If you think Frederick County, Va., joining West Virginia is a wild idea, then how about a role reversal?
What if Hampshire County wanted to rejoin Virginia?
It was a serious consideration 154 years ago this week, Michael Lee of Capon Bridge reminded folks on Facebook.
He was referencing an item from the South Branch Intelligencer — which later combined with the Hampshire Review — that’s posted on HistoricHampshire.org.
Under the simple headline of “public notice,” the Intelligencer reported a Jan. 13, 1866, public meeting that unanimously resolved several motions aimed at giving Hampshire County another vote on being part of the 35th state.
Just 3 years after Hampshire voted to join West Virginia, and less than a year after the end of the Civil War, emotions were running high and probably with just cause.
The specifics of the March 1863 vote are lost, but the record of that 1866 meeting contends that perhaps 40 votes were cast when Hampshire County had around 2,000 men registered to vote.
Only 2 precincts, 6 miles apart in the Keyser area — then a part of Hampshire County —were open for the vote. The precincts that voted for joining the new state were in the hands of Union soldiers who were guarding the B&O railroad line that ran across the northern edge of the massive county.
“Most of those were Union soldiers posted here,” Romney attorney and historian Royce Saville said in 2013. “If you were a Southern sympathizer, they wouldn’t let you vote anyway.”
Making it even tougher to vote no, the election wasn’t by secret ballot, claims Rob Wolford, who teaches West Virginia history at Romney Middle School.
“It was probably a voice vote,” he says. Today’s norm, the Australian ballot, wasn’t used in West Virginia until the 1890s.
Hardy County’s vote for statehood was even more suspect. Saville says it was recorded as 9-0.
The 1866 meeting noted those indignities.
“The election held in pursuance of this proviso, owing to the disturbed state of the country at that time, to the uncertainty then prevailing in the minds of the people, and to the want of information among them, failed utterly in drawing out any proper and fair expression of the popular will in regard thereof,” the group resolved.
Participants lobbied for a legal avenue to take another vote, not just here, but also in Morgan, Hardy and Pendleton counties. (This was before Berkeley and Jefferson counties joined West Virginia.)
“The geographical position of this county and of the counties of Hardy, Pendleton and Morgan, inasmuch as they lie eastward of the Alleghany Range of Mountains, allies them much more closely in interest with the counties of the Valley District of Virginia, than with the counties of West Virginia lying westward of that Range,” the resolution read in part.
The 1866 meeting participants urged the area’s legislators to begin preparing a bill that would authorize a revote, but it never happened.