West Virginia Born in Wheeling

The similarities of the these two cities is remarkable when one considers they were both born from Revolutionary era forts, both were major wool, tannery and riverboat centers while glass and nails were early products of each town.  And, each of the towns were also opposed to slavery.

But the differences were more remarkable since Wheeling belonged to the Confederacy and Steubenville belonged to the Union. In fact, the differences were so great that a revolution took place in Wheeling, Virginia which resulted in the creation of our 35th state in 1863.

As Jeff Evans wrote in Battlefield Journal,

Wheeling was a combination of north and south, east and west. The ethnically diverse community had many cultural amenities to offer. Two private academies served the growing ranks of the prosperous. Secret fraternities and recreation societies abounded. The city boasted a daily newspaper, The Intelligencer, founded in 1852 and edited by Archibald Campbell, who was vehemently anti-slavery and endorsed Lincoln for president in 1860. That such sentiments could find an audience in Virginia is a testament to the differences between the eastern and western portions of the Commonwealth.

With the election of Lincoln in 1860, tenuous bonds holding the two portions of the state together began to snap. As state after state seceded, passions flared throughout Virginia. On April 17, 1861, the Virginia State Convention voted in favor of secession. Many  western delegates who had opposed  secession walked out and fled home, determined to rally opposition. The residents of western Virginia made difficult decisions. Loyalties to friends, neighbors and even family members dissolved as political beliefs led men to side with the Union or Confederacy.

John Carlile, firebrand, former Virginia state senator and lawyer from Clarksburg, appeared at a rally in his hometown and called for a convention in Wheeling to discuss the implications of secession. A crowd of more than 5,000 gathered around the US Customs House where they raised a massive United States flag above Wheeling’s most visible icon of National Government. Carlile exhorted the gathered masses to action, proposing an immediate break from Old Virginia.

Not many people realize that West Virginia was born  in Wheeling as a result of these conventions and that a new constitution was drawn and presented to the US Congress on May 29, 1862. The US Senate approved it by a 23-17 vote and it was approved by the House of Representatives and presented to President Lincoln who signed the bill on December 31, 1862 creating West Virginia which entered the Union on June 20, 1863.

Compiled by JCHA Board Member

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