West Virginia History

Important Dates in West Virginia History: 3000 BC – 1999

3000 BC – Adena “Mound Builder” settlements appeared throughout the area.

1607 – First permanent English Colony was established at Jamestown, Virginia.

1669 – John Lederer and companions were first Europeans to see what is now West Virginia.

1673 – Gabriel Arthur accompanied a party of Cherokee or Yuchi Indians to Shawnee country in Ohio by way of a trail through the Kanawha Valley.

1716 – Governor Alexander Spotswood led an expedition of 50 gentlemen to the banks of the Shenandoah River.

1726 – Morgan Morgan was the first white settler at Bunker Hill in Berkeley County.

1727 – German settlers from Pennsylvania established the first permanent settlement at New Mecklensburg (Shepherdstown) in Jefferson County.

1730 – Virginia began to encourage settlement in the western valley of Virginia.

1742 – John P. Salley discovered coal on the Coal River in Kanawha County.

1746 – Thomas, “sixth lord” Fairfax, marked the western boundary of his land grant from the King of England at the corner of Tucker and Grant Counties. This was the first monument erected to mark ownership in the state.

1754-1755 – The French and Indians defeated troops led by Washington and Braddock in the state.

1774 – Battle of Point Pleasant, between forces of Colonel Andrew Lewis and Chief Cornstalk of the Shawnees, resulted in the Treaty of Camp Charlotte formally ending Dunmore’s War. This is considered by some to be the first Battle of the Revolution.

1782 – Last battle of the Revolution was fought at Fort Henry, Wheeling, Ohio County.

1815 – Gas discovered near Charleston, Kanawha County.

1832 – Charles Faulkner of Berkeley County delivers a speech before the Virginia General Assembly denouncing slavery on economic grounds.

1835 – On October 14, three men and one woman were charged with illegally teaching African-Americans to read in Wheeling. This incident was among twelve such cases in Wheeling.

1847 – The Reverend Dr. Henry Ruffner, from Kanawha County, and president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, delivered his “Address to the People” on the abolition of slavery for western Virginia for economic reasons.

1859 – John Brown raided the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County, in an effort to abolish slavery.

1861 – Counties of western Virginia refused to secede with Virginia and created the Restored Government of Virginia in Wheeling.

1861 – Battle of Philippi – first land battle of the Civil War.

1863 – On January 1, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves in areas of rebellion, but did not apply to states loyal to the Union, including the future state of West Virginia.

1863 – West Virginia became the 35th state (June 20).

1863 – On July 15, the governor of West Virginia approved an act giving African-Americans the same rights to criminal trial as whites. However, Blacks were denied the right to serve on a jury.

1863 – On December 9, the governor approved an act forbidding residency of any slave who entered the state after June 20, 1863.

1865 – On February 3, the governor approved an act abolishing slavery, providing the immediate emancipation of all slaves.

1867 – Storer College, one of the country’s first Black colleges, opened at Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County.

1867 – The West Virginia Legislature ratified the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting full citizenship to African-Americans.

1868 – Only national cemetery in the state was established at Grafton, Taylor County.

1869 – The West Virginia Legislature ratified the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution granting African-Americans the right to vote.

1873 – Charleston Mayor Snyder and city council appointed Ernest Porterfield as a police officer, the first African-American to receive a public job in Kanawha County and possibly West Virginia. Within one hour, the remainder of the white police force, including the chief, resigned. Rather than ask for Porterfield’s resignation, the mayor hired a new police force.

1881 – The governor approved a bill, allowing all eligible voting citizens, including African-Americans, to be jurors.

1891 – The West Virginia Legislature passed an act establishing the West Virginia Colored Institute at Institute in Kanawha County. Later renamed West Virginia State College, it has become one of the leading Black institutions of public learning in the nation.

1895 – The West Virginia Legislature passed an act establishing the Bluefield Colored Institute, which later became Bluefield State College, Mercer County.

1896 – Voters elected the first African-American to the legislature, Christopher Payne of Fayette County.

1906 – From August 15 – 19, the second meeting of the Niagara Movement convened at Storer College in Harpers Ferry, Jefferson County. Led by W. E. B. DuBois, this movement was the forerunner to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

1920-1921 – Coal wars in an effort to unionize West Virginia coal miners.

1928 – Minnie Buckingham Harper was appointed to the House of Delegates, becoming the first African-American woman to serve in a legislative body in the United States.

1939 – West Virginia State College became the first African-American college in the country to establish a Civilian Pilot Training Program, approved by the Civilian Aeronautics Authority in Washington, DC.

1961 – The West Virginia Human Rights Commission was created by the legislature to fight racism.

1972 – Arnold Miller became the first native West Virginian to head the United Mine Workers (UMW) union. He appointed Levi Daniel president of District 29 in southern West Virginia, the first African-American district president in the history of the UMW.

1984 – Captain Jon A. McBride of Beckley in Raleigh County piloted the Challenger Space Shuttle on its first mission on October 5, 1984.

1984 – Fairmont native Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics at the Los Angeles Olympics. She also took home two silver medals, two bronze medals and went on to become an official spokesperson for Wheaties, appearing on several breakfast cereal packages.

1996 – Cecil H. Underwood became the state’s oldest governor, having served in the same post in 1957 as the state’s youngest governor.

1999 – Homer Hickam, who grew up in the mining town of Coalwood in McDowell County and retired from NASA as a Payload Training Manager for the International Space Station, became a best-selling author with his book “Rocket Boys,” upon which the award-winning 1999 motion picture “October Sky” was based.

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