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History and Facts of North Carolina Counties

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.

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.

Craven County stayed in existence, but was located in what is now South Carolina.

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.

Bath County was created in 1696. In 1705 it was divided into 3 precincts, called Pamptecough, Wickham, and Archedale.

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 is currently divided into 100 counties. States bordering North Carolina are GeorgiaSouth CarolinaTennessee and Virginia.

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

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

North Carolina City Facts

North Carolina’s 10  largest cities (2019 est.) are:

  1. Charlotte (889,019) is in Mecklenburg County
  2. Raleigh (403,892) is in Durham and Wake counties
  3. Greensboro (292,265) is in Guilford County
  4. Durham (279,501) is in Durham, Orange and Wake counties
  5. Winston-Salem (255,969) is in Forsyth County
  6. Fayetteville (208,254) is in Cumberland County
  7. Cary (170,330) is in Chatham and Wake counties
  8. Wilmington (123,432) is in New Hanover County
  9. High Point (113,791) is in Guilford, Randolph, Davidson and Forsyth counties
  10. Concord (96,635) is in Cabarrus County

Boundary Changes of North Carolina Counties from 1664 to 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 the creation of North Carolina from 1664-1965.

List of North Carolina Counties

List of Old Former / Extinct North Carolina Counties

The below North Carolina counties 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:

  1. Shaftesbury Precinct– in 1685 Shaftesbury was renamed Chowan
  2. Currituck Precinct
  3. Pasquotank Precinct
  4. 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:

  1. Pamplicough Precinct – in 1712 Pamplicough was renamed to Beaufort
  2. Wyckham Precinct – in 1712 Wyckham was renamed to Hyde
  3. 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

Created on June 10, 1764 from the eastern part of Granville County. It was named for John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1762 to 1763.

On Febuary 12, 1779, Bute County was divided into Warren County and Franklin County, and ceased to exist. County Records transferred to Warren and Franklin Counties

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

Created on April 10, 1759 from a portion of Johnston County. It was named for Arthur Dobbs, Governor of the Province of North Carolina from 1754 to 1765.

On January 19, 1792, Dobbs County was divided into Glasgow County and Lenoir County, and ceased to exist.

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.

Glasgow County was renamed to Greene County on December 23,1799. It was named in honor of Nathanael Greene, one of General Washington’s trusted Generals.

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.

Tennessee County was eventually abolished when Tennessee became a state in 1796 and its lands were split into Robertson and Montgomery counties.

Tryon County, North Carolina

Created on April 10, 1769 from a portion of Mecklenburg County. It was named for William Tryon, governor of the North Carolina Colony from 1765 to 1771.

On Febuary 12, 1779, Tryon County was divided into Lincoln and Rutherford Counties in North Carolina, and ceased to exist. Records transferred to Lincoln County

Washington District, North Carolina

Created in November 1776 from the “Watauga Association” (aka “Watauga Republic”). The district was reorganized as Washington County in 1777.

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).

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