Happy West Virginia Day 2024! The Origin Story of the Mountain State

Michael Moore

Photograph by Kinsey B Photography

I’ve always been a big fan of movies.  Westerns, mysteries, thrillers, and yes, at least for the first few half dozen or so, superhero movies.  And if I’ve learned anything over the past two decades of living through Hollywood’s constant bombardment of all those superhero movies it’s this, people love a good origin story.  Origin stories are pretty straight forward in that they reveal to fans how their favorite superhero became the spandex-clad, crime fighting, do-gooder they admire from the comics or silver screen.  Usually, an origin story will highlight a tragic event or inner conflict in the early stages of the hero’s life that set him or her on the honorable path of fighting for good.  Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!   

For instance, at an early age Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) witnessed his parents being gunned down in a back alley and it drove him to hang out with bats and a butler in a dark cave.  Before he sported red undies over his blue jumpsuit, the infant Kal-El (aka Clark Kent, aka Superman) suffered the loss of not only his parents but his entire home planet.  And Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) was bitten by a spider.  Oh, and his uncle was killed also.  I think you get the point.  A great origin story needs a great struggle to be truly rewarding in the end – a story that will be remembered for ages to come.  

Now when it comes to an origin story worthy of remembrance and pride, at least to us West Virginians, the story that led to the birth of our beloved Mountain State has no rival (sorry aforementioned super heroes).  Born from the tragic beginnings of the American Civil War, West Virginia became the last state to be created from one of the original thirteen colonies under British rule.  But as with any good origin story, the journey to statehood was not without conflict, division, and attempted retribution.  So, in celebration of West Virginia Day, June 20, 2024, the following is a brief look at the origin story of West Virginia. 

As mentioned, the backdrop of the birth of West Virginia was the American Civil War.  The fundamental issue that led to the war was a debate over whether slavery should be approved to spread into the western territories of America.  If prohibited, many believed the issue of slavery, namely the ownership of a slave labor force, would eventually come to an end for the entire country.  This loss was something unthinkable to most of the Southern states as they relied almost exclusively on slaves for the production of crops.  By the spring of 1861 the United States had become so divided over the issue of slavery that civil war was declared as southern states seceded from the Union, thus forming the two sides of the war – the Union of the North and the Confederacy of the South.

The idea of national division seemed to play out on full display in the commonwealth of Virginia.  On April 17, 1861, the Richmond convention voted to secede from the Union; but things would not be that cut and dried for Virginia.  For nearly 60 years political and social tension between the people of eastern and western Virginia had been brewing.  By the time secession was ratified by a majority of the state, many of the northwestern counties of Virginia did not agree with the decision.  These counties, which would eventually form West Virginia voted approximately 34,677 to 19,121 against secession from the Union.  Virginia had a problem; a large portion of the state wanted to join the Confederacy, but a large portion did not.

Delegates from northwestern Virginia convened on two separate occasions in meetings known as the Wheeling Convention and ultimately decided on an official separation from Virginia with intention of forming a new state, originally to be named Kanawha.  In the settling of final matters, a suggestion was approved to change the new state’s name to West Virginia, and by the issuance of proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln declared on June 20, 1863, West Virginia would officially become a state.  On that date our first Governor, Arthur I. Boreman, officially declared West Virginia America’s 35th state.  And although our statehood was the source of early in-state fighting and was met with a legal challenge by the state of Virginia in 1871, West Virginia has remained.  And like the super heroes on the silver screen, we are indeed a rare breed – the 35th state born from the 10th state. 

As origin stories go, I like to think West Virginia’s is a good one.  The key elements are there: conflict, rebellion, failed retribution, and ultimate victory through presidential recognition no less (thank you President Lincoln).  Our story may not have exploding planets and super heroes in tights, but what we do have is grit, determination, and people of valor.  We were formed from a group of individuals determined not to go in a direction they felt was wrong for them.  A people that possessed the courage of their convictions; so much so, they were prepared to form a new state over their beliefs.  We are Mountaineers, a people willing to stand for what we hold true.  That’s why I can’t imagine a better state motto for West Virginia than Montani Semper Liberi, Mountaineers are always free.  It’s a fitting adage, for it captures in a few words the true independent nature and spirit of the people of the great state of West Virginia. 

So, with the origin story behind us and June 20, West Virginia Day, approaching fast, we here at Nature’s Mountain Playground would like to officially say Happy West Virginia Day and extend our invitation to you to celebrate our state’s birthday by exploring some of the best West Virginia has to offer.  What better way to celebrate our state’s rugged, independent spirit than to experience some of the most beautiful and rugged outdoor recreation anywhere in the state?  With five state parks and two state forests calling Pocahontas County home (that’s more state-owned land than any other county in West Virginia) and more than 500 miles of hiking and biking trails, we’re confident you’ll find and endless array of places to enjoy, trails to hike, bike, roam and explore.  So, if a birthday celebration having your breath taken away by the beautiful and rugged mountains West Virginia was named for, sounds like time invested and well spent, pay us a visit here in Nature’s Mountain Playground, Pocahontas County this June 20 as we celebrate 161 years of “Almost Heaven” here in the Mountain State.  

Happy Birthday West Virginia.