West Virginia's early history from 1609 until 1863 is largely shared with Virginia, of which it was a part until Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861. The delegates of the 40 western counties who opposed secession formed their own government, which was granted statehood in 1863.
In 1731 Morgan Morgan established the first permanent white settlement on Mill Creek in present-day Berkeley County. Coal, a mineral asset that would figure significantly in West Virginia's history, was discovered in 1742. Other important natural resources are oil, natural gas, and hardwood forests, which cover about 75% of the state's area.
The state's rapid industrial expansion began in the 1870s, drawing thousands of European immigrants and African Americans into the region. Miners' strikes between 1912 and 1921 required the intervention of state and federal troops to quell the violence.
Today, the state ranks second in total coal production, with about 12.5% of the U.S. total. It is also a leader in steel, glass, aluminum, and chemical manufactures. Major agricultural commodities are broilers, cattle and calves, chicken eggs, dairy products, and turkeys.
Tourism is increasingly popular in mountainous West Virginia. More than a million acres have been set aside in 37 state parks and recreation areas and in 9 state forests and 2 national forests. Major points of interest include Harpers Ferry and New River Gorge National River, The Greenbrier and Berkeley Springs resorts, the scenic railroad at Cass, and the historic homes in the Eastern Panhandle.
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Selected famous natives and residents:
- George Brett baseball player;
- Pearl S. Buck author;
- John Corbett actor;
- Phyllis Curtin soprano;
- Martin R. Delany first black army major;
- Billy Dixon frontiersman and scout;
- Joanne Dru actress;
- Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson Confederate general;
- John S. Knight publisher;
- Don Knotts actor;
- Peter Marshall TV host;
- Kathy Mattea singer;
- Whitney D. Morrow banker and diplomat;
- John Forbes Nash mathematician;
- Mary Lou Retton gymnast;
- Walter Reuther labor leader;
- Nick Saban college football coach;
- Eleanor Steber soprano;
- Lewis L. Strauss naval officer and scientist;
- Cyrus Vance government official;
- Jerry West basketball player;
- William Lyne Wilson legislator and university president;
- Chuck Yeager test pilot and Air Force general.