Made possible with the generous support of American Public University System, offering a quality, affordable education. Content and technical administration by Jim Surkamp. The views and conjecture and information presented throughout CivilWarScholars.com are meant to inform, interest, as well as stimulate learning and discussion; and uniformly do not represent any view(s) of American Public University. APUS has been ranked by U.S. News and World Report among the top ten per cent of online universities.
In fact, if freed African-Americans, Mary Goens and George W. Marsh of Kabletown had been told that they were going to be listed in a new state the following day, they might well have decided to get married on any other day than June 19, 1863. Even in 2013, their descendants can’t get either West Virginia or Virginia to certify the couple’s marriage. (image courtesy Shelley Murphy).
With an official County population overall in the summer of 1860 of nearly 18,000, there were only 250 adult male freeholders present on May 28, 1863 to vote either “yea” or “nay” on whether Jefferson County should be added to the new counties of West Virginia. This odd transpiration is described here, largely from the perspective of the local folk. In many ways they were the last to know because Jefferson County was a crucial pawn in a much larger political and mortal struggle on a legal battlefield.
Shepherdstown’s 60-year-old school teacher George Byer’s vote on May 28, 1863 was among a total of 247 pro-statehood votes in Jefferson County that were legally needed to make the County forever a part of the new West Virginia. The vote was a key detail in a sketchy, legal wartime plan by the new state’s organizers that even Abraham Lincoln looked at askance, when shown it in late 1862.
Lincoln recognized the questionable nature of the state’s creation, noting that “a measure made expedient by a war, is no precedent for times of peace.” Despite reservations, on December 31, 1862, Lincoln signed the bill for its creation because he could not afford to lose the support of loyal West Virginians.
Lincoln wrote: “Doubtless those in remaining Virginia would return to the Union, so to speak, less reluctantly without the division of the old state than with it; but I think we could not save as much in this quarter by rejecting the new state, as we should lose by it in West Virginia. We can scarcely dispense with the aid of West Virginia in this struggle; much less can we afford to have her against us, in Congress and in the field. Her brave and good men regard her admission into the Union as a matter of life and death. They have been true to the Union under very severe trials. We have so acted as to justify their hopes; and we can not fully retain their confidence, and co-operation, if we seem to break faith with them.” – West Virginia Archives.
But West Virginia’s first brave framers were persistent and refined the plan to best approximate the legal standard. They needed, by law, Congressional approval, to succeed.
Leaders in Berkeley and Jefferson County, two of Old Virginia’s most valuable counties – because of their breadbasket prodigality and the presence of some 54 miles of the vital Baltimore and Ohio Railroad main line – followed the new state’s instruction to hold the May 28 elections on their preferences on statehood. Their local governments had collapsed months before and the albeit transitory Federal military authority made the voting possible at least in Harper’s Ferry and Shepherdstown, but not all the districts, at least for that day of May 28th. Under such conditions, some irregularities in the voting – witting or unwitting – could be expected.
The results of these votes were needed, so that Francis Harrison Pierpont, Governor of the Restored Virginia Government, a skeleton government of a handful of men partly created for this legal action to take place, and Governor Arthur I. Boreman, the gubernatorial head of the real, new and impending government
of West Virginia, could each receive and formally approve the vote totals from these two Counties – thus confirming local support for their counties being transferred into the new state. Because these votes were made, counted, and memorialized, Jefferson and Berkeley County were portrayed as part of the new state whose birthday arrived on June 20, 1863 – 150 years ago in 2013.
Pierpont and Boreman were taking the steps to make an acceptable legal foundation for their state’s self-creation that conformed with Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution that states:
“New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” – U.S. Constitution Article IV, National Archives.
Ultimately, the method for creating the state and to include Jefferson in it withstood every legal and legislative challenge simply because – the controlling group and, in peacetime, the victor and its agencies, could decide and enforce what is “fair” throughout the land.
In Charles Town, where several early settlers came from Virginia’s upper classes and at least thirty households in 2013 are their direct descendants, the regret of losing its pronounced and grand Virginia heritage is summed up for some old families by a sigh, and an “Oh well.”
Jefferson County’s descent into the endless nightmare of being the pawn in a larger game with their wishes trampled upon began in January, 1860 and ended with a decision by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1871.
On August 6, 1861, the Second Wheeling Convention debated secession from Virginia. The delegates adopted a resolution authorizing the secession of 39 counties, with the counties of Berkeley, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Morgan, and Pocahontas to be added if their voters approved.
George Koonce, an Ohio-born community leader in Harper’s Ferry, at the urging of his childhood friend, then the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton in the Lincoln Cabinet, gave Jefferson County its representation in the new statehood convention process.
With war and intimidation already rampant by mid-1861, led by Confederate agents such as Turner Ashby, Koonce was found and appointed by Unionists to represent Jefferson County in the state-making and support her transfer to West Virginia. Each time Jefferson County was controlled by
On October 24, 1861, voters in the 39 counties plus voters in Hampshire and Hardy counties voted to secede from the state of Virginia. In eleven counties voter participation was less than 20%, with counties like Raleigh and Braxton showing only 5% and 2% voter turnout.
A new constitution for West Virginia was adopted on February 18, 1862, which was approved by voters on April 3, 1862. Turnout was spotty with Berkeley and Jefferson Counties among the counties that reported “No Returns.” President Lincoln was unsure of the bill’s constitutionality, but pressed by Northern senators he signed the legislation on December 31, 1862.
But the voters in Jefferson and Berkeley still hadn’t done the vote of affirmation because of constant interruptions.
Charles Town’s Roger Preston Chew wrote his account as did Confederate Lt. Col. Oliver R. Funsten.
After Gen. William E. Jones had left New Market on his West Virginia raid in May, 1863, Lieutenant G. B. Phillpott and Captain R. P. Chew gathered together about 45 men of Company “Q”, and crossing the mountain, went down the Luray Valley through Front Royal, crossing the Shenandoah river at Myers Ford about 11 o’clock at night, May l5th.
They pursued their way to Tate’s woods, about three quarters of a mile from Charles Town. They dismounted here and tied their horses, and marched behind the house of Andrew Hunter, down the back street. Thence in front of Hawks’ Factory to George (Street) and turning moved in the direction of the Court House. Phillpott and Chew reached the old cattle scales where a sentinel challenged them and raised his gun. They both fired on him and he fled into the Court House yard and fell.
- Did West Virginia know what it was doing? (cenantua.wordpress.com)
- Reconsidering 2nd Winchester (cenantua.wordpress.com)
- Shepherdstown (Wikipedia) (myshepherdstown.wordpress.com)
- West Virginia statehood 150 years ago, amidst Civil War, is a story like no other (observer-reporter.com)
- “No Black Folks, No WV” – The African-American Key To State History (publicnewsservice.org)
- Happy birthday, West Virginia (times-news.com)
- Howard Swint: Spliting from Virginia was logical, legal (wvgazette.com)
- Ten things to know about W.Va. sesquicentennial (wvgazette.com)
- What Happened to “Kanawha”? 150 years later (hermitsdoor.wordpress.com)
- Insurers Pay $600K in West Virginia Racism Case (insurancejournal.com)