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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A Chicken in Every Plot

Snowed in!

Snowed in!

Three feet of snow on the ground has me longing for comfort food. Also, this week began with President’s Day and although that holiday honors Washington and Lincoln, it got me thinking about Herbert Hoover (go figure). Add to that odd mix the challenges of writing about 19th century Virginia down to the last detail, including what they ate and how they caught, cooked, stored and traveled with it. Voila! A blog post title.

So first, Hoover. His famous campaign slogan, “A chicken in every pot,” actually originated in a 1928 Republican National Committee ad. The slogan was designed to show that a vote for Hoover was a vote for continued prosperity already set in motion by the Republican administrations of Harding and Coolidge. But that prosperity was cut short, seven months into Hoover’s presidency, by the stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression.

Chickening out

Editorial cartoon by Tulley, 1932

Editorial cartoon by Tulley, 1932

Was it Hoover’s fault that the banks failed in the first place? Doubtful. Was it his refusal to dip into the federal pot to help economically devastated families that prolonged the Depression? We’ll leave that for historians to decide. I got this information from The History Channel, cablecaster of such historically accurate programs as “Swamp People” and “Pawn Stars,” so believe it at your own risk.

So the voters chickened out, so to speak, and Hoover got the electoral boot in 1932. A chicken in every pot turned out more like a soup line in every neighborhood. And then it all became FDR’s problem.

Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul

Now we jump back almost a century and tackle the question of how my ancestors got their chickens from coop to stove. Writing this historical fiction novel requires me to spend many hours Googling questions about Victorian food, transportation, clothing, social mores and such.

I certainly can assume that my great-great-grandmother’s family raised their own chickens. They lived on a farm, for Pete’s sake. So from visions of their gathering eggs to chopping off the poor birds’ heads, I can draw a picture of 1850s Western Virginia chicken cooking.

Whereas today I throw meaty chicken pieces into my crock pot and walk away to work at my writing desk, preparing poultry for dinner was a much more complex task for my GG Grands. Plucking, gutting, chopping, etc. And then one wonders what type of cook stove they had. For this info, I turn to YouTube and the Historic Cooking Channel.

Chicken in a Writer’s Crock Pot

So whether Great-Great-Grandmother Caroline fried, boiled or baked her chickens, she had by the mid-1800s probably graduated from the large, open, colonial-era fireplace to the iron stove, which was much more convenient and modern. Thanks to electricity and big-box superstores, I can buy crockpots and pre-chopped peppers, onions and celery and cut my cooking time to a fraction. Hence, I will share with you my adaptation of Chicken in a Pot, a recipe found in the Fix It and Forget It Cookbook: Feasting with Your Slow Cooker.

Note: As inspired by penny-wise survivors of the Great Depression (aka my parents), I have used three pounds of chicken legs (very meaty) in this one-pot meal (4 pounds of chicken legs cost me $3.00 – such a bargain).

Chicken in a Pot

  • 2 carrots, sliced (or equivalent amount of pre-cut baby carrots, cleaned and scraped)
  • 2 medium onions, sliced (or store-bought diced, about a cup)
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced (or ” , about 1/2 – 3/4 cup)
  • 3 pounds of chicken legs
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 cup water, chicken broth or white cooking wine (I use chicken broth, made with 1 cup of hot water and a boullion cube
  1. Place vegetables in bottom of cooking sprayed slow cooker. Place chicken pieces on top of vegetables. Add seasonings and water or broth.
  2. Cover. Cook on low 8-10 hours (my crockpot runs hotter than this, so it takes me about 6 hours on low; use your own judgment) or high 3 1/2 hours (use 1 cup of extra liquid if cooking on high)

This is a great way to prepare cooked chicken for other recipes — soups, stews, casseroles, etc.

You can read more about Caroline’s life on Facebook/ Panther Mountain: Caroline’s Story  or follow along 140 characters at a time on Twitter @panthermtnichol