Little is known of the prehistoric peoples who lived in what is now West Virginia except that they probably were food gatherers and hunters and arrived there as early as 10,000 years ago. About 2,000 B.C., cultivation of crops was begun. Mound builders lived in the area from about 1000 B.C. to 1000 A.D. During historic times, the major tribes of the region were the Shawnee and the Delaware.
|Important dates in West Virginia|
|1660's||Large numbers of Indians in what is now West Virginia died during wars and disease epidemics.|
|1727||Germans from Pennsylvania established a settlement at New Mecklenburg (now Shepherdstown).|
|1742||John P. Salling and John Howard discovered coal on the Coal River.|
|1754-1755||The French and Indians defeated troops led by George Washington and General Edward Braddock.|
|1773||Plans for Vandalia, a 14th American colony--which would have included West Virginia--collapsed as the Revolutionary War approached.|
|1775||Gas was discovered near Charleston.|
|1836||The first railroad reached the state at Harpers Ferry.|
|1859||John Brown and his followers raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.|
|1861||The counties of western Virginia refused to secede with Virginia. These counties organized a separate government that supported the Union.|
|1863||West Virginia became the 35th state on June 20.|
|1872||The people ratified the present state constitution.|
|1919-1921||Labor disputes in Logan and Mingo counties led to conflicts between labor and management.|
|1924||John W. Davis of Clarksburg received the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. He was defeated by Republican Calvin Coolidge in the general election.|
|1954||The West Virginia Turnpike, connecting Charleston and Princeton, opened.|
|1959||The National Radio Astronomy Observatory began operating at Green Bank.|
|1968||Explosions and fire in a coal mine at Farmington took 78 lives. The disaster led to new mine safety laws.|
|1972||The Buffalo Creek Flood, one of the worst in West Virginia history, resulted in over 100 deaths near Man.|
|1985||The West Virginia Legislature established a state lottery to help raise money for the state.|
|2006||The West Virginia Legislature passed several new mine safety laws after 14 miners died in accidents.|
European Exploration and Settlement. Until the late 17th century, the Virginia backcountry (of which West Virginia was a part until the Civil War) was unknown to European settlers. The first European believed to have entered what became West Virginia was John Lederer, a young German sent to explore the backcountry by Sir William Berkeley, governor of Virginia, in 1670. In 1671 Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam reached what is now the Virginia—West Virginia border. England based its claim to the Ohio Valley on this expedition. Other expeditions followed, some seeking furs to trade and others hoping to locate suitable land for settlement. In 1716 a company led by Governor Alexander Spotswood reached the base of the Alleghenies and officially claimed the land to the west for Virginia.
|Places to visit in West Virginia|
|Following are brief descriptions of some of West Virginia's many interesting places to visit:|
|Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, at New River Park in Beckley, is a restored mine first operated in the late 1800's. Visitors can take a riding tour of the mine and view exhibits at the Coal Museum. A coal company house, mine superintendent's home, and one-room schoolhouse are also at the site.|
|Blennerhassett Island, in the Ohio River near Parkersburg, was the site of a mansion built by Harman Blennerhassett about 1800. Blennerhassett, with Aaron Burr and others, was suspected of planning an independent government in the southwestern region of the United States. A reconstruction of the mansion has been built over the original foundation.|
|Cass, in Pocahontas County, has a state-owned scenic railroad powered by steam locomotives. Trains run through beautiful mountain country on the tracks of a former logging railroad.|
|Charles Town, the county seat of Jefferson County, was founded in 1786 by Charles Washington, younger brother of George Washington. A jury at the Jefferson County Courthouse found John Brown guilty of murder and treason after his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. A stone marker designates the site of the John Brown Gallows. Several historic homes stand in the area around Charles Town. Harewood was built about 1770 for George Washington's brother Samuel. Dolley Payne Todd and James Madison were married in this house in 1794. Charles Washington built Mordington, or "Happy Retreat," about 1780. Bushrod Washington, grandnephew of the president, built Claymont Court in 1820.|
|Jackson's Mill, near Weston, was the family farm where the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson spent his boyhood. In 1921 this area became the first state 4-H Club camp to be established in the United States.|
|National Radio Astronomy Observatory, in Green Bank, is a center for the study of radio waves from space. During the summer, visitors at the observatory may inspect radio telescopes that measure the waves, and view a film about the observatory's work.|
|New River Gorge Bridge, on U.S. 19 near Fayetteville, is one of the world’s longest steel arch span bridges. A visitor center provides a scenic overview and an audio-visual presentation.|
|West Virginia Independence Hall-Custom House, in Wheeling, was the site of statehood conventions that led to the founding of West Virginia in 1863. Visitors can view exhibits detailing the movement for statehood.|
|National forests and parklands. Monongahela National Forest lies entirely within West Virginia, in the eastern part of the state. Parts of George Washington and Jefferson national forests extend into West Virginia from Virginia. The town of Harpers Ferry is famous in Civil War history. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park lies on the boundary between West Virginia and Maryland, as does the nearby Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Bluestone National Scenic River, Gauley River National Recreation Area, and New River Gorge National River are in the southern part of West Virginia.|
|State parks and forests. West Virginia has 38 state parks and 9 state forests. Among the best known state parks is Blackwater Falls, near Davis. There, sparkling water tumbles 63 feet (19 meters) over a rocky ledge. For information on the parks and forests of West Virginia, write to Division of Tourism and Parks, 90 MacCorkle Ave., SW, South Charleston, WV 25303.|
Tradition has the first settlement in West Virginia being made by Morgan Morgan, a Welshman, on Mill Creek, in 1731. However, it is believed that Germans from Pennsylvania founded what is now Shepherdstown around 1727. Coal was discovered near present-day Racine in 1742, but the economic life of the trans-Allegheny region centered on agriculture for more than a century.
The early settlers of West Virginia were mainly Germans, Scotch-Irish, and English. Soon after their arrival, they came into conflict with the other claimants to the Ohio Valley, the French. Several settlements were attacked by the French and their Indian allies during the French and Indian War (1754–63). In Lord Dunmore's War (1774), a major battle between militia and Indians under Chief Cornstalk was fought at Point Pleasant. During the Revolutionary War, Indians and British loyalists made raids on western settlements.
After the Revolution, there was a wave of immigrants. By 1790 some 55,000 people lived in what is now West Virginia; the population had more that tripled by 1830. In the mid-19th century, a division of interest between the eastern and western sections of Virginia became apparent. The western counties felt that they were not getting a fair share of public funds and complained of unequal representation in the legislature. Because representation was based partly on the number of slaves held, the landholders of the Tidewater and Piedmont areas held more legislative seats in proportion to their numbers than the poorer western settlers. The growth of antislavery sentiment in the west in the 1840's and 1850's added to sectional tensions. In 1859 the abolitionist John Brown raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, but failed in his plan to spark a slave insurrection throughout the South.John Brown at Harpers Ferry. John Brown, a famous abolitionist, captured the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1859 as part of an unsuccessful plan to start a rebellion of slaves.