Her thoughts — The origins of Virginia counties

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, September 22, 2022

The fascination with maps has been with me for a very long time. For example, the Virginia state map with all of its counties and the boundaries that separate each one is a cartographer’s dream. My belief has been that each county had its origins from another of its neighbors at some point in time. Next time you get a chance, take a real close look at the boundary lines on a Virginia map and you’ll see for yourself.

The origins of Virginia counties began in 1606 with the founding of the Virginia colony. In 1619 the Virginia Company of London divided portions of the state into four large cities or burroughs: Elizabeth City, James City, Charles City and Henrico City. Subsequently, in 1634 the burroughs became shires and later, between 1637 and 1642, became counties. The eight original shires were Accomac (Northampton, Accomack County), Charles City(Charles County), Charles River(York County), Elizabeth City, Henrico (Henrico County), James City(James City County), Warowick River (City of Newport News) and Warroquyoake (Isle of Wight County).

On June 25, 1718, Virginia became the 10th state and today it is currently divided into 95 counties and 39 independent cities. Moreover, it is worthy to note that Virginia’s border states are Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia, Also, Virginia could be considered the “Mother of States’’ since Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota were all formed from the Northwest Territory of Virginia in 1784.

Furthermore, let’s see an overview of when some of the counties were created. Lunenburg County, which was named for Duchy of Brunswick-Lunenburg of Germany, is called the “Mother of Counties” and was established on May 1, 1746 from Brunswick County. It eventually birthed the counties of Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Halifax and Bedford. Fincastle County on April 18, 1772 was created from Botetourt County by the VA General Assembly.

Consequently, in Dec. 1776 it was abolished, founding new counties Montgomery, Washington and Kentucky from it. As with Kentucky County, it was subdivided into nine counties which eventually became the Kentucky District of Virginia. In 1789 the General Assembly voted to grant Kentucky statehood with Congress passing an enabling act in 1791. Then in 1792, Kentucky entered the Union as the fifteenth state. In addition, on Feb. 8, 1846, Appomattox County was created from Buckingham, Campbell, Charlotte and Prince Edward counties. On Dec. 15, 1738 Frederick County was established from Orange and Augusta counties.

County boundaries changed and were created during the American Revolution and the Civil War, geographic isolation and economic conditions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Profiling these counties shows their evolution which makes up the great state of Virginia. When you view a Virginia state map in the future, notice the bright colored boundary lines and how closely they fit next to each other. There’s a lot more history behind these counties and it’s worth the time to research them.

Judy Moore is a tour guide at The Central High Museum living in Wylliesburg. She can be reached at v5agabond2@gmail.com.