February 3, 1865: Governor Arthur Boreman Signs Legislative Act Banning Slavery in W.Va.
On February 3, 1865, West Virginia Governor Arthur Boreman signed a legislative act banning slavery in the state. A common misconception is that West Virginia entered the Union in 1863 as a free state.
However, in reality, it was the last slave state ever admitted to the Union. While most state founders wanted to allow slavery without restrictions, Congressional Republicans threatened to block West Virginia’s statehood efforts over the issue. A compromise, known as the Willey Amendment, provided for the gradual emancipation of most, but not all, slaves in the new state.
While slavery had existed in Western Virginia from the earliest days of settlement, it never prospered on a widespread basis. By 1860, Western Virginia was home to fewer than 20,000 slaves, compared to some half-a-million living in present-day Virginia. This disparity was due largely to Western Virginia’s rugged terrain, which produced small farms as opposed to the sprawling slave plantations of Virginia’s Tidewater region.
When West Virginia became a state, two-thirds of the slaves were concentrated in Jefferson, Berkeley, Kanawha, Hampshire, and Greenbrier counties. The new state was also home to nearly 3,000 free blacks.