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West Virginia

Harpers Ferry and John Brown

This Outlook program focuses on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (previously Virginia). The first section explores the birth and history of this pre-civil war, industrial town. The second section focuses on the abolitionist, John Brown, and his raid on the armory and town of Harpers Ferry. Produced by Bob Wilkinson, Cecelia Mason, and Larry Dowling.

Timeline of West Virginia: 1600’s

  • (1607) Virginia Colony established by England
  • (1669) German John Lederer and companions reached crest of Blue Ridge Mountains, became first Europeans to see (current) West Virginia; French explorer, Robert de La Salle, explored Ohio River, made landings at sites in (current) West Virginia
  • (1671) Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam led English expedition, claimed lands for England


  • (1712) Baron Christopher DeGraffenreid searched for land for Swiss families in Eastern Panhandle
  • (1722) Families allowed to live rent-free for ten years on land owned by state; Iroquois Indians surrendered claims to lands south of Ohio River, included areas in Eastern Panhandle
  • (1725) Fur traders explored western Appalachians; northern part of western Virginia explored by trader John Van Nehne
  • (1730) Land grants in West Virginia made to Isaac and John Van Meter
  • (1731) Welshman Morgan Morgan established first settlement in West Virginia near Bunker Hill
  • (1732) German, Welsh, Scotch-Irish pioneers settled in western Virginia
  • (1742) Coal discovered at Coal River; first iron furnace constructed on Shenandoah River
  • (1744) Indians of Six Nations ceded territory to English between Allegheny Mountains and Ohio River
  • (1748) George Washington surveyed land in western Virginia for Lord Fairfax; Harpers Ferry began passenger service across Shenandoah River
  • (1754 – 1763) French and Indian War took place
  • (1755) General Braddock led army through West Virginia counties enroute to Pittsburgh, suffered defeat by French and Indians; settlement of Draper’s Meadows in New River area attacked by Shawnee Indians, nearly all settlers killed or captured
  • (1763) British government forbade occupation of lands west of Allegheny Mountains
  • (1768) Iroquois ceded lands north of Little Kanawha River to British in Treaty of Stanwix; first flood of Ohio River recorded
  • (1771) Natural gas discovered in Kanawha Valley
  • (1772) George Clark explored Ohio, Kanawha Rivers
  • (1774) William Morris, Sr. became first permanent English settler in Kanawha County; Battle of Point Pleasant between Virginia settlers, militia and Indian tribes occurred, Virginians won, Indians gave up much of disputed land
  • (1776) West Virginia residents petitioned Continental Congress for separate government
  • (1777) Indian wars resume; Chief Cornstalk, his son, Chief Red Hawk murdered by whites at Fort Randolph
  • (1782) Battle of Fort Henry in Wheeling called “last battle of Revolutionary War”; Fort Henry attacked by Indians and British
  • (1784) Mason Dixon line agreed to as border of Virginia, Pennsylvania
  • (1791) Daniel Boone elected delegate to Virginia Assembly
  • (1794) Indian attacks halted at Fallen Timbers by “Mad Anthony” Wayne
  • 1800’s
  • (1806) First salt well drilled in Great Kanawha Valley
  • (1810) West Virginia protested unequal representation in Virginia legislature; oil discovered
  • (1815) Nation’s first national gas well discovered at Charlestown by James Wilson
  • (1818) Cumberland (National) road completed from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling; first commercial coal mine near Fairmont opened
  • (1829) Counties west of Allegheny Mountains protested constitution that favored slave-holding counties
  • (1830) The Wheeling Gazette proposed separation of western Virginia from eastern Virginia
  • (1831) Slavery debates enhanced political divisions
  • (1833) 23 killed in one day by cholera epidemic
  • (1835) John Templeton, John Moore, Stanley Cuthbert, Ellen Ritchie charged with teaching blacks
  • (1836) First railroad reached Harpers Ferry
  • (1847) First telegraph line in state reached Wheeling
  • (1849) Wheeling Bridge completed
  • (1852) B & O Railroad from Baltimore to Wheeling completed (was longest railroad in world – 370 miles)
  • (1854) Wheeling Bridge destroyed by high winds
  • (1859) Abolitionist John Brown conducted raids on federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry to end slavery; John Brown hung in Charleston
  • (1861 – 1865) Civil War began
  • (1861) West Virginia refused to secede from Union, separated from Virginia; West Virginia sent 32,000 soldiers to Union army, 10,000 to Confederates; first land battle of Civil War fought at Philippi; Wheeling Convention met, named western part of Virginia Kanawha; Union troops burned town of Guyandotte; Wheeling Convention reconvened, named new state West Virginia
  • (1862) Voters approved new Constitution for West Virginia; new legislature petitioned U. S. Congress for statehood admission; Union troops defeated Confederates at Lewisburg; bill passed by West Virginia Senate allowed gradual emancipation of slaves; Battle of Charleston took place, city occupied by Union troops
  • (1863) West Virginia became 35th state; Confederate General William Jones attempted to burn suspension bridge over Monongahela River; blacks received same rights as whites for criminal trial, but not allowed to serve on juries
  • (1865) Slavery abolished; Civil War ends
  • (1866) Voters ratified constitutional amendment denying citizenship to all who had helped confederacy
  • (1870) First brick street in world laid in Charleston

West Virginia (Listeni/ˌwɛst vərˈɪnjə/) is a state in the Appalachian region of the Eastern United States. It is bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the northeast and Maryland to the east. West Virginia is the 41st most extensive and the 37th most populous of the 50 United States. The capital and largest city is Charleston.

West Virginia became a state following the Wheeling Conventions and broke awayfrom Virginia during the American Civil War. The new state was admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863, and was a key Civil War border state. West Virginia was the only state to form by seceding from a Confederate state, and was one of two states formed during the American Civil War (the other one being Nevada, which separated from Utah Territory).

The Census Bureau and the Association of American Geographers classify West Virginia as part of the South. The northern panhandle extends adjacent to Pennsylvania and Ohio, with the West Virginia cities of Wheeling and Weirton just across the border from the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, while Bluefield is less than 70 miles (110 km) from North CarolinaHuntington in the southwest is close to the states of Ohio and Kentucky, while Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry in the Eastern Panhandle region are considered to be a part of the Washington metropolitan area, in between the states of Maryland and Virginia. The unique position of West Virginia means that it is often included in several geographical regions, including the Mid-Atlantic, the Upland South, and the Southeastern United States. Notably, it is the only state that is entirely within the area served by the Appalachian Regional Commission; the area is commonly defined as “Appalachia.”

The state is noted for its mountains and diverse topography, its historically significant logging and coal mining industries, and its political and labor history. It is one of the most densely karstic areas in the world, making it a choice area for recreational caving and scientific research. The karst lands contribute to much of the state’s cool trout waters. It is also known for a wide range of outdoor recreational opportunities, including skiingwhitewater raftingfishinghikingmountain biking and hunting.


Many ancient man-made earthen mounds from various prehistoric mound builder cultures survive, especially in the areas of MoundsvilleSouth Charleston, and Romney. The artifacts uncovered in these give evidence of a village societies. They had a tribal trade system culture that crafted cold worked copper pieces.

The Iroquois drove out other Native American tribes from the area to reserve the upper Ohio Valley as a hunting ground after theBeaver Wars further east. Other indigenous tribes had occupied the area before them: the Osage and other Siouan-language tribes migrated west across the Mississippi River to escape the warfare.

The area now occupied by West Virginia was contested territory among European Americans as well, with the colonies of Pennsylvania and Virginia claiming territorial rights before the American Revolutionary War. Some speculative land companies, such as the Vandalia Company,  and later the Ohio Company and Indiana Company, tried to legitimize their claims to land in parts of West Virginia and Kentucky, but failed. With the settlement of the Pennsylvania and Virginia border dispute, which resulted in the creation of Kentucky, Kentuckians “were satisfied […], and the inhabitants of a large part of West Virginia were grateful.”

West Virginia was originally part of the British Virginia Colony (from 1607 to 1776) and the western part of the state of Virginia (from 1776 to 1863). Long discontented with electoral malapportionment and underrepresentation in the state legislature, its residents became sharply divided over the issue of secession from the Union. Residents of western and northern counties set up a separate government under Francis Pierpont in 1861, which they called the “restored” government. Most voted to separate from Virginia, and the new state was admitted to the Union in 1863. In 1864 a state constitutional convention drafted a constitution, which was ratified by the legislature without putting it to popular vote. West Virginia abolished slavery and temporarily disfranchised men who had held Confederate office or fought for the Confederacy.

West Virginia’s history has been profoundly affected by its mountainous terrain, numerous and vast river valleys, and rich natural resources. These were all factors driving its economy and the lifestyles of residents, and remain so today. ℗ is your source to learn about the broad and beautiful spectrum of our shared History.