Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Scott Reynolds Nelson

Committee Members

Melvin Patrick Ely

Clyde Haulman


This thesis examines the process by which slavery ended in West Virginia during the American Civil War. It argues that emancipation in West Virginia was not an easy formality that merely ratified decades of gravitation towards the free labor North, but a highly controversial process that the political and social disruptions of wartime allowed to occur. It holds that slaves, though not as central to western Virginia's economy and society in the antebellum period as elsewhere in the South, still constituted a powerful interest that militated against emancipation before the Civil War. West Virginia's political leadership only endorsed emancipation provisions after the War removed Confederate sympathizers from the body politic, marginalized the most conservative voices in the West Virginia statehood movement, encouraged formerly moderate whites to take a harder position against slavery, and exposed West Virginia to pressure from an antislavery Congress through the statehood process. This political process reflected white White Virginia's ultimate embrace of emancipation, but had only a minimal effect on the process by which actual slaves gained their freedom. For the more than 18,000 slaves in the new state, the Union Army served a much more important role in ending slavery than West Virginia's political leadership, despite statements of official policy that forbade Union troops from tampering with slavery.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Thesis is part of Honors ETD pilot project, 2008-2013. Migrated from Dspace in 2016.

On-Campus Access Only