The Seceded State of Kanawha

by Fred Ray on January 18, 2009 · 3 comments

Strange Maps blog posts a period map relating to the secession of western Virginia in 1861.

West Virginia is the state that seceded where others failed. When in 1861 the South broke away from the US to form the Confederacy, the Mountain State in its turn left Virginia to remain within the Union. The electoral process by which it did this was highly irregular, and its accession to the Union could be considered illegal and unconstitutional. But in wartime, legal niceties count for less than tactical advantage, and West Virginia became a full-fledged member of the United States in 1863. The wrangling about West Virginia’s secession stopped only in 1939, when it paid the final installment of its share of the pre-Civil War state debt to Virginia.

Possibly to annoy the Virginians even more, the first name proposed for the new state wasn’t West Virginia but Kanawha, after the river of the same name (1). But since the delegates to the state’s constitutional convention thought that to name the state thus would unnecessarily raise confusion with the county of Kanawha within the state, a new name was sought. Vandalia, Columbia, Augusta, Allegheny, New Virginia and Western Virginia were a few of the alternatives that bounced around the room. The delegates finally settled on West Virginia, in part also to reflect their Virginian heritage.

Not sure we could have handled a state named Vandalia. Note also that most of Virginia has apparently been ceded to Maryland. This is supposed to have been a brainchild of then-Secretary of War Simon Cameron.

Also not to be missed is a map of state mottos. I’ve always like North Carolina’s—Esse Quam Videre, or “To Be Rather Than to Seem.”


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

elektratig January 19, 2009 at 8:10 am


There’s actually a strong case to be made that the formation of West Virginia was constitutional. It gets technical, but you can find the article here.


Bob May 6, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Aside from Constitutionality, the real question is did West Virginians want a state of their own? I have read the records of the Wheeling Conventions and there is actually no evidence that a significant number wanted to split from Virginia. This very question was asked by the Lt. Gov. Daniel Polsley at the 2nd Convention in August 1861. He wanted proof of the “clamor” and all he was told was that there were 3 or 4 petitions of some 700 names. One delegate said his constituents wanted nothing short of separation. The only trouble is that he represented a Secessionist county, so I don’t think he was speaking for the majority. A few weeks after that they decided to offer a referendum, at which only 34% of the voters participated, and if you include all 50 counties it drops to 28%. There is also the issue of Ohio soldiers accounting for almost the entire vote of Hampshire county. Historians have done a very poor job in writing about this.


Kentuckian July 31, 2009 at 8:17 am

They should change the name back to Kanawha and make “Charleston” “Kanawha City” (I guess the neighborhood of that name could be renamed “Charleston” LOL.) After all, there’s already a more famous Charleston in S.C., and Virginia actually extends west of *West* Virginia.


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