Francis Pierpont and the Birth of West Virginia
Following the Ordinance of Secession by the state of Virginia in April, 1861, a series of resolutions were adopted in loyal western counties calling for an assembly of delegates to meet in opposition to the state’s secession from the Union. Representing Marion County at the First Wheeling Convention in May of 1861 was Francis Pierpont, who was subsequently elected governor of the Restored Government of Virginia by a unanimous vote at the Second Wheeling Convention in June, 1861.
Coming to power in the midst of the Civil War, much of Pierpont’s work focused on organizing military regiments for the Union cause. During this time, however, it was Pierpont’s efforts for the statehood movement that earned him the name “Father of West Virginia.” Congress was presented with the new constitution and proposal for the state of West Virginia in 1862. The bill passed the Senate in July, 1862, and the House of Representatives in December, 1862. With the urging of Pierpont, President Lincoln signed the bill on December 31, 1862, and West Virginia officially entered into the Union on June 20, 1863.
The Daily Intelligencer reported of the inauguration gathering:
“When the military and civil procession had arrived, according to programme, in front of the Lindsley [sic] Institute, the temporary capitol of the New State – and mingled itself with the vast assemblage, that filled every available space within sight or sound of the capacious platform. . .”
Arthur I. Boreman was inaugurated the first governor of the new state with the capital remaining in Wheeling, while Pierpont continued as governor of the state of Virginia in the new capital at Alexandria.
On the first “West Virginia Day,” June 20, 1863, The Daily Intelligencer offered this fine farewell to the “Father of West Virginia:”
“This day ushers into being the new State of West Virginia, and adds the thirty fifth star to the constellation of the American Union. To-day is the beginning of a new order of things with us here. The old Government goes out and the new one comes in. To-day Gov. Pierpont bids us a formal farewell, as our chief magistrate, and Gov. Boreman will be inaugurated as his successar [sic]. With the one the parting cannot be but sad. With the other the greeting cannot but be joyful. Gov. Pierpont goes to his new field of usefulness and labor, followed by the good wishes and benedictions of a grateful people.”
A statue of Pierpont (commissioned by the Wheeling National Heritage Area and funded by numerous donors) was dedicated on the corner of 16th Street and Market on West Virginia Day, Saturday June 20th, 2015 on the grounds of West Virginia’s Independence Hall, where in a borrowed corner room, Gov. Pierpont first held office.
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West Virginia Independence Hall
1528 Market Street
Wheeling, WV 26003
Closed Sundays & Mondays
Admission is free to the public.