The Counties of Virginia

Virginia County Formation History

Online County Formation Maps

From: A HORNBOOK OF VIRGINIA HISTORY, Church, Randolph and George Reese, Ed., Virginia State Publications (No.25), pp 12ff, 1965, Library of Congress No. A65-7148

Since early colonial days, the county has been the basic unit of local government in Virginia. 1n 1634. the General Assembly in Jamestown established eight shires, similar to those in England. These were Accomack, Charles City, Charles River (now York}, Elizabeth City, Henrico, James City, Warrosquyoake (now Isle of Wight), and Warwick River. Since that time, an additional 158 counties have been created by legislative action. Of these, fifty-nine were established under the colonial government, and the remaining ninety-nine have been created since the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1776. The youngest county, Dickenson, was established in 1880. Ninety-six of the total of 166 counties are still in existence within Virginia. Of the remainder, nine have become extinct by subdivision or by incorporation as cities, and sixty-one are now in other states.

In 1721, Hanover County was formed from the western part of New Kent.

In 1742, Louisa County was formed from the western part of Hanover. Throughout this period, Goochland County was on the southern borders of both Hanover and Louisa.

In 1744, Albemarle County was formed from the western part of Goochland.

In 1761, Amherst County was formed from the southwest quarter of Albemarle, and Buckingham was formed from the south east quarter of Albemarle. At the same time, Albemarle gained that northern neck of Louisa County that was previously the western part of Fredricksville Parish.

In 1808, Nelson County was formed from the northern part of Amherst.

Land and marriage records of early Goodman and related families may be found in all of these counties. In many cases, although the names of the counties change, the names of nearby rivers, creeks, and adjoining land owners in the land records indicates that the families did not move around, but remained in the same places as the county boundaries changed around them. For this reason, it is important for researchers of the early Goodmans of VA to include all of these counties in their search, and to keep the county formation history and dates in mind as they do.

The extinct counties are:

  • Elizabeth City, 1634-1952, incorporated into the City of Hampton.
  • Fincastle, 1772-1777, divided to form Kentucky, Montgomery; Washington counties.
  • Kentucky, 1777-1780, divided into Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln, all_now in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
  • Lower Norfolk, 1637- 1691, divided to form Norfolk and Princess Anne, both of which have themselves become extinct.
  • New Norfolk, 1636-1637, divided to form Upper Norfolk (now Nansemond) and Lower Norfolk.
  • Norfolk, 1691-1953, incorporated into the City of Chesapeake.
  • Princess Anne, 1691 -1963, incorporated into the City of Virginia Beach.
  • Rapphannock 1656-1702, divided to form Essex and Richmond sometimes known as Old Rappahannock, it is not to be confused with the present Rappahannock County which was formed in 1833.
  • Warwick River (later Warwick), 1634-1952, incorporated as the City of Warwick in 1952 and, since 1958, part of the City of Newport News.

Of the sixty-one former Virginia counties now in other states, fifty are in West Va., which became a state and entered the Union in 1863, and nine are in Kentucky, which became a state in 1792.

The two other counties were: 1) Illinois I777-I784, comprising the region claimed by Virginia north of the Ohio River, and included in the cession of that region to the United States in 1784 and 2) Monongahela, I776-I786, comprising an extensive area between the 0hio and the Monongahela in dispute between Virginia and Pennsylvania now mostly in Pennsylvania.

The nine former Virginia counties now in Kentucky, with the dates of formation are: Bourbon (1786), Fayette (1780), Jefferson (1780), Lincoln (1780), Madison 1786), Mason (I789), Mercer (1786), Nelson (1785), Woodford (1789). All of these were formed from Kentucky County (1777).

The fifty counties once in Virginia, now in West Virginia, with their dates of formation, are : Barbour (1843) Fayette (1831) Kanawha (1789) Berkeley (1772) Gilmer (1845) Lewis (1816), Boone (1847) Greenbrier (1778) Logan (1834) Braxton (1836) Hampshire (1754) McDowell (1858) Brooke (1797) Hancock (1848) Marion (1841) Cabell (1809) Hardy (1786) Marshall (1833) Calhoun (1856) Harrison (1784) Mason (1804) Clay (1858) Jackson (1831) Mercer (1837) Doddridge (1845) Jefferson (1801) Monongalia (1776) Monroe (1799) Putnam (1848) Upshur (1851) Morgan (1810) Raleigh (I850) Wayne (1842) Nicholas (I818) Randolph (I787) Webster (1860) Ohio (I776) Ritchie (I843) Wetzel (1846) Pendleton (I788) Koane (I856) Wirt (I848) Pleasants (I851) Taylor (I844) Wood (I798) Pocahontas (1821) Tucker (I856) Wyoming (I850) Preston (I818) Tyler (1814)

Besides those counties lost by division, or incorporation, and those now in other states, six counties have had their names changed :

  • Accomack (I634) became Northampton in 1643. The present Accomack County was formed from Northampton County about I663.
  • Alexandria (I847) became Arlington, in 1920.
  • Charles River (1634) became York in 1646.
  • Dunmore (1771) became Shenandoah in 1778.
  • Upper Norfolk (1637) became Nansemond in 1646.
  • Warrosquyoake (1643) became Isle of Wight in 1637.


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