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West Virginia

Map of West Virginia
Locator Map of West Virginia

The area of North America was originally inhabited by the Adena Culture, or (Mound Builders.) They lived here for thousands of years and remnants of their fascinating culture remain to this day.
George II of EnglandBeginning in the 1670's, European adventurers crossed the Appalachian Mountains into an area that was then the western region of the Virginia Colony; land that the King of England originally granted (or gave) to a series of his friends.

By the mid-1740's, this undeveloped land (across the mountains) was being leased to European immigrants, and in some cases, sold. German settlers (squatters) from Pennsylvania began living along the south branch of the Potomac River - and though Native Americans and the French resisted - pioneers continued to move in.

During this general time frame, Great Britain and France continued their fight for dominance across North America. The resulting French and Indian War (1754-1763) caused the first settlements in Western Virginia to be abandoned and destroyed, as the British dealt crushing blows to the French and their Indian allies.

Although victorious against the French, the British were plunged into war debt. England's King, in a creative way to pay off that debt, decided to raise tax monies from his new colonies, and that decision was the genesis of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

During that war, the small number of remaining settlers in Western Virginia were generally active patriots, and many served in the Continental Army.

As England and American colonists clashed over the ownership of what would become the United States of America, Native Americans joined the British side. Nearly a year after the main British army surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, bloody battles with the Indians continued in Western Virginia, including a major conflict at Fort Henry (present-day Wheeling).

1776 flagFollowing the American Revolution, the aggressive settlement of frontier lands west of the Allegheny Mountains began. At first, pioneers settled along the major rivers before pushing further west, and by the turn of the century there was nearly 60,000 in the territory.

As Western Virginia continued to develop, increasing disagreements and tensions between the western and eastern areas of Virginia reached a fevered pitch, especially over such issues as slavery, taxation and equal governmental representation in Richmond.

Opposition to southern slavery in West Virginia was made famous by the raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, led by the abolitionist John Brown. Slavery and States' Rights fueled the desire for independence across the South and those issues were the primary catalyst for America's bloody Civil War (1861–1865). When Virginia seceded from the Union in early 1861, and joined the Confederacy, the majority of citizens of Western Virginia decided to stay with the Union, thus declaring their own independence.

Because of that brave and controversial decision, the two were never reconciled as a single state again. The western region, after its refusal to secede was finally approved by the Supreme Court of the United States, was subsequently admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863, as an individual state. Officially named West Virginia, the 35th State's chosen motto - "Mountaineers Are Always Free" - certainly says it all.

stonewall jacksonWest Virginia suffered little in the war when compared to the death and destruction in Pennsylvania and Virginia, but because of the strategic location of Harper's Ferry, the war brought this West Virginia city unwanted notoriety.

Union and Confederate troops moved through Harpers Ferry frequently, and the town changed hands more than a dozen times. In 1862, General Stonewall Jackson's capture of Harpers Ferry and 12,000 Union troops was the largest surrender of Union troops during the entire Civil War.

For many years after war's end, partisan feelings ran high; those that sided with the Confederacy were chastised, and amendments to the United States Constitution (all in part) officially abolishing and prohibiting slavery were contentious in many circles.

West Virginia was rich in mineral resources, including massive salt deposits; that commodity would provide financial returns during the war's costly reconstruction period, and for many years to come. However, West Virginia's real economic treasure (coal) would eventually transform the economics of the state, and fuel the energy demands of America's growing industrial base.

Driven by new mining techniques and investment capital, many coal mines were in full operation by 1900, including the legendary ones in and around Bluefield on West Virginia's far southern border. The extraordinary expansion of America's railroads transported that lucrative product to shipping ports along the Atlantic Ocean, and as far north as the Great Lakes.

coalAs demand for coal increased during World War I, the railroads were unable to carry enough to meet that demand, and the U.S. Government stepped in. Locks and dams were built along the Ohio River so river barges could help transport coal to the marketplace.

Around the time of World War II, the state began building a better highway system and coal mining brought thousands of new jobs to West Virginia. Inevitably, labor difficulties and tragic mining disasters made front page news. Even today, mining safety and ecological concerns are major challenges in a state where coal production remains a major industry.

Chemicals, iron, tin, steel, and nickel are all produced in West Virginia factories, and the state is famous for its glass and pottery production. In addition, West Virginia's forests provide abundant lumber and wood products.

Tourism is a major industry in West Virginia, and visitors flock to its rugged, green mountain areas and numerous state parks. In fact, because of its many fast-flowing rivers, "The Mountain State" is considered one of planet's (best) white water rafting venues.

West Virginians are justifiable proud of their history, cultural heritage and the state's natural beauty. Certainly a visit to this inspiring state will justify a postcard or two.

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