Why did West Virginia break away from Virginia?

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Even before the Civil War, some in western Virginia had proposed forming a separate state. The main reason was lack of identification with the interests of the eastern sections of Virginia. The west Virginians had a different economy, a different geography, and a different way of life. Many were of Scottish or German, rather than English, ancestry and were small farmers who did not depend on slavery.

The ethnic differences seem small today, but loomed large in the nineteenth century, when Germans and Scots felt looked down upon by the English. Further, the mountainous regions of the west had long felt neglected by the state legislature, which did not seem to care about their interests. When secession came, the west saw its chance to make a break that had been considered before and seemed natural to many.

In May 1861, after the Civil War began, a group of people from the western part of the state of Virginia met in Wheeling, which is on the border with the state of Ohio. These individuals did not want to secede from the Union, but unfortunately, were part of a rebel state that was now at war with the United States.

When Union troops arrived, people met again in Wheeling with idea of forming their own state and seceding from Virginia. This plan was ratified by a vote among the residents of the western Virginia counties.

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Basically, the reason for this was topographical.

West Virginia was a very mountainous region of what was then Virginia.  The land there was not good for plantations and so there were very few slaves and slave owners.  For this reason, there was also not much of a feeling that the two parts of the state were really part of one entity.  The people in the two regions saw each other as relatively different from one another.

Because of this, most of the people in what is now West Virginia felt little reason to secede from the Union.  When Virginia seceded, they preferred to stay with the North.

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