Why Did West Virginia Split From Virginia?

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West Virginia split from Virginia in 1861 because the population was divided on the issue of secession from the Union during the Civil War. Many of the plantation owners in the eastern part of the state owned slaves, while plantation owners in the western portion of the state did not. Those who owned slaves dominated both the economy and politics of the state, while self-sufficient farmers had far less power.

Although Virginia joined the Confederacy, West Virginia remained loyal to the Union and was admitted to its ranks as a new state in 1863. Although Virginia did not separate into two states until after the Civil War began, West Virginia had already attempted to become a separate state three times after the American Revolution. Its first two attempts happened in 1775 and 1783 when West Virginians attempted to form the state of Westsylvania by collecting the signatures of 2,000 state residents who were in favor of the change and presenting them to the Continental Congress. The state’s residents petitioned the Continental Congress to allow them to create the state of Westsylvania as the 14th colony in the United States. The colony would have included parts of the states currently known as Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The Continental Congress ignored both of the petitions. In 1769, land speculators attempted to establish the colony once again, calling it Vandalia instead.