|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 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 1656-1602, 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.
(later Warwick), 1634-1952, incorporated as the City of Warwick in 1952
and, since 1958, part of the City of Newport News.
Of the sixtv-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 :
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.
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), and 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,
Fayette (1831) Kanawha (1789) Berkley (1772) gilmer (1845) Lewis (1816)
Boone (1847) Greenbrier (1178) Logan (1843) Braxton (1836) Hampshire (1848)
McDowell (1857) 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 (1850) Wayne (1842) Nicholas (1818) Randolph (1787) Webster (1860)
Ohio (1776) Ritchie (1843) Wetzel (1846) Pendleton (1788) Koane (1856)
Wirt (1848) Pleasants (1851) Taylor (1844) Wood (1798) Pocahontas (1821)
Tucker (1856) Wyoming (1850) Preston (1818) Tyler (1814).
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.
a Hornbook of Virginia History, Church, Randolph and George Reese,
Ed., Virginia State Publications (No.25)pp 12ff, 1965