Geography and Landforms:

West Virginia is bordered by Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland on the north and by Virginia on the south. On the east, the state borders Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, and on the west it is bordered by Ohio and Kentucky.

The highest point in West Virginia is Spruce Knob at 4,861 feet above sea level and the lowest point is the Potomac River at 240 feet above sea level. The state's nickname is the Mountain State, and West Virginia features some of the most rugged land in the United States. The land areas in West Virginia include the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region and the Appalachian Plateau. The Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region includes a broad strip of the Appalachian Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The heavily forested mountains hide caverns and underground streams.

The Appalachian Plateau is in the western part of the state and is characterized by flat-topped highlands and more rounded hills.


In examining the history of West Virginia, remember that the state shares its history from 1609 until 1863 with Virginia, of which it was a part until Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861. At that time, the delegates of the 40 western counties who opposed secession formed their own government, which was granted statehood as part of the Union in 1863.

The first permanent European settlement in what would one day become the state of West Virginia was established by Colonel Morgan on Mill Creek, in present-day Berkeley County, in 1731.

Early defeats in the French and Indian War led Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie to construct forts to protect settlers in the area. From 1756 to 1758, Native Americans attacked Fort Evans in present-day Berkeley County and Forts Seybert and Upper Tract in present-day Pendleton County, as well as sites throughout the Monongahela, New River, and Greenbrier valleys. In 1763 the Treaty of Paris ended the French and Indian War and gave England title to virtually all territory east of the Mississippi River including the area that would become West Virginia.

With the French eliminated, Native Americans were left alone in their fight against British colonial advances. In the summer of 1763 Shawnee chief Keigh-tugh-qua, or Cornstalk, led attacks on western Virginia settlements in present-day Greenbrier County. By the end of July, Indians had captured all British forts west of the Alleghenies except Detroit, Fort Pitt, and Fort Niagara. On August 6, British forces under Colonel Henry Bouquet retaliated, destroying Delaware and Shawnee forces at Bushy Run in western Pennsylvania, which ended the hostilities. Fearing more tension between Native Americans and settlers, England's King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, prohibiting settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. However, many land speculators (including future US President George Washington) violated the proclamation by claiming vast acreage in western Virginia. However, the next five years were relatively peaceful on the frontier. In 1768, the Six Nations and Cherokee signed treaties relinquishing their claims on the territory between the Ohio River and the Alleghenies to the British. With the frontier again open, settlers flooded into western Virginia.

The Shawnee had never given up their claims to western Virginia and saw this new wave of settlement as acts of aggression. Hostilities reached a climax in 1773 when land speculator Michael Cresap led a group of volunteers from Fort Fincastle (later renamed Fort Henry) at present-day Wheeling and raided Shawnee towns in what became known as Cresap's War. The subsequent conflicts between European settlers and land speculators and the Shawnee tribes resulted in significant losses on both sides. The Shawnee retreated to settlements in present-day Ohio, and eventually, the Delaware, Shawnee and Mingo tribes gave up all claims to lands south of the Ohio River.

At the same time, tension was rising between American colonists and the British. As the Revolutionary War began, most Native Americans remained neutral. In return for their neutrality, they expected that the Ohio River would remain a boundary between their own lands and land open for settlement. However, settlers on the Colonial side continued to come into Indian land, and many tribes entered the war on the side of the British.

The bloodiest Revolutionary War battle in western Virginia began on September 10, 1782. Wyandot, Delaware, and British forces attacked Fort Henry. The most dramatic story associated with this siege of Fort Henry is the daring run of Elizabeth Zane, who allegedly carried gunpowder to the fort amidst heavy gunfire. The settlers held the fort and, after three days, the Indians and their British allies gave up. Soon thereafter, the British ordered a halt to all attacks on the frontier, and after the Revolutionary War officially ended in 1783, settlers again poured into western Virginia.

By 1861, the Civil War had begun as southern states seceded from the Union to join the Confederate States of America. Virginia was one of those states. However, the Appalachian Mountains divided the state both geographically and in opinion. The western part of the state was poor, with residents barely able to support themselves through small farms. Religiously, the residents of the western counties were also different from the dominant Episcopal faith of the prosperous farmers in the east. Finally, the residents were divided on the issue of slavery, with residents to the west opposing it. One of the most significant examples of this was the rebellion led by John Brown in Harper's Ferry (in the western part of the state) in support of freeing the slaves. Residents of the western counties wanted to form a state separate from Virginia. However, in order to do this, they needed approval from Virginia, and Virginia was not in favor of giving away its own territory.

The western residents discovered a loophole and used it to their advantage. Because the state of Virginia had illegally seceded from the United States, western residents were permitted to establish a new Virginia government which would be part of the Union. So, in 1861, a "Restored Government of Virginia" was formed with approval from the United States. This group then voted to approve the formation of the new state of West Virginia which was officially brought into the Union in 1863.

During the late 1800s, railroads expanded throughout the state. With new advanced technology, lumber and coal production increased dramatically, and by the early 1900s, much of West Virginia's population worked in coal mines. The work was dangerous, and accidents killed hundreds of miners. In 1902, the United Mine Workers labor union organized several miners and demanded safer working conditions, shorter work hours, and better wages. Deadly fights often broke out between mine owners and union members, which ended for a short time under military law. In 1933, the National Recovery Administration was established. It protected union members and helped to bring about the needed changes within the mines. In the late twentieth century, West Virginia has suffered from the loss of jobs through the collapse of several of its major industries, including coal and steel, but the state's abundant natural resources has meant an increase in tourism.


Coal, a mineral that significantly affected West Virginia's history, was discovered there in 1742. Other important natural resources are oil, natural gas, and hardwood forests, which cover about 75% of the state's area.

The state's rapid industrial expansion began in the 1870s, with the increase of railroad access to this rugged state. Industry drew thousands of European immigrants and African Americans into the region. Miners' strikes between 1912 and 1921 required the intervention of state and federal troops to quell the violence. Today, the state ranks second in the U.S. in total coal production, with about 15% of the U.S. total. It is also a leader in steel, glass, aluminum, and chemical manufactures. Major agricultural commodities are poultry and eggs, dairy products, and apples. Tourism is increasingly popular in mountainous West Virginia. More than a million acres have been set aside in 37 state parks and recreation areas and in 9 state forests and 2 national forests.

First Inhabitants:

The first people in West Virginia were the Paleo-Indians, or early hunters, who arrived sometime before 11,000 BC. Excavations in the Kanawha and Ohio valleys, on Blennerhassett Island, and at Peck's Run in Upshur County have uncovered stone weapons of this period. The early hunters lived in small family units. Small nomadic groups hunted large game, such as mastodons, mammoths, and buffalo, with spears that had fluted points. Large numbers of these arrowheads have been discovered along the Ohio River between St. Mary's and Parkersburg. Around 6,000 BC most of the large game became extinct, and the early hunters either died out or adapted to a culture of hunting small game and gathering edible plants.

Between 7,000 and 1,000 BC, several differing Archaic cultures developed in the Northern Panhandle, the Eastern Panhandle, and the Kanawha Valley. Excavations have revealed simple tools, primitive pottery, and ceremonial burials. Unlike the nomadic Paleo-Indians, the Archaic people tended to settle in one place for long periods of time. An archaeological excavation in the late 1960s determined the St. Albans site to be one of the first permanent settlements in present-day West Virginia. The Archaic people chose this site in order to gather shellfish from the Kanawha River. The use of gardens, pottery, and ceremonial burial mounds around 1000 BC marked the beginning of the Early Woodland or Adena culture.

The Adena people differed from the Archaic because they organized villages, developed more extensive gardens, wore jewelry, and played games. The most lasting records of their culture are ceremonial burial mounds. The Adena people were the first Native Americans to build ceremonial mounds. We know little about how or why the mounds were built, although it may have been that the mounds were built over the remains of honored members of the tribe.

The Hopewell culture apparently developed in the Illinois Valley around 500 BC. As the Hopewell people moved east, their culture had the most significant impact of any of the early Americans. By the year 1, members of the Hopewell culture began migrating into the Kanawha Valley and erected mounds in the South Charleston and St. Albans area. During the late prehistoric period (1000--1600), West Virginia was occupied by Native Americans of various tribes. They lived in small villages and hunted, fished, and cultivated corn, beans, and squash. In addition to many burial sites and petroglyphs (drawings on stone), one of the largest excavations of a Native American village is Buffalo Village at Buffalo, Putnam County.

By 1600, organized tribes such as the Delaware and Shawnee had moved into present-day West Virginia. In addition, the powerful Iroquois Confederacy began exerting its influence on the region. The Confederacy was an alliance of five Iroquois-speaking nations -- Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca -- formed in present-day New York in the late 1500s. In 1722, the Tuscaroras joined the Iroquois Confederacy, which became known as the Six Nations.

As the Confederacy fought smaller tribes for control of western Virginia, European colonists set their own designs on the Ohio Valley. Both the British and French claimed territory comprising present-day West Virginia and Native Americans were forced west. Many of the tribes were destroyed by constant warfare and European diseases. At the same time, trade with the Europeans proved a strong attraction, enabling the Indians to acquire valuable new products, such as guns, steel hatchets, cloth, and kettles. The fur trade in particular made many tribes powerful and more aggressive. The Indian nations successfully played one European power against another. For instance, the British formed an alliance with the Iroquois Confederacy to cut the French out of the lucrative fur trade. However, the Six Nations also negotiated treaties and traded with the French. In the end, however, the Native American tribes were almost universally forced from their lands to areas further west.

Books Related To West Virginia

Body of Water - Sarah Cooley
(978-0312612542) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-9, Lexile: 940, ESL level: 3
Ember and her Wiccan family become homeless and begin living on a campground, adding to Ember's worries about her doubts about a friend and a lost dog.

M is for Mountain State: A West Virginia Alphabet - Mary Ann Riehle
(978-1585361519) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of West Virginia.

The Miner's Daughter - Gretchen Moran Laskas
(978-1416912620) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-12, Lexile: 850, ESL level: 3 - 4
A West Virginia teen, living in a poverty-stricken area in West Virginia's coal mining country, finds hope in joining a new writing program started by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Missing May - Cynthia Rylant
(978-0439613835) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-12, Lexile: 980, ESL level: 4
Summer and her uncle try to find ways to cope with the death of her aunt.

Shiloh Season - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
(978-0689806469) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-8, Lexile: 860, ESL level: 3
A young boy from West Virginia needs to be fearful of his dog's safety when its former abusive owner reappears in its life.

Star Fisher - Laurence Yep
(978-0140360035) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-12, Lexile: 850, ESL level: 3 - 4
Joan Lee and her Chinese-American family find adjusting to life in prejudice-bound West Virginia difficult after living in Ohio relatively peaceably.

Way Down Deep - Ruth White
(374-382514) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-12, Lexile: 820, ESL level: 3 - 4
After orphaned Ruby moves into a boarding house and a happy new life, old acquaintances come to town and begin to reveal things about her past she would prefer to keep secret.

When I Was Young in the Mountains - Cynthia Rylant
(978-0140548754) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-3, Lexile: 980, ESL level: 3 - 4
An older adult looks back with fondness on her growing up years in rural mountains.

When The Whistle Blows - Fran Cannon Slayton
(978-0399251894) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-12, Lexile: 810, ESL level: 3 - 4
Jimmy grows up in a railroad family in West Virginia, and he expects to work on the railroads himself after he grows up.

Famous Citizens:

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson
Although Thomas J. Jackson was born before West Virginia became a state, the site was Clarksburg, which is now located in West Virginia. He attended West Point (the US Military Academy) and graduated in 1846, going on to serve in the artillery during the Mexican War. He resigned from the Army to teach at Virginia Military Institute. When Virginia seceded from the Union, Jackson was appointed a colonel in the Virginia state forces. He earned his nickname through his service during the Battle of Bull Run. His greatest effort came at Chancellorsville where he was eventually wounded and had to have his arm amputated. He seemed to be recovering from the amputation, but contracted pneumonia, and died eight days after the injury.

Don Knotts
Jesse Donald Knotts was born in Morgantown, West Virginia. He was a shy child, prone to illness and episodes of depression. However, through his acting, he gained confidence, and by the time he was in high school, he had created a ventriloquist act. After high school, Knotts enlisted in the army, and after he left the army, he decided to give radio a try, and auditioned for a local theater company. In the mid 1950s, he landed a small role in a Broadway production entitled No time for Sergeants with Andy Griffith. He then auditioned for a movie version of the play, and then was recruited by Griffith for a regular spot on a television show launched in 1960. Knotts earned five Emmy awards for his work as "Barney Fife," the bumbling deputy sheriff. He also worked on a series of movies for Disney, including The Apple Dumpling Gang.

Mary Lou Retton
Mary Lou Retton was born in Fairmont, West Virginia, and literally vaulted into the national spotlight in August 1984 when she won the gold medal for the best all-around women's gymnast at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She was the first American woman to ever win an individual medal in gymnastics, and also earned two bronze and two silver medals.

Jerry West
Jerry West was born in Chelyan, West Virginia, attended East Bank High School, and led his team to a state basketball championship in his senior year. He was the first West Virginia scholastic player to score more than 900 points in one season. He went on to play basketball at West Virginia University, and in his junior year, he led the team to the NCAA finals and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. In his senior year, he was a consensus All-American. After college, he played for the 1960 gold medal team in the Rome Olympics, and then for 14 years with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was named to the all-NBA First Team 10 times, and selected to 14 All-Star teams.

Chuck Yeager
Charles Elwood Yeager was born in Myra, West Virginia. When he graduated from High School, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps to serve in World War II. During the war, he flew 64 combat missions, and following the war, remained in the military to serve in the newly established US Air Force as a test pilot and flight instructor. In 1947, he was assigned to test a rocket powered airplane, the X-1. At the time, no one knew if a fixed-wing plane could fly faster than the speed of sound, and no one knew if a human could survive going that fast. Yeager survived the attempt and became the first pilot to break the sound barrier. He later went on to break other flying records, work with NASA astronauts and win the Congressional Gold Medal, which was awarded to him by President Gerald Ford.

Capital: Charleston
Entered Union: June 20, 1863
Population: 1,850,326
Area 24,230
Bird Cardinal
Flower Rhododendron
Nickname: Mountain State
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin

Places to Visit in West Virginia: (Click the links to learn more.)

Prabhupada's Palace of Gold - Moundsville
The Palace of Gold was originally created to be a home for Swami Srila Prabhupada, founder of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Today, it stands as a tribute to Srila Prabhupada and is visited by thousands of people yearly. The palace features breathtaking stained glass windows and beautiful grounds and is still the home of the New Virindaban Krishna Community.

Prickett's Fort - Fairmont
The original fort was built at the junction of Prickett's Creek and the Monongahela River in 1774, and provided a place of refuge from Indian attack for early settlers to the area. Now a state park, the site also includes the Job Prickett House, circa 1859, listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Both the reconstructed fort and the Job Prickett House are open for public tours from mid-April to November.

Smoke Hole Caverns - Seneca Rocks
These caverns offer one of only two Crystal Cave Coral Pools in the world filled with rainbow trout, the Sparkling Room of a Million Stalactites, the second highest ceiling of any cavern in the US, and the world's largest ribbon stalactite.

New River Gorge National River - near Beckley
A rugged, white water river, flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent. The bridge that spans the New River Gorge has the world's 2nd longest single arch steel span. At 876 feet above the New River, it is the second highest bridge in this country. There are hiking and biking trails, camping sites, and several scenic drives that showcase the natural beauty of the area.

Harper's Ferry National Historic Park - Harper's Ferry
Throughout its history, Harpers Ferry has been the backdrop for remarkable and unparalleled events. Here, in one setting, several themes in the American story converge: Native Americans, industry and transportation, African-Americans, John Brown, the Civil War, and the natural environment. Harpers Ferry became part of the National Park System in 1944. The park covers over 2,300 acres in the states of West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia.