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Documentary Chronicles State’s Creation

June 20, 2013

The western counties of Virginia had little in common with those in the East in the 1860s, and once Virginia seceded from the Union that made it easier for those counties to break away and form a new state, a new documentary states.

Those wanting to learn more about how West Virginia separated from the Old Dominion 150 years ago today gathered Wednesday at West Virginia Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling to watch the documentary, titled "West Virginia: The Road to Statehood." The documentary is produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting and will be shown on West Virginia PBS, channel 10 in the Wheeling market, at 8 p.m. today.

About 50 people watched the film, which featured statements from several state professors, as well as Travis Henline, site manager at Independence Hall, and Joe Geiger, director of West Virginia Archives and History.

The documentary shows how the counties that would become West Virginia had little in common with eastern Virginia. Even before the Civil War, these regions had grown apart both politically and culturally.

Mark Snell, a historian at Shepherd University, said the counties that would become West Virginia generated about 20,000 Union soldiers, but also a roughly equal number of Confederate troops. He said most of the loyalists who did not want to leave the Union were in the northern part of this region, particularly in the Wheeling area.

Geiger and others in the film describe how West Virginia eventually had to deal with the issue of slavery because there were still many slaves in the the counties that formed the new state. Geiger said the initial solution was simply to not allow any additional blacks, free or slave, into the state. However, this did not satisfy the U.S. Senate, which needed to approve the application for statehood.

Fact Box

"West Virginia: The Road to Statehood," airs at 8 p.m. today on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, channel 10 in the Wheeling market.

Before allowing West Virginia statehood, U.S. senators demanded officials develop an emancipation plan to eventually free all slaves. That led to the Willey Amendment.

Eventually, the Senate voted to allow West Virginia statehood by a vote of 23-17, with 8 senators failing to cast votes. Henline said the Mountain State had slaves in some counties as late as early 1865.

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