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Revolutionary War and Its Aftermath

After the defeat of the French and their Native American allies, England and American colonists finally clashed over the ownership of what became the United States. Despite years of conflict with the British, by 1777, many Native American tribes had joined in the fight against the colonists. The great Indian chief Cornstalk was taken hostage at Fort Randolph at present-day Point Pleasant while trying to warn settlers that the Shawnee had decided to fight on behalf of the British. In retaliation for the murder of a colleague, soldiers at the fort murdered Cornstalk and his son. In 1777 and 1778, British and Native American forces attacked outposts held by colonials, including Fort Henry (present-day Wheeling), Fort Randolph, and Fort Donnally (west of present-day Lewisburg). In 1778, George Rogers Clark, accompanied by troops from the Monongahela and Shenandoah valleys, temporarily broke the British-Indian alliance with victories in the Illinois territory at Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. Colonials rejected an attempt by Wyandots and some Shawnee to negotiate a peace in 1779. One of the most violent skirmishes in present-day West Virginia took place when Wyandot and Delaware warriors laid siege to Fort Henry in 1782, nearly a year after the surrender of the main British army at Yorktown. American aims were consolidated with General Anthony Wayne's victory at Fallen Timbers in present-day northwestern Ohio, effectively removing any remaining Indian claims in the Ohio Valley. A number of prominent Revolutionary War officers came from present-day West Virginia, including Horatio Gates, Charles Lee, Adam Stephen, Hugh Stephenson, and William Darke.

Besides determining self-rule of the country, the American Revolution negated all claims upon land in western Virginia by the third and final group, the British. The Revolution opened up settlement of territory west of the Allegheny Mountains, but at the same time, cleared a route to a frontier beyond the Ohio River, which was often more appealing than that territory guarded by the mountains.

Those unwilling or unable to purchase property from land companies claimed homesteads on the frontier through squatter's rights. Although avoiding considerable expense, the settlers faced problems on the frontier, such as conflict with Native Americans and disease. Furthermore, the government and land speculators in eastern Virginia, disregarding the "squatter's rights," surveyed and distributed the land.

Early settlers pushed west of the Alleghenies and settled first along the major river valleys, including the Greenbrier, Monongahela, Cheat, Tygart, Kanawha, and Ohio. It was not until the 1780s, that a substantial number of people had moved west of the mountains, but after that settlement proceeded at a rapid rate. In 1790, there were 56,000 people in present-day West Virginia. By 1810, there were 105,000, and on the eve of the Civil War, 377,000.

After the Battle of Point Pleasant, settlers began spreading into southwestern Virginia, founding the towns of Princeton, Alderson, and Peterstown during the 1770s and early 1780s. After the Revolutionary War and the series of treaties with Native Americans, the towns of Parkersburg, Charleston, and Point Pleasant were founded in the western section of Virginia. As these towns formed, local county governments were developed and by 1800, the entire present-day state of West Virginia was comprised of Berkeley, Brooke, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hardy, Harrison, Monongalia, Monroe, Montgomery, Ohio, Pendleton, Randolph, and Wood counties.

In the early years of the country, westerners first expressed unhappiness with what they considered unfair taxes and a lack of internal improvements. After the adoption of the United States Constitution, the new federal government sought to exercise its control over the western territories by imposing a tax on whiskey. Cash was in short supply on the frontier, so whiskey and crops were often exchanged for goods. Whiskey was also important in trade with the east because it was easier to transport over mountains than corn and grain. Western farmers felt they shouldered an unfair portion of the tax and rebelled against it. In 1794, President Washington personally led federal troops into western Pennsylvania. Washington's actions united settlers on the western frontier, including present-day West Virginia, against the power of a strong central government. Over the next seventy years, western Virginians continued to struggle against their state government which they felt did not truly represent their interests.

Settlement in West Virginia

West Virginia History Center

West Virginia Archives and History