On this day in 1861, refugee delegates from Virginia’s secession convention assembled (for something like the third time since June) in Wheeling, this time to draft a constitution for what they now called West Virginia. As part of the proceedings, they adopted a policy of “negro exclusion,” which banned all black people—slaves and freedmen alike—from residing in the future state.
I grew up being taught that West Virginia was home to outcast, antislavery types, and indeed the first edition of that infamous textbook Our Virginia taught exactly that: “Some Virginians did not want to leave the Union,” it read. “Folks in the western part of Virginia were mostly small farmers who did not favor slavery.” In fact, the states U.S. senator, John S. Carlile, actually opposed the eventual statehood bill because it called for even a gradual emancipation of slaves.*
The second edition of Our Virginia, the one that recruited a few actual historians for guidance, was more accurate: “White farmers in the western part of the state relied far ess on slavery than those to the east.” In other words, the differences were primarily economic; the interests lie in the pocketbook and not in the fate of black people.
I do love Mary Tucker Magill‘s take on East vs. West, though. In her textbook, published way back in 1881, she writes:
The class of population in the two sections also contrasted strongly. Those in Eastern Virginia were, for the most part, the descendants of the early English settlers, proud of their birth and of their ancestral homes, living in ease and comfort with their negroes about them; while the population of West Virginia were, for the most part, hardy mountaineers, who had come in from the Western and Northern States and naturally had none of that inherited State pride which is a marked feature with Virginians. Their slave property was very inconsiderable, and they looked with jealousy on their neighbors, who lived in elegance …
That about sums it up, I think: Eastern Virginians were the cool Virginians. God knows what’s going on with those hayseeds up in the mountains!
* I know, I’m repeating myself.
IMAGE: Virginia and West Virginia by S. Augustus Mitchell Jr., 1865, from the fifth edition of Mitchell’s New General Atlas, first published in 1860. This is the map used in the Our Virginia section on West Virginia, but the textbook, sadly, seems to have a policy of no photo captions.