Why is there a West Virginia? | Virginia Museum of History & Culture
"In the Beginning, all America was Virginia."
William Byrd II
Next event
Featured Promotion

Immerse yourself in Virginia's history by visiting one of our exhibitions.


The Story of Virginia
They'll discuss how to tap into your passion, get involved in a cause, apply your unique skills, and take action in… t.co/lKscGuDIvW

Why is there a West Virginia?

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

Following Virginia’s vote to secede from the United States in 1861, leaders in twenty-seven counties organized to remain loyal to the federal government. 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. 

Six Soldiers Relaxing in Image titled “Irregular Troops of Virginia”, Alfred Wordsworth Thompson, 1861

The westerners were divided even following admission of the new state of West Virginia into the United States 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 are varied, but if 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."

Stay engaged with our VIRTUAL events and DIGITAL programs. Click here for more info.


Help Notes:

  1. Only update text copy above line.
  2. Do not use cut or past.
  3. Do not use line breaks or cariage returns.
  4. Do not remove or backspace over line.
  5. Do not insert images or lists.
  6. To add and remove alert change the region settigns below for the VHS-sub (default theme) field below. Set to none to not display alert. Set to Content to display alert.