Happy birthday, West Virginia!

Wheeling Constitutional Convention, June 1863, as  illustrated in Harper's Weekly

Wheeling Constitutional Convention, June 1863, as illustrated in Harper’s Weekly

Today marks the 151st anniversary of the day West Virginia officially became a state. In my book Panther Mountain: Caroline’s Story, I imagine how my great-great-grandparents Caroline and Frank and their children Adam and Lucy celebrated on June 20, 1863, the day they got the official word from the Wheeling Constitutional Convention that statehood was approved.

Caroline, June 20, 1863: An early summer rain washed the dusty streets of Summersville clean just in time. Crowds of people from all around the county came to celebrate our victory. Mountain voters spoke loud and clear at the ballot box, and the new state of West Virginia was born, baptized by President Lincoln and the U.S. Congress.

Hundreds of people gathered in town : ladies in bounteous hoop skirts, men in top hats, boys in knee pants and girls in calico dresses, hair tied with ribbons. The sharp lines of soldiers’ uniforms, mostly blue, cut fine figures around the perimeter of the crowd. Red, white and blue flags and buntings were everywhere – waving on sticks, adorning brick buildings and buggies.  A brass band provided music from the town square gazebo.

Pat Mullaney burst out of the telegraph office on Main Street waving a telegram high in the air. He ran to the courthouse steps, pushed his wire glasses up on his nose, adjusted his visor and cleared his throat.

“Ladies and gentlemen, here is the news from Wheeling,” he announced and began to read the telegram.

“Wheeling, West Virginia. June twentieth, 1863.

This day ushers into being the new State of West Virginia and adds the thirty fifth star to the constellation of the American Union. STOP.

The old Government goes out and the new one comes in. STOP. Today Governor Pierpont bids us a formal farewell and Gov. Boreman will be inaugurated as his successor. STOP. Today the Legislature of the new State meets for organization.”

The crowd burst into shouts. “Hurrah!” “Long Live West Virginia!” “God bless the United States of America!” “God bless President Lincoln!” Hats of all types flew into the air above Main Street.

Then other shouts came;

“Boo!” “We will not give up the fight!” “Down with West Virginia!” “God bless President Jefferson Davis!”

A group of men wearing work shirts and dungarees broke into song:

“Our Dixie forever!

She’s never at a loss!

Down with the eagle

And up with the cross!”

The chorus was drowned out by booing and shushing onlookers. Mayor John Jones and Pastor Murphy joined Pat on the courthouse steps as most people applauded.

My heart swelled as I looked around.  We had snatched our mountain home back from secession. I only wished that I could have cast a ballot for statehood. Maybe someday, I thought, when Lucy is grown she will have the right to vote just like men.

Suzanne came to stand next to me and we hugged. “The day we have waited for!” she said with a smile. “Now please God, let the war be over soon.”

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