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History and Facts of Massachusetts Counties

Today’s Massachusetts counties did not always exist in the present form. They went through many different changes in the space of a few short years.

The Province of Massachusetts Bay existed from October 7, 1691, until May 1, 1776.

The oldest counties still in Massachusetts are Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk counties, created in 1643 with the original Norfolk County which was absorbed by New Hampshire and bears no relation to the modern Norfolk County.

When these counties were created, they were a part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which would remain separate from the Plymouth Colony and that colony’s counties until 1691.

The State of Massachusetts entered the union as the 6th state on February 6, 1788. There are presently 14 Massachusetts counties.

States bordering Massachusetts are ConnecticutNew HampshireNew YorkRhode Island and Vermont.

Eleven other historical Massachusetts counties have existed, most becoming defunct when their lands were absorbed into the colony of New Hampshire or the state of Maine, both of which were created out of lands originally claimed by Massachusetts.

Berkshire, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Suffolk and Worcester counties abolished county governments and went to town governments.

Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Norfolk, Plymouth counties in the southeastern portion of the state still have county-level local government and Nantucket County has a combined county/town government.

Fun Facts about Massachusetts Counties

County Names

The majority of Massachusetts counties are named in honor of English place names, reflecting Massachusetts’ colonial heritage.

Counties by Year

  • “Old” Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Middlesex Counties was the 4 original counties created in the Massachusetts Bay Colony on May 10, 1643.
  • Hampden County was the last county created on February 25, 1812.

County Size Facts

County Population Facts

Massachusetts City Facts

Massachusetts’s 10  largest cities (2010) are:

  1. Boston (617,660) is in Suffolk County
  2. Worcester (181,045) is in Worcester County
  3. Springfield (153,060) is in Hampden County
  4. Lowell (106,519) is in Middlesex County
  5. Cambridge (105,162) is in Middlesex County
  6. New Bedford (95,072) is in Bristol County
  7. Brockton (93,810) is in Plymouth County
  8. Quincy (92,271) is in Norfolk County
  9. Lynn (90,329) is in Essex County
  10. Fall River (88,857) is in Bristol County

Boundary Changes of Massachusetts Counties from 1683 to 1947

This Interactive Map of Massachusetts Counties show the historical boundaries, names, organization, and attachments of every county, extinct county and unsuccessful county proposal from the creation of Massachusetts from 1683 to 1947.

List of Massachusetts Counties

List of Old Former / Extinct Massachusetts Counties

The below Massachusetts counties no longer exist:

Cumberland County, District of Maine, Massachusetts Bay Colony

Created on November 1, 1760 from Yorkshire County. Cumberland County became a Maine county and was eliminated from Massachusetts when the state of Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820.

Devonshire County, District of Maine, Massachusetts Bay Colony

Created on October 7, 1673 from land Massachusetts claimed in some of the Duke of York’s territory located in present Maine. Devonshire County was unnamed until May 27, 1674.

The county encompassed land claimed by Massachusetts between the Kennebec River and Penobscot Bay in what is now Maine

Devonshire County was apparently eliminated when war broke out between the Abnaki Indians and the English in present Maine. Cornwall County, New York also ceased to exist.

Dukes County, New York Colony

Created on November 1, 1683 from by New York, in present Massachusetts, from the Elizabeth Islands, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island. Devonshire County was unnamed until May 27, 1674.

Dukes County was transferred when King William III and Queen Mary II issued a new charter for the Province of Massachusetts Bay, where it formed Dukes County and Nantucket County.

Hancock County, Massachusetts

Created on May 1, 1790 from by Massachusetts from Lincoln County. Hancock County became a Maine county and was eliminated from Massachusetts when the state of Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820.

Kennebec County, Massachusetts

Created on February 20, 1799 from by Massachusetts from Lincoln County. Kennebec County became a Maine county and was eliminated from Massachusetts when the state of Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820.

Lincoln County, Massachusetts

Created on November 1, 1760 from by Massachusetts from York County. Kennebec County became a Maine county and was eliminated from Massachusetts when the state of Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820.

Norfolk County, Massachusetts Bay Colony

Created on May 10, 1643 as one of four original counties in Massachusetts Bay Colony. It included territory in Massachusetts and the New Hampshire settlements.

On September 18, 1679, the county ceased to exist when the towns of Norfolk County were divided between Essex County, Massachusetts and the newly formed state of New Hampshire.

The former Norfolk County is often referred to as “Old Norfolk County.” A new county was established as Norfolk County, Massachusetts from most of the southern portion of Suffolk County in 1793.

Four volumes of records of the “Old Norfolk County” exist and are at the Essex County Registry of Deeds in Salem. 

Oxford County, Massachusetts

Created on March 4, 1805 from by Massachusetts from Cumberland County. Oxford County became a Maine county and was eliminated from Massachusetts when the state of Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820.

Pawtuxet Settlement, Massachusetts Bay Colony

In 1642 Massachusetts, responding to a request from disgruntled Rhode Islanders, extended its jurisdiction over the settlement at Pawtuxet.

On May 26, 1658, the Pawtuxet settlers, who gave their allegiance to Massachusetts in 1642, returned to Rhode Island jurisdiction.

Penobscot County, Massachusetts

Created on June 2, 1816 from by Massachusetts from Hancock County. Penobscot County became a Maine county and was eliminated from Massachusetts when the state of Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820.

Somerset County, Massachusetts

Created on June 2, 1809 from by Massachusetts from Kennebec County. Somerset County became a Maine county and was eliminated from Massachusetts when the state of Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820.

Washington County, Massachusetts

Created on May 1, 1790 from by Massachusetts from Lincoln County. Somerset County became a Maine county and was eliminated from Massachusetts when the state of Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820.

Yorkshire County, Massachusetts

Created on November 20, 1652 from by Massachusetts from Lincoln County.

In Nov 1664, Yorkshire County was in a state of temporary suspension. On May 27, 1668 was reinstated and renamed York County, when Massachusetts reasserted authority over all of Maine west of the Kennebec River, an area that had been put under royal government in June 1665.

On March 17, 1680, York County was eliminated when Massachusetts organized a new government for Maine (area between the Piscataqua and Kennebec Rivers) in accordance with terms of Ferdinando Gorges’s 1635 grant.

On October 7, 1691, York County was reinstated under the new Massachusetts charter issued by King William III and Queen Mary II for the province of Massachusetts Bay. 

York County became a Maine county and was eliminated from Massachusetts when the state of Maine was admitted to the Union on March 15, 1820.