Different Archaic cultures develop in the northern Panhandle, the eastern Panhandle, and the Kanawha Valley. By approximately 6000 BCE, much of the large game in the area becomes extinct. Early hunters either die or adapt to hunting small game and gathering edible plants.
500 BCE– 1000 CE
Members of the Hopewell culture migrate into the Kanawha Valley and erect mounds in the South Charleston area.
Various Native Americans groups inhabit West Virginia. They live in small villages surviving by hunting, fishing, and cultivating corn, beans, and squash.
Organized tribes, such as the Delaware and Shawnee, move into present-day West Virginia. The Iroquois Confederacy—an alliance of the Iroquois-speaking Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Seneca nations—begins exerting its great influence on the region.
England establishes the Virginia Colony, which includes the region that is present-day West Virginia.
Colonial governor William Berkeley commissions John Lederer, an immigrant from Germany, to make three expeditions into the Appalachian mountains. Over the next year, Lederer and the members of his party become the first Europeans to view the Blue Ridge Mountains.
French explorer René-Robert Cavelier explores the Ohio River and makes landings at several sites in West Virginia.
Seeking a passage beyond the Appalachians Mountains, European explorers Thomas Batts and Robert Fallum lead an expedition to the New River and discover Kanawha Falls in the West Virginia area.
1700–1858 WESTWARD EXPANSION
Baron Christopher de Graffenreid petitions the King of England for a land grant to establish a Swiss colony in present-day Jefferson County. While the colony never materializes, Graffenreid does explore the eastern Panhandle.
Lieutenant governor of Virginia Alexander Spotswood enters western Virginia and explores beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Presbyterians found the first church in West Virginia at Shepherdstown.
To encourage settlement, the Virginia government allows families to live rent-free for ten years on land owned by the state.
The Iroquois surrender claims to land south of the Ohio River and counties in the eastern Panhandle.
Germans in search of religious freedom begin the permanent white settlement of West Virginia when they found New Mecklenberg in the area of present-day Shepherdstown.
Scotch-Irish, Welsh, and German pioneers settle the western portions of Virginia.
John Howard and John Peter Salley discover coal near Racine on what is now known as Coal River. Coal will become one of the greatest driving forces of West Virginia’s economy. Today West Virginia coal production is second only to Wyoming among U.S. states.
The Iroquois protest Virginia’s colonization beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains and threaten war against the Virginia Colony over the land dispute.
Governor William Gooch buys the Iroquois’ land claims to the disputed western region of Virginia for 400 pounds in the Treaty of Lancaster.
The first public spa opens in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia (then known as Bath). The mineral springs are a popular resort area and draw visitors, including George Washington, from several metropolitan areas in the colonies.
The British government forbids occupation of lands west of the Alleghenies in an attempt to avoid contact with Native Americans. The land is designated as "Indian Territory."
The land survey by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon reaches the western boundary between Maryland and Virginia. The resulting Mason-Dixon line later becomes the dividing line between free states and slave states.
The Iroquois and Cherokee tribes release their claims to the territory between the Ohio River and Allegheny Mountains. This nullifies the Proclamation of 1763 and produces a rapid increase in colonial settlement.
(October 18) The Cherokee sell most of their land claims within the southwestern part of Virginia (what would become West Virginia) in the Treaty of Lochaber.
Western Virginia petitions the Continental Congress for a separate government. The vastly different social conditions in the western part of the state (a poorer, more heterogeneous population, rugged terrain that greatly decreases the profitability of slavery) have led to serious rifts between the western and eastern portions of the state.
Settlers west of the Allegheny Mountains attempt to create "Westylvania," a new state, on the grounds that the mountains make an almost impassable barrier on the east.
Demarcating what will eventually become a section of the northern border of West Virginia, the Mason-Dixon line becomes the Virginia-Pennsylvania border.
Salt, coal, and timber ships out of Kanawha Harbor through western Virginia streams for export. These products become extremely important to the West Virginia economy in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The first salt well is drilled in the Great Kanawha Valley. By the mid-1800s, the Kanawha Valley is one of the largest salt manufacturing centers in the U.S.
Western Virginia protests against unequal representation in the Virginia legislature.
A convention meets to form a new constitution for Virginia. Against the protest of the western counties, the new constitution decrees a property qualification for suffrage and gives more representation to slave-holding counties.
1859–1899 THE STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA
(October 16) In an attempt to start a liberation movement among enslaved African Americans, John Brown raids the federal armory in the western Virginia town of Harpers Ferry. Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee and 86 Marines are called in to control the ensuing chaos, and capture most of the raiders. Brown is tried for treason and hanged, setting in motion events that directly lead to the Civil War.
The western and eastern counties of Virginia continually grapple over slavery, taxation, education, and equal legislative representation. The western counties also criticize the state expense for public works, which they feel benefit the east while allotting only a scanty portion to the western side of the state.
(April 17) When Virginia secedes from the Union, western Virginia severs its political ties with the state. Delegates from 40 western counties form their own government. However, while West Virginia contributes about 32,000 soldiers to the Union Army, about 10,000 fight for the Confederate cause.
(May 23) Pro-Union and pro-Confederate forces clash in Clarksburg.
(July 4) Union and Confederate forces battle at Harpers Ferry.
(September 10) Confederate troops at Carnifex Ferry fall back after attacks from Union troops. This battle is instrumental in helping preserve western Virginia for the Union.
(September 12–15) Confederates capture the Union weapon arsenal at Harpers Ferry. It represents a major victory for the Confederates. The Union garrison surrenders 12,419 men, the largest surrender of federal forces during the Civil War. Confederate troops also help themselves to new Union uniforms, an act which causes confusion in subsequent Civil War battles.
(June 20) West Virginia becomes the 35th state admitted to the Union. It is the only state to form by seceding from a Confederate state, and one of only two states admitted during the Civil War (the other being Nevada).
Voting rights and citizenship are denied to those who supported the Confederacy during the Civil War.
The West Virginia Legislature passes the Married Women’s Property Act, which stipulates married women are not permitted to transfer or sell property without the approval of their husbands.
The state constitution is amended to allow males of age to vote, regardless of race. It also restores citizenship and voting rights to former Confederate soldiers.
Involving two warring families in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky backcountry, the Hatfield and McCoy feud begins with a squabble over a pig and escalates into murder. It eventually claims the lives of more than a dozen members of the two families over 13 years and becomes headline news around the country. After state militias are called in to restore order, the families agree to a truce in 1891.
The governor approves a bill allowing all citizens eligible to vote, including African Americans, to serve as jurors.
Charleston becomes the permanent state capital. Salt, natural gas, and coal are central to the economic prosperity of the city.
Drilling operations near Mannington initiate an oil boom, and real estate prices double in two days.
(March 14) The West Virginia Legislature passes an act to protect the earnings of married women from their husbands should they be living separately.
Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, a labor and community organizer, arrives in West Virginia to organize miners. In 1902, she campaigns to unionize 7,000 miners in the Kanawha Valley.
(September 11) Seventy-five thousand coal miners in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia strike for 10 weeks. The massive labor action ends when mine owners agree to the concessions of an eight-hour workday, semi-monthly pay, and the abolition of the company stores, which notoriously overcharge workers.
1900–1949 EARLY TO MID 20TH CENTURY
The United Mine Workers labor union organizes miners and demands safer working conditions, shorter work hours, and better wages. Throughout the early 20th century, deadly fights break out between mine owners and striking union members.
(December 6) The worst mining disaster in U.S. history occurs when 362 men and boys die in a coalmine explosion in Monongah.
(March 27–30) Thousands become homeless in Huntington and Parkersburg after the Ohio River floods.
The West Virginia Legislature proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would give women the right to vote. The governor signs the act on March 3, but voters defeat the amendment in November.
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that West Virginia owes Virginia more than $12.3 million as part of the state debt at the time of separation.
(March 10) West Virginia becomes the 34th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote.
The Coal Wars result from an effort to unionize West Virginia coal miners. In August 1920, Governor John J. Cornwell requests federal troops guard the mines of southern West Virginia. Rioting in Williamson the next month follows attempts to import strikebreakers into the area. In 1921, West Virginia miners trying to organize fight with mine guards, police, and federal troops.
(August 25–Sept 2) The Battle of Blair Mountain becomes the largest organized armed uprising in American labor history. An army of 15,000 miners and their families face off against state and federal troops. Their victory results in many of the country’s current labor laws.
The National Recovery Administration is established to protect union members and bring about needed changes with the mines. Despite reforms, many workers leave West Virginia from the 1940s to the 1970s in search of better economic opportunities. Today West Virginia has the third lowest per capita income in the country.
West Virginia makes the final debt payment to Virginia.
During World War II, 1,700 people from the Axis countries are imprisoned at the Greenbrier Hotel in Greenbrier County, which also serves as an army hospital. Still in operation, the Greenbrier is now a luxury resort. It is designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.
West Virginia’s coal production reaches 173.7 million tons, more than any previous year. Over 167,000 are now employed as mine workers.
1950–PRESENT MODERN WEST VIRGINIA
West Virginia becomes the last state to approve jury service for women.
The state’s coal industry experiences resurgence. By 1996, the industry is producing a record 174 million tons per year.
The wealth of its natural resources attracts retirees to West Virginia, resulting in renewed population growth for the state.
Steel workers in West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania end a 10-month strike at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation. It is the longest strike against a major steel company.
President Bill Clinton opens peace talks between Syria and Israel in Shepherdstown.
Massey Energy, the country’s fourth largest coal producer, agrees to pay a $20 million fine as part of a settlement over allegations that it routinely polluted hundreds of streams and waterways in West Virginia and Kentucky.
(April) An explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine kills 29 miners. The accident brings attention to safety issues in the coal mining industry.
Click to enlarge an image
Circa 250 BCE: The Paleo-Native American Criel Mound in modern-day South Charleston
1600: Commemorative Shawnee dollar
1607: Period map of the Virginia Colony
1669: Sir William Berkeley, Colonial governor
1699: Map of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding area with present-day state boarders
1716: Alexander Spotswood
1768: Map showing Proclamation of 1763 line
1859: Harper's Weeklyillustration of U.S. Marines attacking John Brown's "Fort"
1859: John Brown
1862: Battle map of Harpers Ferry
1897: "Mother" Jones
1902: Political cartoon depicting miners' strike
1921: John J. Cornwell, 15th Governor of West Virginia
1921: Battle of Blair Mountain, A group of miners display one of the bombs dropped
1933: NRA blue eagle poster
1975: Lump of coal
2000: Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States