January, '24 Trivia Quiz
All About West Virginia
Hello, friends. I hope your December was better than mine—I came down with Covid and basically napped my way through the last two weeks of 2023. I managed to listen to a couple of good books and catch up on my podcasts, some of which I’ll list in the intermission between questions and answers for this month’s quiz. Oh, and I knitted this scarf.
If you come down with something this year, my best advice is to BE SICK. Don’t half-ass your respite, as it will only prolong your misery. Be sick, then be well. Of course, this advice applies to those who aren’t a brief illness away from homelessness, of which there are too many in this country.
This month we’ll focus on the interesting history of America’s 35th state, West Virginia. Before we begin, ask yourself what you may have been taught (or picked up) about the reasons West Virginia split from Virginia. I knew it had something to do with slavery since it happened when Virginia seceded, but was slavery the point? I was a blank slate before starting The 981 Project. It never occurred to me that the Northwest Territory’s slavery boundary north of the Ohio River played an oversized role in the drama.
I’ve taken several of this month’s quiz questions and answers from this new book, The Fifth Border State: Slavery, Emancipation, and the formation of West Virginia , 1829–1872, by Scott A. MacKenzie.The author argues that West Virginians experienced the Civil War in the same ways as the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. These states were both pro-Union and pro-slavery. With that hint of what’s ahead, let’s go to the quiz.
Which was the largest slaveholding state before the Civil War?1
Before the Civil War, which then-Virginian city on the Ohio River did a brisk business in slaves that were headed for New Orleans, the country’s largest market?2
Virginia’s first constitution (1776) limited suffrage to (white male) property holders (slaves were definitely considered property). This tilted representation to slaveholders of the Tidewater and Piedmont regions. With planters setting the state’s legislative agenda and tax policy, the rest of the population felt it got short shrift in government services while paying disproportionately high taxes. By 1850, white European immigrants were entering the region in droves, notably the Irish and Germans, and the percentage of enslaved residents, while never high, was trending downward. What percentage of the population in the three largest northwestern counties of Virginia were enslaved in 1850?3
Lincoln was elected in November, 1860. On New Year’s Day 1861, the white citizens of Parkersburg met to discuss secession after considering a move taken by South Carolina. Name that South Carolina event.4
The Commonwealth of Virginia called a Constitutional Convention for February 4, 1861. The districts in northwestern Virginia sent thirty-two delegates to the convention of 135 in total. Was the predominating mindset of these northwestern delegates?5
Fast-ultimatumists who insisted on demanding Lincoln acquiesce to southern demands or else face secession.
Anti-coercionists who sought compromises with the North until they became untenable.
Unconditional Unionists who opposed secession at all costs.
Tax reform became part of the secession debate. The northwesterners argued that if they were going to fight the Union to protect slavery, the slaveholders should bear that cost. In 1859, the Commonwealth’s tax on slaves amounted to $326,487.60. If the northwestern delegation’s proposed tax reform passed, how much would that tax revenue increase to in the following years?6
$750,500 (more than 2x the existing)
$1,000,000 (more than 3x the existing)
$1,750,500 (nearly 6x the existing)
The tax reform proposal got a majority pledge of support on April 11, 1861. What national event prevented bringing it up for a floor vote the following day?7
Secessionists’ attack on Fort Sumpter, South Carolina.
President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation calling forth the state militias, to the sum of 75,000 troops, in order to suppress the Southern rebellion.
On February 13, 1861, delegates representing all counties in Virginia met to decide how the state would respond to recent events, especially Abraham Lincoln's election and South Carolina's secession. They voted to remain in the Union and hoped that they could reach a compromise to defuse the situation. Two months later, the same men passed The Virginia Ordinance of Secession, dated April 17, 1861, which declared that “…the bond between Virginia and the United States of America, under the U.S. Constitution, is dissolved.” Delegates at the Virginia Convention of 1861 voted 88–55 to approve the ordinance on April 17 and a statewide referendum confirmed secession on May 23. This meant the northwestern counties needed to act quickly in order to remain part of the Union. What percentage of white men in the northwestern counties voted to stay in the Union?8
Within three days of the vote to remain in the Union, General George B. McClellan’s army occupied the region, notably Wheeling, Morgantown, Parkersburg, and Clarksburg. Pouring oil on troubled waters, McClellan said, “I have ordered troops to cross the river. They come as your friends and brothers (and) as enemies only to the armed rebels who are preying upon you. Your homes, your families, and your property are safe under our protection. All your rights shall be religiously respected,” (which included the right to own slaves). The capital had to be moved from Richmond. Where was the first capital in (what would eventually become) West Virginia?9
Technically, the part of Virginia that stayed with the Union was still Virginia. Rejecting secession required a reorganization of the state, which it did on June 13 in the “Declaration of the People of Virginia Represented in Convention at Wheeling.” The first governor’s inaugural address did not mention slavery, rather, emphasized loyalty to the Union. The June 13 declaration authorized Governor Pierpont to vacate disloyal state- and county-level officers, but he couldn’t find their replacements. Many prewar elites rejected the thought of submitting to the Lincoln-aligned regime. With all this in mind, and considering the esteem in which the Union-loyal citizens held Virginia, they named their new state West Virginia. Kanawah was a strong contender for the state name. What were the others? Choose three.10
Quiz Intermission Message
Here are the podcast and book recommendations I promised earlier.
With the Napolean movie out (to lackluster reviews), you might enjoy this series on the emperor from real historians at The Rest Is History podcast. I was fascinated.
Part One: Young Napoleon: Teenage Revolutionary
Part Three: Napoleon in Egypt
Harvard’s in the news a good bit right now. Here’s a memoir of a privileged white girl growing up in segregated Virginia who became active in the civil rights, student, and antiwar movements, and eventually became a historian of the very conflicts that helped to shape the world she grew up in. The author, Drew Gilpin Faust, became the first female president of Harvard. I listened to the audiobook, which she narrated.
If I were a presidential candidate and someone asked me what made West Virginia choose the Union over secession, I would confidently say that it was slavery, but not on a moral opposition to the institution. When the enslavers used their legislative power to extract disproportionate taxes from those in the northwest while demanding them to provide free protection against the Federal Army, they forced their fellow Virginians to remain in the Union. Most West Virginians approved of slavery and actually expected the Union to preserve the institution, as did residents of the other four border states: Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri.
Wheeling. Lines of shackled slaves passed through Wheeling on the National Road and later were transported by railroad to be "sold down river." Held in pens nearby, slaves sometimes escaped with the assistance of conductors on the Underground Railroad based in Martins Ferry, Ohio. Opposition to the slave trade in Wheeling eventually rerouted much of the traffic east to Alexandria, Virginia. Source.
c) 2.0%. In 1830, the enslaved population was 6.2%. By 1840 it was 4.9%, and by 1850 it was 2.0%. Wheeling historian Margaret Brennan said, “The roots of Wheeling trace back to slave culture. But we were an industrial power … The Germans and Irish (immigrants) did not support slavery. It was a divided city.”
South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860. Just four days after secession, South Carolina issued their “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” The document offered a legal justification for secession and discussed how the federal government had failed to uphold its constitutional obligations to South Carolina. South Carolina’s declaration argued that the non-slaveholding states had “denounced as sinful the institution of slavery” and had “encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”
The document then indirectly referenced the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency as a contributing factor. “A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” According to South Carolina’s declaration, secession occurred because of threats, both real and perceived, to the institution of slavery. Source.
The northwestern counties bordered over 400 miles with slavery-free states. Most delegates to the 1861 Convention fell into the latter camp (c) (Unconditional Unionist). According to The Fifth Border State (pg 67), a representative from Monongalia predicted that if Virginia seceded, the enslaved would quickly discover that without the Constitution, their “motives to flee across the line would be increased, because the Negro would know that whenever he crosses that line he will be free. There will be no fugitive slave law for his recovery and he will know it…” Later he added, “Will it not, sir, make a hostile border for Virginia, and enable slaves to escape more rapidly because more securely? Will it not, virtually, bring Canada to our doors?” Another delegate from the northwest stated, “African slavery, as it exists in the Southern states, is essential to American liberty.”
The attack on Fort Sumpter. According to The Fifth Border State (page 73), “few delegates sought to discuss piddling issues like taxation. Only allegiance to Virginia concerned them.”
67%. In some counties, it was 75%. Notably, party allegiance was not a factor in determining how people voted on secession. Fifth Border State (pg 84).
Wheeling would serve as capital for seven years. On March 28,1870, state officials met at the levee in Wheeling to board The Mountain Boy, a steamer laden with state records and other properties, to make the journey down the Ohio River and up the Great Kanawha to the new capital city of Charleston. Source.
All were considered, so you’re guaranteed a win on this one. Others considered: Augusta, Columbia, and New Virginia.