A key player in the formation of the 35th state, Waitman T. Willey is known for amending a crucial bill that would gain West Virginia its independence from Virginia.
Willey was born in 1811 in Farmington, Va., and was educated as a lawyer, later working for Philip Doddridge and John C. Campbell in Wellsburg before starting his own practice in Morgantown.
He was known as an orator and debater, often quoting Greek and Roman classics and the Bible in his speeches.
In a time when states in the Deep South were seceding from the Union, Virginia was contemplating its own secession. Willey opposed Virginia's separation from the Union and is known for his speech "Liberty and Union," saying the two were inseparable. He served as a delegate of the Virginia Constitutional Convention and was one of 28 delegates from the western counties of Virginia to vote "no" on Virginia's secession from the Union.
Sometimes called "the Father of West Virginia," Willey played an important role in the passage of West Virginia's statehood when Sen. John S. Carlile drafted a bill for state admission that would make it more difficult for West Virginia to become a state.
Carlile had included counties in the Shenandoah Valley that were pro-slavery to be part of the new state. He also included a clause to emancipate all slaves in the new state, a measure that would make it impossible to pass the bill.
Essentially saving the day, Willey was called in to amend the boundaries of the new state, leaving out the pro-slavery counties and rewriting the slavery clause to gradually incorporate the emancipation of slaves in West Virginia. The change is known as the "Willey Amendment." The bill passed in the U.S. Senate, 23-17.
Though Willey spoke on the suffrage of slaves, he owned several domestic slaves at his residence in Morgantown.
Willey died at home in morgantown in 1900 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.