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West Virginia (U.S.)

Last modified: 2022-04-30 by rick wyatt
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[Flag of West Virginia] image by Mario Fabretto, 24 February 1998

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In 1863, a star was added, representing West Virginia, bringing the total number of stars on the U.S. flag to 35. There were thirteen stripes representing the thirteen original colonies.

Flag Description

The West Virginia flag is a white field bordered in dark blue and containing the West Virginia coat of arms in the center.
Dov Gutterman, 9 October 1998

Coat of Arms

[Coat of arms of West Virginia] image by Joe McMillan, 23 March 2004

After what is now West Virginia broke away from Virginia in the midst of the Civil War and was admitted to the Union as a separate state in 1863, a committee of the state legislature commissioned Joseph H. Diss Debar, a local artist and political figure, to design a state seal. Debar's design was approved by the legislature on 26 September 1863 and is now enshrined in the state constitution.

The coat of arms is essentially the pictorial design of the obverse of the seal transplanted onto the field of a shield, with the colors of the foreground and sky filled in. The description of the seal and its symbolism offered by the committee in its report is therefore the closest thing to an official blazon:

"In the center a rock with ivy, emblematic of stability and continuance, and on the face of the rock the inscription, "June 20, 1863," the date of our foundation [admission to statehood], as if graven with a pen of iron in the rock forever. On the right of the rock a farmer clothed in the traditional hunting garb, peculiar to this region, his right arm resting on the plow handles, and his left supporting a woodman's axe, indicating that while our territory is partly cultivated, it is still in the process of being cleared of the original forest. At his right hand a sheaf of wheat and a cornstalk. On the left hand of the rock, a miner, indicated by a pick-axe on his shoulder, with barrels and lumps of mineral at his feet. On his left an anvil, partly seen, on which rests a sledge hammer, typical of the mechanic arts, the whole indicating the principal pursuits and resources of the state. In front of the rock and the hunter, as if just laid down by the latter and ready to be resumed at a moment's notice, two hunters' rifles, crossed and surmounted by a Phrygian cap, or cap of liberty, indicating that our freedom and liberty were won and will be maintained by the force of arms."

The one significant difference between the seal and the coat of arms is that the arms include a scroll in the base of the field with the state motto, Montani semper liberi (Mountaineers are always free).

I have seen at least three different color combinations and treatments of the ground on which the boulder rests in official state websites; the depiction in Smith's Flag Book of the United States offers yet a fourth. I have followed the version on a photograph of an actual flag flying in front of the state capitol, in which the field of the shield is white and the rock rests on a green mound floating in the center above the scroll with the motto. This is also the style used on the state seal, and, as we have seen with other states, legislators have become sticklers for ensuring that coats of arms conform exactly to seal designs--notwithstanding the flexibility inherent in authentic heraldic tradition.

The more traditional approach, at least concerning colors and artistic treatment, can be seen on West Virginia's earliest use of the arms (or seal) on flags. As described and illustrated on, a little more than four months after adopting the seal, the legislature enacted Joint Resolution No. 7 of 8 January 1864, which directed that "the coat of arms or great seal" be placed on the state flag (regimental color) to be presented  to the 4th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. As with most Northern states (and before the war, most of the Southern states as well), this became the standard pattern for state regimental colors. This website, which belongs to a group that reenacts the 7th West Virginia Infantry, gives a detailed description of the color scheme and several close-up photographs of an early West Virginia state color.

Source in addition to those cited above: Zieber, Heraldry in America (1895)

Joe McMillan, 23 March 2004

State Military Crest

image by Joe McMillan, 21 April 2000

The state military crest, which is the crest used in the coats of arms of units of the National Guard, as granted by the precursor organizations of what is now the Army Institute of Heraldry. The official Institute of Heraldry blazon is "A slip of mountain rhododendron in full bloom and leaved proper."
Joe McMillan, 21 April 2000