Monday, July 9, 2012

Commonwealth-era Va. Co. names

Today we complete the list of Virginia's 95 counties and the origin of their names.  It is certainly noticeable how the origins change a great deal after the Revolution and in the period of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Nevetheless, only one county was actually renamed during the course of the American Revolution: Dunmore County, which was renamed Shenandoah County, as Lord Dunmore was the last Royal Governor of the colony, and actually led troops against the Revolutionaries in Virginia.  It seems his opposition to the Revolution did not will the admiration of the Revolutionary government.

I have included in this list those Kentucky and some of the early West Virginia counties formed by the Virginia General Assembly while those modern states were still part of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I have put counties in the area of modern Kentucky in bold, and in West Virginia in Italics.

Virginia Counties formed during the Commonwealth

  • 1776: The first three counties listed below that were formed this year replaced Fincastle County.
    • Kentucky (now KY), named from the Wyandot word for plain or broad plains.
    • Montgomery, named for General Richard Montgomery, revolutionary officer that lead the failed invasion of Canada.
    • Washington, named for General George Washington, later first US President.
    • Henry, named for Patrick Henry, first governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
    • Monongalia (now in WV), named for the Monongahela River.
    • Ohio (now in WV), named for the Ohio River.
  • 1777:
    • Fluvanna, named using an old term for the James River, meaning Anna River.
    • Powhatan, named for the Indian chieftain.
  • 1778:
    • Illinois (now the states of OH, IN, IL, MI, and WI), named for the Illini Indian tribe.  This county would be ceded to the US government in 1784 to become the Northwest Territory.
    • Rockbridge, named for the Natural Bridge located in the county.
    • Rockingham, named for Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, a Prime Minister sympathetic to the sitatution of the colonies.
    • Greenbrier (now in WV), named for the Greenbrier River.
  • 1780: The first three counties listed below that were formed this year replaced Kentucky County.
    • Fayette (now in KY), named for the Marquis de Lafayette.
    • Jefferson (now in KY), named for Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Governor and later became President of the United States.
    • Lincoln (now in KY), named for General Benjamin Lincoln, revolutionary officer.
    • Greensville, perhaps named for Nathaniel Greene, perhaps for Sir Richard Grenville, a leader of the failed Roanoke colony.
  • 1781: Campbell, named for William Campbell, revolutionary at the Battle of King’s Mountain.
  • 1784:
    • Nelson (now in KY), named for Thomas Nelson, governor of Virginia.
    • Harrison (now in WV), named for Benjamin Harrison, governor of Virginia and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
  • 1785:
    • Franklin, named for Benjamin Franklin.
    • Hardy (now in WV), named for Samuel Hardy, Virginia statesman.
    • Bourbon (now in KY), named for the royal family of France.
    • Madison (now in KY), named for James Madison, later President of the United States.
    • Mercer (now in KY), named for General Hugh Mercer, Virginia revolutionary officer killed at Princeton.
  • 1786:
    • Russell, named for William Russell, member of the House of Delegates.
    • Randolph (now in WV), named for Edmund Randolph, governor of Virginia.
  • 1788:
    • Nottoway, named for the Nadowa Indian tribe.
    • Pendleton (now in WV), named for Edmund Pendleton, Virginia statesman.
    • Kanawha (now in WV), named for the Indian tribe that once lived in the area.
    • Mason (now in KY), named for George Mason, author of the Virginia Bill of Rights.
    • Woodford (now in KY), named for William Woodford, revolutionary officer that fought Lord Dunmore at the battle of Great Bridge.
  • 1789: Wythe, named for George Wythe, the signer of the Declaration of Independence.
  • 1790:
    • Bath, named for the many mineral springs in the county.
    • Mathews, named for Thomas Mathews, speaker of the House of Delegates of Virginia.
    • Patrick, named for Patrick Henry, governor of Virginia.
  • 1792:
    • Grayson, named for William Grayson, US Senator (from Prince William County).
    • Lee, named for “Light Horse Harry” Lee, governor of Virginia and father of Robert E. Lee.
    • Madison, named for James Madison, Father of the Constitution, and later US President.
  • 1796: Brooke (now in WV), named for Robert Brooke, governor of Virginia.
  • 1798: Wood (now in WV), named for James Wood, governor of Virginia.
  • 1799:
    • Tazewell, named for Henry Tazewell, US Senator.
    • Monroe (now in WV), named for James Monroe, a Virginian and President of the United States.  Those counties formed in what is now West Virginia after this date are excluded from this list.  There would be a total of 50 counties formerly part of Virginia that formed the new state of West Virginia in 1863.
  • 1806: Giles, named for William Giles, US Senator.
  • 1807: Nelson, named for Thomas Nelson, governor of Virginia.
  • 1814: Scott, named for General Winfield Scott for service done in the War of 1812.
  • 1822: Alleghany, named for the range of mountains.
  • 1831:
    • Floyd, named for John Floyd, governor of Virginia.
    • Page, named for John Page, governor of Virginia.
  • 1832: Smyth, named for Alexander Smyth, US Congressman.
  • 1833: Rappahannock, named for the Rappahannock River.
  • 1836:
    • Clarke, named for George Rogers Clark, revolutionary officer.
    • Warren, named for Joseph Warren, Massachusetts revolutionary and Freemason.
  • 1838:
    • Greene, named for Nathaniel Greene, revolutionary commander of the Army of the South.
    • Roanoke, named for the Roanoke River.
  • 1839: Pulaski, named for Casimir Pulaski, Polish participant in the American Revolution.
  • 1842: Carroll, named for Charles Carroll of Maryland, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
  • 1845: Appomattox, named for the Appomattox River.
  • 1846: Arlington, named for the family home of Robert E. Lee.  Prior to 1920, it was known as Alexandria County.
  • 1847: Highland, named for its terrain.
  • 1851: Craig, named for Robert Craig, US Congressman.
  • 1856: Wise, named for Henry Wise, governor of Virginia.
  • 1858: Buchanan, named for James Buchanan, President of the United States.
  • 1861: Bland, named for Richard Bland, revolutionary era leader.
  • 1880: Dickenson, named for William Dickenson, member of the House of Delegates.
Source: The Hornbook of Virginia History

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