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Today’s North Carolina counties did not always exist in the present form. They went through many different changes in the space of a few short years. The creation of North Carolina counties spans over 240 years, starting in 1664 the first North Carolina counties were formed and ending with the last counties to be formed in 1924.
North Carolina Territorial Counties
In 1664, the Lords Proprietors established the 3 original counties of the entire colony of Carolina – Albemarle, Clarendon, and Craven Counties.
None of these original 3 counties were ever actually surveyed with firm boundaries. In essence, they were merely an ambiguous geographic description for the convenience of the Lords Proprietors.
In 1667 Clarendon County was dissolved. Its population never grew beyond 800 people.
Around 1668 Albemarle County was divided into the precincts of Carteret, Pasquotank, Berkeley, and Shaftesbury. Those precincts were divided and renamed, in 1681, to Currituck, Chowan, Perquimans, and Pasquotank.
By 1689 those precincts were, for all intents and purposes, acting as if they were counties.
In 1739 all existing precincts were declared counties by North Carolina’s Provincial Government. At that time both Bath and Albermarle counties were dissolved.
The Province of North Carolina, was organized on January 24, 1712. North Carolina was admitted to the Union as the 12th state on November 21, 1789.
North Carolina Counties Today
North Carolina is divided into political jurisdictions designated as counties.
There are 5 North Carolina counties that have been divided or abolished altogether. These are important for genealogy research purposes.
Fun Facts about North Carolina Counties
Counties by Year
- Currituck, Chowan, Perquimans, Craven and Pasquotank Counties existed when the Province of North Carolina formed on 1712.
- Avery County was the last county created on February 23, 1911.
County Size Facts
- Dare County (1,562 sq mi) is the largest county in North Carolina.
- Clay County (221 sq mi) is the smallest county in North Carolina.
County Population Facts
- Tyrrell County (4,090) is the least populated county in North Carolina.
- Mecklenburg County (1,034,290) is the most populated county in North Carolina.
North Carolina City Facts
North Carolina’s 10 largest cities (2019 est.) are:
- Charlotte (889,019) is in Mecklenburg County
- Raleigh (403,892) is in Durham and Wake counties
- Greensboro (292,265) is in Guilford County
- Durham (279,501) is in Durham, Orange and Wake counties
- Winston-Salem (255,969) is in Forsyth County
- Fayetteville (208,254) is in Cumberland County
- Cary (170,330) is in Chatham and Wake counties
- Wilmington (123,432) is in New Hanover County
- High Point (113,791) is in Guilford, Randolph, Davidson and Forsyth counties
- Concord (96,635) is in Cabarrus County
Boundary Changes of North Carolina Counties from 1664-1965
This Interactive Map of North Carolina Counties show the historical boundaries, names, organization, and attachments of every county, extinct county and unsuccessful county proposal from 1664 to 1965.
List of North Carolina Counties
|County||Created||Created From||Named For||County Seat||Disbanded / Renamed||Notes|
|Carson City County||23 Sep 1969||Consolidated with Ormsby County in 1969||The Carson River; named in turn for Christopher Houston (Kit) Carson (1809–1868), was a frontiersman, mountain man (fur trapper), wilderness guide, Indian agent, and U.S. Army officer during the Mexican-American War and American Civil War||Carson City|
|Churchill County||25 Nov 1861||Original county in the Nevada Territory||In honor of Sylvester Churchill (1783–1862), a captain in the War of 1812 and a major in the Mexican–American War||Fallon|
|Clark County||05 Feb 1909||Lincoln County||In honor of William A. Clark (1839–1925), former United States Senator from Montana, and builder of a railroad line through the area||Las Vegas|
|Douglas County||25 Nov 1861||Original county in the Nevada Territory||In honor of Stephen Arnold Douglas (1813–1861), former United States Senator from Illinois||Minden|
|Elko County||05 Mar 1869||Lander County||Shoshoni word meaning “white woman”. It is said, among the very old Shoshoni, that this is where they first saw a white woman||Elko|
|Esmeralda County||25 Nov 1861||Original county in the Nevada Territory||Esmeralda Mining District, named in turn for the legend that a massive amount of emeralds was buried in what is now Nevada. “Esmeralda” is the Spanish and Portuguese word for “emerald”||Goldfield|
|Eureka County||01 Mar 1873||Lander County||Greek expression “Eureka”, meaning “I have found it!”, in reference to deposits of silver found in the vicinity||Eureka|
|Humboldt County||20 Dec 1855||Original county in the Nevada Territory||Humboldt River, named in turn for Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), a German naturalist and explorer||Winnemucca|
|Lander County||19 Dec 1862||Original county in the Nevada Territory||In honor of Frederick W. Lander (1821–1862); a transcontinental United States explorer, a brigadier general in the American Civil War, a prolific poet, and developer of the area||Battle Mountain|
|Lincoln County||26 Feb 1866||Nye County and territory ceded by Arizona||In honor of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), the 16th President of the United States (1861-1865)||Pioche|
|Lyon County||25 Nov 1861||Original county in the Nevada Territory||In honor of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon (1818-1861), who was killed in action at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri on August 10, 1861||Yerington|
|Mineral County||10 Feb 1911||Esmeralda County||Mineral deposits in the area||Hawthorne|
|Nye County||16 Feb 1864||Esmeralda County||In honor of James W. Nye (1815–1876), a governor of the Nevada Territory and U.S. senator from Nevada||Tonopah|
|Pershing County||18 Mar 1919||Humboldt County||In honor of John Joseph (Black Jack) Pershing (1860–1948); he served as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) on the Western Front in World War I, 1917–18||Lovelock|
|Storey County||25 Nov 1861||Original county in the Nevada Territory||In honor of Edward Farris Storey (1829–1860), a captain killed at Pyramid Lake in the 1860 Paiute War||Virginia City|
|Washoe County||25 Nov 1861||Original county in the Nevada Territory||Washo, a small Indian tribe that inhabits the area||Reno|
|White Pine County||02 Mar 1869||Lander County||The heavy growth of pine trees in the area, thought to be white pine||Ely|
List of Old Former / Extinct North Carolina Counties
North Carolina contains some counties that no longer exist because they were discontinued, renamed or merged with another county. These are important for genealogy research purposes.
The below counties formerly within the area of the State of North Carolina no longer exist:
Albemarle County, North Carolina
Created on January 7, 1664/1665 as one of three original counties by the Carolina Lords Proprietors. The county was named for George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, one of the eight Lords Proprietors of the Province of Carolina.
By 1670, four precincts of Albemarle County had been formed:
- Shaftesbury Precinct– in 1685 Shaftesbury was renamed Chowan
- Currituck Precinct
- Pasquotank Precinct
- Berkeley Precinct – In 1681 Berkeley was renamed Perquimans
In 1689, the county ceased to have a functioning government, it was replaced by the 4 “precincts”.
Albemarle County was officially abolished as an entity in 1739, and all the “precincts” were designated as “counties”. Miscellaneous records from 1678-1737
Bath County, North Carolina
Created on December 9, 1696 as an original county. Bath County was named in honor of one of the Lords Proprietor, John Grenville, 1st Earl of Bath.
The original three precincts of Bath County were:
- Pamplicough Precinct – in 1712 Pamplicough was renamed to Beaufort
- Wyckham Precinct – in 1712 Wyckham was renamed to Hyde
- Archdale Precinct – in 1712 Archdale was renamed to Craven
Bath County was officially abolished as an entity in 1739, and all the “precincts” were designated as “counties”.
Bute County, North Carolina
Clarendon County, North Carolina
Created on January 7, 1664/1665 as one of three original counties by the Carolina Lords Proprietors.
In 1667, the settlement was abandoned and the county ceased to exist, never to be resurrected in the colony of North Carolina
Dobbs County, North Carolina
Glasgow County, North Carolina
Created on June 29, 1987 from a portion of Dobbs County. It was named for James Glasgow, North Carolina Secretary of State from 1777 to 1798.
Tennessee County, North Carolina
Created on December 6, 1788 from a portion of Davidson County. A County Seat was never formally established. Very little extant information exists for the short eight-year span of Tennessee County.
Tennessee County was eliminated from North Carolina when Congress accepted North Carolina’s cession of its western lands.
It became a Territory South of the River Ohio (aka Southwest Territory) county on May 26, 1790.
Tryon County, North Carolina
Washington District, North Carolina
Washington County, North Carolina
Created on December 24, 1777 by North Carolina from Washington District and North Carolina western lands, to include all of present state of Tennessee and part of western North Carolina.
North Carolina ceded these lands to the United States on April 2, 1790 as payment of obligations owed to the federal government. This land would become the Territory South of the River Ohio (aka Southwest Territory).