Skip Navigation

Sign In or Register


SharePrint Governors of West Virginia


From the birth of the state in 1863 to 2023, West Virginia has had 36 governors. All have been male, white, and Christian, with European surnames. All but one were church members, and only one was not a Protestant. All were married, and all but one were fathers. Democrats have outnumbered Republicans 19-15. In addition, John J. Jacob was an Independent for four years after serving as a Democrat for two years, and the current governor, Jim Justice, has been both a Democrat and a Republican while in office.

Daniel D. T. Farnsworth, with 16 children by two wives, led the list of fathers. Howard Mason Gore, the childless exception, became a widower about five months after his only marriage. Gaston Caperton became the state’s first divorced governor, during his first year in office. He remarried the following year and was again divorced and remarried after completing two terms.

With nine exceptions, the governors were born within the state or in the area of Virginia that was to become West Virginia. Arthur Ingraham Boreman and William E. Stevenson were born in Pennsylvania; Farnsworth and Jay Rockefeller in New York; William Alexander MacCorkle in Virginia; William M. O. Dawson in Maryland; Albert Blakeslee White in Ohio; William Casey Marland in Illinois; and Bob Wise in Washington, D.C. A majority of the governors were born north of Elkins.

Seven of the first 12 governors lacked college degrees. All others had a college or university education. Henry D. Hatfield had two medical degrees. Twenty-one governors were lawyers.

The governors took office at an average age of about 49, a number that has trended upward slightly since the 1990s. Remarkably, Cecil Underwood was both the youngest and oldest. He began his first term in 1957 at age 34, and his second term 40 years later at age 74. Arch Moore served the longest time, 12 years (1969-77, 1985-89), and Farnsworth the shortest, six days. On February 26, 1869, Farnsworth, the state senate president, became governor when the state’s first governor, Boreman, resigned to join the U.S. Senate. Governor-elect Stevenson took the oath of office six days later.

Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat and also state senate president, served as acting governor in place of Joe Manchin, who was elected to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late Robert C. Byrd. Tomblin then was elected governor for one year until the regularly scheduled 2012 election. He defeated Bill Maloney for a full four-year term on November 6, 2012. He was inaugurated on January 14, 2013. In 2016, businessman Jim Justice, a former Republican, secured the Democratic Party nomination and won in the general election. Following the 2017 legislative session, he changed his party affiliation back to Republican.

As of 2023 there were five living former governors (Rockefeller, Caperton, Wise, Manchin, and Tomblin). Two of the 36 governors, Arch Moore and Underwood, are officially counted twice because of intervening terms. Thus, Underwood served as the 25th governor and ultimately returned as the 32nd. Moore was the 28th and 30th. Incidentally, they were the only Republicans to hold the office between 1933 and 2017.

Two former governors were found guilty of major crimes, William Wallace Barron for bribing a juror and Moore for extortion, obstruction of justice, mail fraud, and tax evasion. Both served prison terms.

This Article was written by John G. Morgan

Last Revised on July 14, 2023


Morgan, John G. West Virginia Governors, 1863-1980. Charleston: Charleston Newspapers, 1980.

Conley, Phil, ed. West Virginia Encyclopedia. Charleston: West Virginia Publishing, 1929.

Cite This Article

Morgan, John G. "Governors of West Virginia." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 14 July 2023. Web. 17 June 2024.


There aren't any comments for this article yet.

West Virginia Humanities Council | 1310 Kanawha Blvd E | Charleston, WV 25301 Ph. 304-346-8500 | © 2024 All Rights Reserved

About e-WV | Our Sponsors | Help & Support | Contact Us The essential guide to the Mountain State can be yours today! Click here to order.