West Virginia Day commemorates the date that West Virginia was admitted to the Union. On June 20, 1863, the state of W.Va. officially became a member of the United States. It is held on annually on June 20 each unless it falls on a Sunday then it is observed on the following Monday.
According to the Center for Legislative Archives, “West Virginia’s Road to statehood was a unique one. Disputes over the borders of Virginia began in the early 17th century with conflicting royal charters that granted overlapping territory to multiple entities”, said the Center for Legislative Archives. It took the ratification of the Virginia Constitution in 1776 to solidify the borders. However, doing so did not resolve the ongoing tensions within the state. Some of the issues included voting rights in Virginia that were based on property holdings leaving many of western Virginians without the ability to vote since many did not own the required amount of property to vote.
In 1861, tensions continued to grow amongst the eastern and western Virginians. “Virginians came to an impasse following the secession of many southern states from the Union, the battle of Fort Sumter, and President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops from each state. The Virginia state legislature passed the Order of Secession on April 17, and Virginians voted to ratify secession on May 23. Less than a month later, Pro-Union Virginians voted to form a second government, the Restored Government of Virginia, on June 17. In August, the Restored Government of Virginia voted to approve the creation of a new state, West Virginia. According to Article IV, Section III of the U.S. Constitution, no new state can be formed from the territory of an existing state without the latter’s consent,” per the Center for Legislative Archives.
It is further clarified by the Center for Legislative Archives that, “The West Virginia Constitution was ratified by voters on November 26, 1861. In May 1862, Senator Waitman T. Willey (Unionist-Va.) submitted a bill, S. 365, to Congress for the admission of West Virginia to the Union. He then proposed an amendment to the bill calling for West Virginia to amend their constitution to include the gradual emancipation of slaves in the state. On July 14, the Senate approved West Virginia’s admission to the Union, with statehood conditioned on its approval of the Willey Amendment. The House approved the bill in December. Lincoln signed the bill admitting West Virginia to the Union, on December 31. On March 26, 1863, West Virginia ratified the revised constitution to include the gradual emancipation of slaves. President Lincoln proclaimed that West Virginia would officially be recognized as a state on June 20, 1863.”
While officially declared a state there were two counties that continued to present an issue. It is reported by the Center for Legislative Archives that Berkeley and Jefferson counties finally voted to join W.Va. on February 4, 1863. However, the state of Virginia contested the transfer. It would not be until December 5 of 1865 that Virginia would repeal the legislation and transfer Berkeley and Jefferson counties to W.Va. “The debate continued and finally ended in 1871 with the U.S. Supreme Court case Virginia v. West Virginia in which the Court affirmed that the counties were part of W.Va.,” as stated by the Center for Legislative Archives.
So that is why the road to W.Va.’s statehood is so unique. We were officially declared a state in 1863 but did not have all 55 counties until 1871.
The New River Gorge Convention and Visitors Bureau offered some lists of how to celebrate W.Va. Day.
1. Eat a pepperoni roll! It is our state food, an invention of the Italian immigrants working in the coal mines.
2. Have an adventure! It can be as quick as a stroll or as adventurous as a climb.
3. Do a nice deed. Be neighborly and kind to someone around you. Show your mountain manners.
4. Enjoy the scenery. Or enjoy a hike.
5. Support local business. Eat somewhere local or go to the closest Mom and Pop shop.
6. Go to an event around town. Enjoy what you have in your area to its fullest.
7. Forage. Even if it is just berry picking or plucking honeysuckle, enjoy some of nature’s native flavor.
8. Watch the wildlife. Can you spot a deer? How many birds? You will spot one of the Gorge’s falcons, or the state bird, the cardinal.
9. Show your state pride. A Facebook status, a W.Va. sweater, or just a conversation can show off your love for W.Va.
10. How to celebrate from afar:
11. Enjoy some bluegrass, folk, or other homegrown genre popular in the Mountain State.
12. Better yet, listen to a local W.Va. band. There is plenty of talent in every style, so if roots tunes are not your thing, you can still enjoy some mountain music.
13. Sit on the porch. Any porch. Bonus points if you have a rocking chair to sit in as you enjoy the open air. A beloved state pastime.
14. Support a local entrepreneur. Plenty of local shops will send out their wares online. In the gorge alone there are several, including Blue Smoke Salsa and Tamarack.
15. Sport a W.Va. team shirt! Maybe one from West Virginia University, Marshall University or one of our minor league baseball teams?
16. Plan a trip. Sure, you are not here for the birthday bash, but a belated visit is better than none.
17. Share your love socially. Tell others how much the state means to you. You will inspire them to explore its wonder for themselves.
18. Catch up on state news! There are plenty of media outlets you can access online.
19. Make your own pepperoni roll or mountain meal. Ramps, cornbread, blueberry cobbler, fried green tomatoes, squash, fried trout, casserole… need we go on?
20. Go out and meet people. There is nothing more W.Va. than being friendly.
Happy W.Va. Day! For more history and photos of historical documents pertaining to W.Va. visit https://www.archives.gov/legislative/features/west-virginia.