June 20 celebrates the birth of my home state. As you are reading this, I am tooling my way along a West Virginia highway, off to visit the homes of some of our country’s Presidents. This past weekend there was a reenactment on Monticello’s ground. The British arrived on horseback for the Revolutionary War!
Personally, I love driving the mountain roads, but I’m certain many others do not. Many are intimidated by the sharp curves. When I exit the tunnel at Bluefield on Interstate 77, the one which separates West Virginia from Virginia, my heart always says “home.”
On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became the thirty-fifth state in the Union. The land that formed the new state formerly constituted part of Virginia. The two areas had diverged culturally from their first years of European settlement, as small farmers generally settled the western portion of the state, including the counties that later formed West Virginia, while the eastern portion was dominated by a powerful minority class of wealthy slaveholders. There were proposals for the trans-Allegheny west to separate from Virginia as early as 1769. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, the residents of a number of contiguous western counties, where there were few slaves, decided to remain in the Union. Congress accepted these counties as the state of West Virginia on condition that its slaves be freed. “Montani semper liberi,” “mountaineers always freemen,” became the new state’s motto.
“In 1963, West Virginia Day was the highpoint of a year-long celebration of the state centennial, with President John F. Kennedy speaking from the steps of the state capitol. The state enjoyed its grandest birthday party that day, beginning with a breakfast restricted to people born on June 20 and culminating with evening fireworks. A 35-layer cake was served at noon, and Kennedy’s speech was followed by a 35-gun salute.
“In addition to official observances, West Virginians celebrate their state’s birthday with a variety of tavern toasts, family cookouts, and other unofficial acknowledgments. Long-standing customs include the creation of a special glass-work by Blenko Glass of Cabell County. Issued in a number equal to the state’s age, the limited-edition piece is sold in Charleston to first-comers on the morning of West Virginia Day.” [e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia “West Virginia Day.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 20 June 2014. Web. 22 May 2018.]