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West Virginia

The original state of Virginia was large and diverse, ranging from lowlands on the Atlantic to mountainous terrain in the west. Quite different groups of people settled in the different parts. Western residents petitioned the Continental Congress for a separate government, but their efforts were put on hold when hostilities broke out.

During the 19th century, the two sections of Virginia continued to grow apart. The eastern part of the state was dominated by large landholders who depended on slaves and were oriented towards the Atlantic. Westerners owned few slaves and looked westward, more towards Ohio and downriver to such ports as St. Louis and New Orleans. Improvements desired by Westerners were often ignored by the eastern section, which enjoyed the majority of the population and influence in the legislature.

After the Civil War broke out, Virginia called a state convention in April 1861, to consider what action to take. A majority voted for secession, but the western states refused to agree. They split off and declared independence. In the summer, they formed a government and adopted the name Kanawha, meaning "Place of the White Stone," referring to local salt deposits. By November, they had produced a constitution and changed the name to West Virginia. Congress accepted West Virginia as the 35th state in 1863.

Following the war, Virginia asked West Virginia to recombine with it, but West Virginia refused. Virginia then demanded that West Virginia pay its share of the prewar debt, but West Virginia again declined. The matter remained in the courts until 1915, when the Supreme Court ruled that West Virginia owed more than 12 million dollars. The debt was finally paid off until 1939.


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History of West Virginia
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