend beyond the Tidewater and Piedmont regions. Virginians kept busy with the burdensome tasks of taming a wilderness and with transplanting and adapting essential political and social institutions. Culturally, they remained tied to England, and English demand for their tobacco and furs formed the economic underpinnings of their colony.

    In spite of more immediate concerns, seventeenth-century Virginians had a deep curiosity about the unknown West. Some envisioned the discovery of gold, silver, and other treasures such as the Spaniards...

  6. 3 At the Vortex of Imperial Conflict
    (pp. 18-25)

    Tension in the Ohio Valley. Unlike the peaceful advance of settlement into the Valley of Virginia, occupation of trans-Allegheny West Virginia proceeded amid considerable peril. French and Indian claimants contested nearly every move by the Virginia settlers into the area. The claims of both England and France to the Ohio Valley, of which trans-Allegheny West Virginia was a part, rested upon principles recognized by international usage. England based her claims upon the discovery of the New River by Batts and Fallam, an extensive fur trade in the region, and settlements along remote tributaries of the Ohio, such as the New...

  7. 4 Advance Across the Alleghenies
    (pp. 26-36)

    The Lure of Transmontane Lands. The English victory over the French in 1763 did not open the Ohio Valley to settlement. On the contrary, in the very year that Forbes occupied the Forks of the Ohio, Sir William Johnson, acting in behalf of Pennsylvania, promised the Iroquois in the Treaty of Easton to close the part of the colony west of the Alleghenies to settlement. Colonel Henry Bouquet, the commandant at Fort Pitt, later extended that commitment to include transmontane Maryland and Virginia.

    Angered by the promises of Johnson and Bouquet, Virginia speculators fell back upon a proclamation of Governor...

  8. 5 The Revolutionary Era
    (pp. 37-46)

    The Response to Revolution. Satisfaction with the intervention of Lord Dunmore in land affairs and the victory at Point Pleasant did not divert the attention of western Virginians from events in Boston and Philadelphia in 1774. On November 5, before they returned home from the campaign, officers and soldiers in Dunmore’s War issued the Fort Gower Resolves. They coupled professions of loyalty to King George III and confidence in Lord Dunmore with a declaration that “the love of liberty, and attachment to the real interests and just rights of America outweigh[ed] every other consideration.” They pledged exertion of every power...

  9. 6 Adapting to a New Nation
    (pp. 47-56)

    A New Immigrant Wave. With the end of the Revolutionary War, Americans, long since grown mobile by habit, resumed their course westward in search of new lands in trans-Allegheny West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Old Northwest. Each year thousands of immigrants gathered at Wheeling and Pittsburgh for the journey down the Ohio. Others followed the Valley of Virginia southward to headstreams of the Cumberland and Tennessee. In 1790 about 125,000 Virginians lived west of the Appalachians. More than 70,000 of them were in Kentucky, which experienced a dramatic population upsurge of nearly six hundred percent between 1783 and...

  10. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  11. 7 The Quality of Mountain Life
    (pp. 57-67)

    The Mountain Environment. Mountainous regions of the world have always been conservative and slow to change. Isolation from the mainstream of national and world events entrenches within their people beliefs, attitudes, and customs that in more accessible places retreat under the pressure of new ideas and changing interests. West Virginia has been no exception to this pattern. Her confining mountains and lack of broadly unifying river systems discouraged easy communication in early times and fostered a high degree of particularism among her people. Pioneer characteristics long persisted, in some isolated areas even to the twentieth century. The essential features of...

  12. 8 Educational and Cultural Foundations
    (pp. 68-79)

    A Sea of Illiteracy. When West Virginia separated from Virginia in 1863, the Old Dominion had no statewide system of free schools. Illiteracy prevailed throughout the state and was appalling in mountainous sections. Robert Hager, a Boone County representative in the West Virginia constitutional convention of 1861, asserted that he knew men and women in his county who had never even seen a schoolhouse. An agent of the American Tract Society, who visited the hill country around Fairmont in 1845, declared that his experience was “like a translation from sunlight into darkness—from a high civilization into one of ignorance...

  13. 9 Antebellum Economic Life
    (pp. 80-89)

    Economic Diversity. Throughout most of the nineteenth century, economic life in West Virginia centered on agriculture. The amount and distribution of rainfall, length of the growing season, retention of moisture and soil fertility by vast forestlands, and exceedingly rich lands along the streams and in mountain valleys favored the cultivation of a wide variety of crops and the promotion of animal husbandry. Except for a few sections, notably the Eastern Panhandle, where large landowners with diversified plantations made use of slave labor, most of West Virginia remained a land of yeoman farmers. These farmers often had prosperous holdings, but in...

  14. 10 Conflict with Eastern Virginia
    (pp. 90-98)

    The Seeds of Diversity. The dramatic separation of West Virginia from Virginia during the Civil War sprang from no sudden impulse but from an accumulation of differences and grievances. Physiographically, economically, and culturally, the Eastern Panhandle was an integral part of the upper Potomac Valley and, like adjacent parts of Virginia and Maryland, a hinterland of coastal areas with an Atlantic orientation. On the other hand, the Allegheny Plateau, which encompassed nearly eighty percent of West Virginia, was dominated by rugged, mountainous terrain that precluded the plantation economy common in parts of the Eastern Panhandle as well as in Tidewater...

  15. 11 Politics and Slavery
    (pp. 99-110)

    Conciliatory Politics. The decade of the 1850s began on a note of harmony in Virginia. The constitutional reforms of 1850–1851 removed some of the political issues that had divided eastern and western sections of the state for half a century. Whigs and Democrats had drawn closer together as a result of threats to Southern “rights” and the “peculiar institution” perceived in the Wilmot Proviso. As sectional tensions in the nation deepened, most Virginians, including present West Virginians, opposed extremism and supported compromise proposals before Congress.

    Although John C. Calhoun urged Virginia to support the Nashville Convention, called to protest...

  16. 12 Secession and Reorganized Government
    (pp. 111-123)

    Political Parties in Crisis. At the end of the 1850s national events far overshadowed the internal affairs of Virginia. Disruptive events such as the Kansas–Nebraska Act, the civil strife in Kansas, the Dred Scott decision, and John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry became “wedges of separation” between North and South. Until 1850 the two great national political parties had been able to accomodate divergent sectional views, but the disintegration of the Whig party after the Compromise of 1850 left only the Democratic party with a national character.

    The Republican party rose out of the ashes of the Whig party....

  17. 13 The Agony of War
    (pp. 124-139)

    The Crystallizing of Allegiances. The adoption of a secession ordinance by Virginia, the firing upon Fort Sumter, the call of President Lincoln for volunteers, and events at Wheeling in early summer 1861 produced deep divisions among West Virginians. The crises “arrayed brother against brother, father against son, and neighbor against neighbor,” heightening the tragedy of civil war.¹

    Unionists and Seccessionists in trans-Allegheny West Virginia vied for men and materiel. Secessionists hastened to comply with state directives to activate militia companies, but Unionists refused to serve in those destined for Confederate service and formed their own. Both attempted to gain control...

  18. 14 The Thirty-Fifth State
    (pp. 140-153)

    The Voters Approve Dismemberment of Virginia. On October 24, 1861, after most of northwestern Virginia was safely behind Union lines, residents of the thirty-nine counties named in the ordinance adopted by the Second Wheeling Convention, along with those of Hampshire and Hardy, voted on the dismemberment of Virginia. Less than thirty-seven percent of the approximately fifty thousand eligible voters in the forty-one counties cast ballots. Of those who did, 18,408 favored a new state and only 781 opposed division of the Old Dominion.

    Although theWheeling Intelligencerprofessed to see an “astonishing unanimity” of sentiment in the vote, in reality...

  19. 15 Tensions of Reconstruction
    (pp. 154-164)

    The Legacy of War. Although West Virginia was a Union state during the last two years of the Civil War, her political and social history during Reconstruction was scarcely less traumatic than those of the states of the former Confederacy. Most of the tensions and hatreds were rooted in the war and produced permanent schisms even among Unionists. Unconditional Unionists, such as Arthur I. Boreman, Archibald W. Campbell, Waitman T. Willey, and Chester D. Hubbard, were ready to accept emancipation of slaves, imposed by Congress, and wartime proscriptions, including suspension of habeas corpus, of the Lincoln administration in return for...

  20. 16 The Bourbon Ascendancy
    (pp. 165-173)

    The Democratic Party. When it took over the reigns of government in West Virginia in 1871, the Democratic Party was essentially a coalition of diverse interests. Ex-Confederates mingled with former Unionists, and lifelong Democrats welcomed to their ranks former Whigs who found the Republican Party unacceptable. The party included a strong infusion of Bourbons, devoted to Southern agrarian ideals but eager to reap advantages from the emerging industrial age.

    Traditional approaches to politics persisted among Democrats. Despite the change wrought by war and Reconstruction, postwar leaders recognized continuities in the social and economic life of the new state, particularly in...

  21. 17 Agriculture and Rural Life
    (pp. 174-182)

    Agriculture in the New State. West Virginia entered the Union as a rural state, with about eighty percent of her people engaged in general agriculture, which included both horticulture and animal husbandry. Corn was by far the most important crop, but wheat, oats, hay, particularly timothy and bluegrass, and potatoes were also produced in abundance. Small acreages were put to rye, and buckwheat flourished in higher elevations in Greenbrier and Preston counties. Tobacco, which had thrived in southwestern sections before the war, had begun to decline because of labor shortages and soil depletion. Sorghum, or Chinese sugar cane, first introduced...

  22. 18 The Industrial Age
    (pp. 183-204)

    Post–Civil War Economic Life. West Virginia entered the Union with some ninety percent of its people engaged in agriculture and an economy yet in the domestic stage. Most industrial and commercial establishments, including gristmills, sawmills, carding factories, woolen mills, tanneries, blacksmith shops, and even general stores were farm related. This agrarian economy prevailed in many parts of the state well into the twentieth century. West Virginians, however, had for decades pressed for solutions to problems of capital, labor, and transportation that would unlock their vast mineral and timber resources.

    River Transportation. Critical to the growth of industry in West...

  23. 19 Progressivism and Reaction
    (pp. 205-219)

    Disarray in the Republican Party. Following the Democratic victories in 1870, the Republican organization in West Virginia rapidly fell apart. The constitution of 1872 ended procedures which had enabled the Republicans to maintain control of the state during the Reconstruction era. In 1872 the party did not nominate a candidate for governor, but supported John J. Jacob, the Democratic incumbent, who ran as an Independent. Although Republicans took some comfort in the victory of President Ulysses S. Grant in West Virginia, his vote stemmed in part from the unpopularity of Horace Greeley, the Democratic candidate.

    The debate on the Civil...

  24. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  25. 20 Labor Problems and Advances
    (pp. 220-238)

    Genesis of the Labor Movement. A labor consciousness began to stir in West Virginia as early as 1830, when a diversified economy had produced a distinct wage-earning class in the Wheeling area. In 1829 William Cooper Howells, father of the novelist William Dean Howells, founded at WheelingThe Eclectic Observer, and Working People’s Advocate, which called for public education and for voting and office-holding rights for unpropertied laborers. In the same year, workers in Wheeling petitioned the Virginia legislature for mechanic’s lien laws to assure payment of wages through the sale of property of employers in default. The labor movement...

  26. 21 The Transformation of Education
    (pp. 239-254)

    The Free School Idea in the First Constitution. Free public education made little progress in West Virginia before the Civil War. Only Kanawha, Ohio, and Jefferson counties provided free schools for all children, although a few others were contemplating adoption of the plan when the war came. Many West Virginians, nevertheless, shared a common American belief that a close link existed between education and material progress, and they did not want to be left farther behind than they were.

    When the question of public schools came before the Committee on Education of the West Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1863, Gordon...

  27. 22 Literary Endeavors
    (pp. 255-265)

    The Civil War Era. The birth of West Virginia during the tragedy of civil war provided a setting for a great literature, but the conflict left little time for literary pursuits. The most important West Virginia novel set in a wartime context wasDavid Gaunt(1862) by Rebecca Harding Davis (1831–1910). In it Mrs. Davis, the mother of the noted writer Richard Harding Davis, portrayed the attitudes of Wheeling area farmers toward the war. She found nothing romantic in war, “for the shadow of death has fallen on us; it chills the very heaven.” She added, “Men had forgotten...

  28. 23 Twentieth Century Politics: Kump to Marland
    (pp. 266-277)

    Depression Politics. Prolonged economic depressions have always been deadly enemies of elected governments, and it was inevitable that the economic collapse of 1929, unprecedented in scale or duration, would seriously affect the political situation in both the nation and the states. Moreover, the euphoria of the late 1920s and a naive belief that want and privation would be banished from the land left most Americans unprepared pyschologically or materially for the worst crisis the nation had faced since the Civil War.

    The depression fell upon West Virginia with unusual severity. Employment in coal mining dropped from 119,937 in 1926 to...

  29. 24 Twentieth Century Politics: Underwood to Rockefeller
    (pp. 278-287)

    Midcentury Political Changes. Historically, the American people have wearied of sustained departures from traditional modes of life, including the demands of liberal idealism, the exertions and regimentation of war, and the responsibilities and frustrations of world leadership. At the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century, they had experienced twenty years of New Deal and Fair Deal policies, with their advanced social and economic programs; the most destructive war in history; and, following that war, the prospect of indefinite commitments abroad. A desire for what Warren G. Harding called “normalcy” and dissatisfactions with the Truman administration enabled Dwight...

  30. 25 Old Problems and New Dilemmas
    (pp. 288-303)

    Continuities and Uncertainties. Most of the distinguishing characteristics of West Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s were part of trends and patterns that had been in evidence at least since the middle of the twentieth century. The population decline, which gathered momentum during the economic dislocations of the 1950s, was temporarily reversed during the 1970s but resumed in the 1980s. Between 1980 and 1990 the number of people in the state dropped from 1,949,644 to 1,793,477, a loss of eight percent, which cost the state one of its four congressional seats.

    Closely related to the decrease in population was the...

  31. Selected Bibliography and Suggested Readings
    (pp. 304-325)
  32. Index
    (pp. 326-345)
  33. Back Matter
    (pp. 346-346)