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What Is the History of the State Flag of West Virginia?

Prior to the U.S. Civil War, the territory that became West Virginia belonged to the state of Virginia.
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  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2014
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The state flag of West Virginia was officially adopted on 7 March 1929, after undergoing several changes to its overall design. The first flag used to represent the state of West Virginia is believed to be the one displayed at the 1904 Saint Louis World's Fair. This white flag with a blue border had a picture of West Virginia's official state flower, the rhododendron, on one side and a depiction of the state's coat of arms on the other. The state's legislature adopted this flag as the official state flag of West Virginia on 24 February 1905. The flag adopted in 1929 displays both these images together on one side of the flag — rhododendron branches encompass the state's coat of arms, and a red banner above the coat of arms reads, "State of West Virginia."

The coat of arms of the state of West Virginia dates back to September 1863, about three months after West Virginia became a state on 20 June 1863. The state's coat of arms as it appears on the state flag of West Virginia depicts a miner and a farmer, representing the state's two primary industries. They are shown standing on either side of a rock, which represents fortitude and endurance. The rock is inscribed with the date 20 June 1863, to commemorate the anniversary of the state's change in status.

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In the foreground can be seen two crossed rifles topped with a Phrygian cap. This cap is typically recognized as a symbol of freedom in American culture. A ribbon in the extreme foreground bears the state's Latin motto, "Montani Semper Liberi," or, "Mountaineers are Always Free."

West Virginia became a state during the American Civil War. Prior to the war, the territory that would later become West Virginia was considered a part of the state of Virginia. These westerly counties were, however, geographically, socially and economically very different from the state of Virginia's easterly counties, and residents of the western part of the state largely disagreed with the policies of the Virginia state government. When Virginia seceded from the United States at the commencement of the Civil War, its western counties voted to secede from it. President Abraham Lincoln granted these counties autonomous statehood.

The symbolism of the state flag of West Virginia is intended to respect the state's early history of conflict. The appearance of the Phrygian cap and crossed rifles on the state flag of West Virginia represent the state's fight for its autonomy against Confederate forces, and its commitment to freedom.

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titans62
Post 4

@stl156 - I have to say I find this talk of West Virginia being a completely different area than Virginia fascinating.

I understand that there are a lot of woods in West Virginia, but there are a lot in parts of Virginia and I wonder why people associate themselves so divisively when they either call themselves West Virginians or Virginians.

I know the history of the state of West Virginia and I do not necessarily think that today there is a lot of difference between people of the western side of the state of Virginia and the state of West Virginia. I find that the reason for the split during the Civil War was merely due to ideological and societal differences and to base the reason on just rich and poor is not really a good reason in my mind.

I just feel like today the symbol may be a little outdated as we are a more modernized society, so I wonder if an argument can be made that this flag is merely designed to reflect state history and not necessarily culture of the state nowadays.

stl156
Post 3

@JimmyT - I completely agree. What I like about the flag is that the people that designed it did not try to be overly elaborate or official looking with the flag and instead chose a design for the flag that is entirely meant to reflect the state and be iconic.

Too many times do I see a state flag that is merely meant to be official looking and does not appropriately express the culture or the history of the state. The West Virginia state flag definitely depicts both in its image and it is a flag that is a symbol of a culture and something that West Virginians can be proud of using as their state banner.

JimmyT
Post 2

@jcraig - I completely agree with you. The state of West Virginia was originally a an area that was part of the state of Virginia, but it did not become a state until the Civil War.

Slave state Virginia was different than West Virginia, as west Virginia was made up of more people that did not support slavery as well as lower class groups of people that did not have money like the rich planters of Virginia.

The are of West Virginia is different than the rest of Virginia too and that is why for decades it was seen basically as two completely different states within the same boundary lines.

The flag depicts what the state is not and that is an extension of Virginia and this is something that West Virginians over the years have noted and the symbolism expressed in the flag perfectly exhibits the state's identity.

jcraig
Post 1

I have to be honest I like the West Virginia state flag for one reason and that one reason is that it is the only state flag I can recall seeing that has two people depicted in it.

The state flag itself looks like an official looking symbol, that I know a lot of people have a problem with when it comes to state flag, but it also depicts a lot of history and culture into the flag.

The middle of the flag does not only show the year that the state was founded, but the exact date. This is something that is important to West Virginians as the area that is comprised of West Virginia is a completely different type of area from the rest of Virginia with their own individual identity.

Depicting two people in the middle, the hunter and the woodsman, depicts the people living the simple life in West Virginia and the types of people that are associated with the state.

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