The historic West Virginia Independence Hall (WVIH) in downtown Wheeling will present the first in a series of Sesquicentennial programs, Virginia Secedes! The Beginnings of West Virginia Statehood, on Saturday, April 16. Dr. John Stealey, distinguished professor of history at Shepherd University (SU), will be featured at 2 p.m. with his presentation “West Virginia’s Constitutional Critique of Virginia: The Revolution of 1861-1863.” A dramatic reenactment of speeches given by western Virginia delegates at the Richmond secession convention will take place at 3 p.m., followed by a reception. The lecture and reception are free and the public is invited to attend.
“West Virginia’s Constitutional Critique of Virginia: The Revolution of 1861-1863” examines the constitutional reasons for the formation of West Virginia that Virginia’s secession initiated. For more than 50 years, most western Virginians felt they had been the victims of constitutional and political injustices. When Virginia secretly seceded from the Union on April 17, 1861, westerners responded by remaining loyal to the United States and separating from the Commonwealth.
Prior to being named distinguished professor of history at SU, Stealey was a professor of history there from 1975-2006. He also was a visiting scholar at West Virginia University Libraries (WVUL) from 1996-2006, and a distinguished historical editor of David Hunter Strother’s Mexican diaries for WVUL. He has published three books including Porte Crayon’s Mexico: David Hunter Strother’s Diaries in the Early Porfirian Era, 1879-1885 and The Antebellum Kanawha Salt Business and Western Markets.
Stealey received a Summer Fellowship in 1996 from the West Virginia Humanities Council which supported travel and research in depositories for the debates and history of the West Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1872 and the post-Civil War Mountain State. He also received a Ford Foundation Travel-Study Grant in 1973 to conduct basic research in manuscript depositories for a history of Storer College, a now defunct four-year black institution at Harper’s Ferry.
The 3 p.m. dramatic reenactment of speeches given at the secession convention in Richmond in 1861 will include pro-secessionist and pro-Union speeches. John Reilly, a Wheeling actor, will portray Jeremiah Morton, a prominent Whig politician and planter who gave one of the first speeches advocating secession, and Frank O’Brien of the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau will present George Wythe Randolph’s speech, another delegate to the Secession Convention who voted in favor of secession, and later became Secretary of War under Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The pro-Union speeches will be presented by Sen. Orphy Klempa (D-Ohio) as Waitman T. Willey, a member of the Whig Party and staunch Unionist who was instrumental in the formation of the state of West Virginia, and Travis Henline, site manager at WVIH who will portray John Carlile, a delegate who voted against secession and drafted the statehood bill for West Virginia. He later changed his mind and voted against his own bill.
For more information about Virginia Secedes! The Beginnings of West Virginia Statehood and other Sesquicentennial programs at WVIH, contact Henline at (304) 238-1300.
West Virginia Independence Hall, originally built as a federal custom house in 1859, served as the home of the pro-Union state conventions of Virginia during the spring and summer of 1861 and as the capitol of loyal Virginia from June 1861 to June 1863. It also was the site of the first constitutional convention for West Virginia. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988, the museum is maintained and operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, with the cooperation and assistance of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with the exception of major holidays. The museum is located on the corner of 16th and Market Streets in Wheeling.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History is an agency within the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts with Kay Goodwin, Cabinet Secretary. The Division, led by Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, brings together the past, present and future through programs and services focusing on archives and history, arts, historic preservation and museums. For more information about the Division’s programs, events and sites, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.