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From the birth of the state in 1863 through 2018, West Virginia has had 36 governors. All were 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 outnumbered Republicans 20-15. Jacob was an Independent for four years after serving as a Democrat for two years. The most recent governor has been both a Democrat and a Republican while in office.

Daniel D.T. Farnsworth, with 15 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 47. 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, and Farnsworth the shortest, seven days.

Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, 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 to the post 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 2017 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.

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 December 20, 2018

Related Articles


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. 20 December 2018. Web. 02 June 2023.


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