The Rich History and Culture of West Virginia: From Past to Present

November 3, 2023

West Virginia has a rich history and culture. This state celebrates its rich Scottish and Irish roots in music, dance, food, handicrafts, and storytelling. The first European settler arrived in Virginia in 1671. The settlers paved the way for immigrants from Scotland and Northern Ireland to settle in West Virginia. 

Are you interested in learning more about West Virginia’s history? Here’s a brief overview that will satisfy your inner history buff! 

West Virginia’s Early History

West Virginia and the twelve states that comprise Appalachia are some of the most diverse areas in the country. The Native Americans originally inhabited the region now known as West Virginia. 

Over time, West Virginia diversified. People from Southern Scotland, Northern England, and Northern Ireland were among the first Europeans to live there. They settled in West Virginia in the 18th century. 

During the American Revolution, living conditions in the region were better than in some other areas. And thus, more Scots-Irish, German, French, Welsh, and other Europeans moved there. 

West Virginia Separation

During the Revolution, a petition that never became law was introduced. The petition proposed to separate the western portion of Virginia from the state. The separation did not come to pass until the Civil War. 

Western Virginia separated from Virginia during the Civil War due to the differences over slavery and political issues. The region was divided between Federal and Confederate troops. This resulted in the Democratic Party gaining control of the western portion of Virginia. 

After a Supreme Court decision, West Virginia became the first state to form during the war between the states.

Appalachian Culture Through Folk Music

Today’s Appalachian culture originated during the Civil War. It came primarily through folk music. The Scottish and Irish immigrants were the ones to bring music to West Virginia. Today, it’s still very prevalent in the state. 

Other music styles and instruments became popular in West Virginia as well. Popular musical instruments include the dulcimer, banjo, and fiddle. Country music, Bluegrass, and the music of African-American settlers are also significant to West Virginia’s culture.

Through the years, music festivals became popular, which we discuss next. 

Appalachian Bluegrass Music Festivals

Summer is the season for the best music festivals in West Virginia. Many festivals feature outdoor adventures with music of many genres popular in the region. Venues for many of the music festivals are on resort properties. The venues frequently feature outdoor activities, food, drinks, and arts and crafts vendors.

Bluegrass is an integral part of the culture of West Virginia. Traditional Scottish and Irish music influenced Bluegrass, just like making moonshine. The Ulster-Scots associated whiskey-making with their freedom. 

The quote about freedom and whiskey is related to Scottish poet Robert Burns. Dream Mountain Bluegrass is a favorite festival for anyone who loves Bluegrass. So, if you plan on attending a festival, Dream Mountain Bluegrass is the perfect event. Attending a festival is the ideal introduction to the culture and music of West Virginia.

Swiss Culture Celebration

The cultures of England and Germany are preeminent. More than 50% of the state’s population is of English or German descent. 

Helvetia is a town mainly comprised of Swiss immigrants. The Helvetia Community Fair is an agricultural fair. It celebrates the history and culture of the Swiss farming community. It’s well-known because it is one of the region’s most popular annual events.

Exciting Celtic Festivals

Scots-Irish immigrants are most influential in the state’s culture, especially music and dancing. Today, the arts and culture of West Virginia are influenced by the Ulster Scots, who initially settled in the state. The Scots-Irish heritage is reflected in the yearly music and Celtic festivals.

A feature of Celtic festivals is clog dancing. This dance originated from Irish, Scottish, Cherokee step dancing, and African dance forms. Traditional Scottish dancing has four styles: step, country, Highland, and Ceilidh. All forms of traditional Scottish dancing have different types of patterns and steps. Many Celtic festivals feature a Ceilidh, an evening social event with singing, dancing, and stories.

Dancing, pipe bands, competitions, and games are among some of the fun festival activities. You also can’t miss out on traditional Scottish and Irish foods. 

Learning about the traditional Ulster-Scots-related arts and crafts at the Vandalia Gathering is another fun activity. The gathering includes cooking, dancing, and quilt-making.


West Virginia is a state owing a lot to ethnic groups that influenced its history. The unique historical setting has shaped culture in many ways. Today, West Virginia continues to grow and thrive. For example, medical marijuana is now legal in the state. Veriheal offers an easy way to get a medical marijuana card through their site. 

West Virginia has come a long way through the years. Who knows what will end up in the history books throughout the next century!

The Rich History and Culture of West Virginia: From Past to Present was last modified: by

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