11 Virginia Counties Named After Revolutionary Patriots

  1. Bland, Organized 1861
  2. Campbell, Organized 1781
  3. Carroll, Organized 1842
  4. Clarke, Organized 1836
  5. Franklin, Organized 1785
  6. Greene, Organized 1838
  7. Matthews, Organized 1790
  8. Montgomery, Organized 1776
  9. Pulaski, Organized 1839
  10. Russell, Organized 1785
  11. Warren, Organized 1837

Virginia played a leading part in the American Revolution, and the geographical names she then bestowed clearly indicate the zeal she manifested in the struggle for independence. Of the eleven counties formed during the ten years beginning in 1776, six1 bear the names of Revolutionary patriots, while one – Rockingham – is named after an English statesman who opposed England’s hostile course towards the colonies. Virginia now has eleven counties named after Revolutionary patriots. Five of the eleven derive their names from natives of Virginia, and a brief sketch of these Virginians follows immediately below.

In 1861, when Bland County was organized from Wythe, Tazewell, and Giles Counties, the people of Virginia were feeling very much as they did during the troublous times at the beginning of the Revolution. In the days preceding the Revolution the colony of Virginia was suffering under the oppressive measures of a mother government that was disregarding the rights of her individual daughter colonies. In the days preceding the struggle of 1861-65 the State of Virginia was smarting under the helplessness of a central government that could not protect her individual rights as a State.2 In the days before Lexington, Virginia was fearing an armed invasion from the soldiers of England; in the days before Sumter,3 Virginia was fearing an armed invasion from the soldiers of the United States.

Wythe, Tazewell, and Giles Counties were all named after American patriots that had signally emphasized their love for independence and for freedom from external interference in matters pertaining to local self-government. The county that was being taken from these three counties must also, in its name, emphasize Virginia’s love for independence and for State sovereignty. Thus it came about that Virginia, in the troublous, soul-stirring times of 1861, named Bland county4 after the patriotic Virginian and American, Richard Bland.

Richard Bland, of Jordan’s Point, Prince George County, was one of the most eminent statesmen of the Revolutionary period. He was of the same lineage as Giles Bland,5 who had perished as a martyr to liberty after Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 had been crushed; and in his veins flowed the blood of the kingly Powhatan. Bland’s services to his State6 and his country were neither few nor unimportant. He was long a member of the House of Burgesses, he belonged to the Committee of Correspondence in 1773, was one of the seven delegates7 from Virginia to the General Congress that met in Philadelphia September 5, 1774, and was on the Committee of Safety in 1775-76. Only the infirmities of old age prevented his serving as a delegate to a General Congress in 1775. John Esten Cooke8 thus describes the old patriot: “Richard Bland, an old man nearly blind and wearing a bandage over his eyes, the author of the ‘Enquiry into the Rights of the American Colonies,’ and called the Virginia Antiquary . . .” Bland early and vigorously expressed his belief that the American Assemblies had the exclusive right to tax the colonies, and he heartily opposed Great Britain in her policy of taxing the colonies without giving them representation. At the age of sixty-six, and in the year of the Declaration of Independence,9 Richard Bland yielded up his spirit to his country’s God, the Author of liberty.

The comparatively insignificant battle of King’s Mountain possibly determined the names of two Virginia counties. Campbell and Russell counties are named after Generals William Campbell and William Russell, respectively, who especially distinguished themselves at King’s Mountain. This battle was fought October 7, 1780, under circumstances that would naturally have given the victory to the unfatigued British troops. Campbell, with a regiment of 910 cavalrymen and 50 riflemen, marched fifty miles in eighteen hours, much of the time through rain, mud, and darkness. Without pausing for rest, he at once made a fierce attack on the British Colonel Ferguson, who commanded a force of 1105 men. Though the fighting was obstinate, Ferguson himself was slain, and all of his men either killed, wounded, or captured. Campbell’s conduct at the battle caused him to be promoted from colonel to general, and to receive the thanks of the Legislature and of Congress. Though his military services elsewhere were decidedly meritorious, Campbell is known in history as the “hero of King’s Mountain.” He died of sickness in the fall of 1781, at the age of thirty-six.

General William Russell, born in Culpeper County, was twenty-seven years old when the large county in southwestern Virginia received his name in 1785. At the age of fifteen Russell began his military career by joining Daniel Boone’s expedition against the Indians, and had already become a veteran soldier, by fighting against these redskins, when he fought under Campbell at King’s Mountain. Russell was the first American to reach the summit of the mountain and to receive a sword from the enemy. His gallantry at the mountain earned him a promotion to the rank of captain. He fought the next March at Guilford Court House, and served afterwards in many campaigns against the Indians. Russell is more intimately connected with the history of Kentucky than of Virginia, for he removed to Kentucky after the Revolution, was a member of the Virginia legislature that separated Kentucky from the Old Dominion, and was, for many years, a legislator in the new State. In 1811 he succeeded General William Henry Harrison as commander of the frontier forces in Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. Kentucky, as well as Virginia, has a county named after General Russell.

Matthews (also spelled Mathews) County was named in honor of General George Matthews, a distinguished officer of the Revolution. Matthews took a prominent part in the battle of Point Pleasant,10 which was fought just before the Revolutionary War. The contest occurred at the junction of the Kanawha with the Ohio, and was the bloodiest ever fought on Virginia11 soil against the Indians. The battle raged stubbornly from sunrise till dark, but resulted at last in favor of the whites. Matthews afterwards fought at Brandywine and Germantown, and his regiment did much to save the American army from destruction at the latter place. He took no further part in the Revolution, for he was captured at Germantown and was not re-leased until the close of the war. He subsequently removed to Georgia, where he was elected to Congress. He was governor of his adopted State during 1793-96.

Clarke County, which really should be spelled without the e, is so named in honor of General George Rogers Clark,12 a famous pioneer and Indian fighter. Although Clark was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, most of his notable exploits were done in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. It was largely by his bravery and skill that Kentucky was freed from the ravages of hostile Indians. Through him, also, the territory north of the Ohio River was secured to the United States when Great Britain made peace with us in 1783. This was because Clark had obtained possession of posts that gave him control over that country. Through his influence Kentucky was organized as a Virginia county in 1776, and after it became a State an east-central county was named Clark in his honor. Louisville, Kentucky, was founded by General Clark. George was one of six brothers,13 four of whom attained prominence in the Revolution. His younger brother William was joint commander with Captain Lewis on an exploring tour to the Pacific in 1804. On this tour Clark was of great service in negotiations with the Indians. Clarke’s Fork and Lewis’s Fork of the Columbia River are named after these explorers.

Bland and Russell counties, in southwest Virginia, between the Blue Ridge and Alleghany mountains, have their surfaces broken by towering peaks and swift streams. Bland is between Giles and Tazewell on the West Virginia border, and is drained by New River waters. Russell County, to the west of the Clinch Mountains, is drained chiefly by the Clinch River.

Campbell County is in Piedmont Virginia, and is drained by the Staunton and the James. This county contains Lynchburg,14 which, next to Roanoke, is the largest city west of Richmond in the State.

Clarke County, taken from Frederick in 1836, when William Clark, brother to George Rogers Clark, was Superintendent of Indian Affairs, has West Virginia on its northern border. It is hemmed in on the east by the Shenandoah Mountains, and the Shenandoah River flows through it.

Matthews, one of the few tidewater counties with a name distinctively American, is nearly surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay and its arms.

Montgomery, Pulaski, and Warren Counties are named in honor of men that fought and fell in the cause of American freedom.

All three are mountainous counties in the elevated portion of Virginia lying between the Blue Ridge and Alleghany mountains. Montgomery and Pulaski, in southwestern Virginia, are separated from each other by the New River, whose waters drain all of Pulaski and a considerable part of Montgomery. Warren lies between the Blue Ridge and Massanutten mountains in northern Virginia, and is traversed by the Shenandoah River.

General Richard Montgomery, born in Ireland in 1736, had a short but brilliant career in the cause of the struggling colonies. He was put in command of an expedition sent against Canada, and soon obtained possession of Montreal and other important points. After a month’s siege a desperate attempt was made, December 31, 1775, to capture Quebec by assault. Montgomery was killed while cheering on his men, and they, in dismay at his death, at once retreated. In grateful recognition of his services Congress erected a monument to his memory in St. Paul’s churchyard. New York City. Under this monument lies the dust of the fallen hero. Virginia is but one of many States to have a county named after General Montgomery.

Count Pulaski, of Poland, who had already become a veteran soldier by service in Europe, was induced by Benjamin Franklin to join the American army in 1777. The Polish count and the French Marquis de Lafayette were together in their first battle for the colonies at Brandywine. After two years of fighting in our behalf, Pulaski fell mortally wounded in an ill-timed attack on Savannah, October 9, 1779. The responsibility for making the attack does not belong to Pulaski; he was simply obeying the orders of his commander. Exactly forty-six years after his death his friend Lafayette laid the comer stone of the statue of Liberty that was erected in Savannah in joint honor of the Polish nobleman and of General Nathaniel Greene. It may be of interest to note that the capital of Arkansas is in Pulaski County, and that Georgia and other States have counties named in honor of the brave foreigner.

Virginia named a county after the illustrious French marquis, but Fayette is now a county of the State of West Virginia.

Among those who gave their lives for American independence, none was more generally beloved than the talented Massachusetts physician. General Joseph Warren. From 1766 he was energetic in the cause of the colonies against the oppressive measures of Great Britain. In 1774 he was the virtual head of Massachusetts, for he was president of the State Congress and chairman of the Committee of Public Safety. It was by Warren’s orders that Dawes and Paul Revere set out on their famous midnight ride for Lexington. Longfellow’s stirring poem tells how these horsemen warned the Americans in time to meet the hostile British. Warren fought at Lexington, and two months later fell at Bunker Hill. The British General Howe declared his death to be an off-set to the loss of five hundred British soldiers. At Bunker Hill stands a monument erected to his memory. It was unveiled June 17, 1857, the eighty-second anniversary of his death.

Five of the six Virginia counties named during the seven years ending in 1842 were named after American patriots of Revolutionary fame: Clarke in 1836, Warren in 1837, Greene in 1838, Pulaski in 1839, and Carroll in 1842. Moreover, all four of the counties formed during that time within the limits of the present State of West Virginia – Braxton in 1836, Mercer in 1837 – Marion and Wayne in 1842 – take their names from Revolutionary patriots, Roanoke, formed in 1838 and having an Indian name, is the only one of ten Virginia – West Virginia counties formed within that period of seven years and not named in honor of Revolutionary heroes.

When Greene County, then, was formed in 1838, the Virginians seemed to be especially desirous of remembering the heroes of ’76 in their county names. If, as has been suggested,15 Greenville county had been named in honor of General Nathaniel Greene in the latter part of 1780, the fact had been over-looked or disregarded in after years, for, fifty-eight years later, in 1838, Greene county received the name of the patriot from Rhode Island. If both Greene and Greenville counties are named after General Greene, he is the only American besides Patrick Henry16 to be honored in the naming of more than one Virginia county.

General Nathaniel Greene17 of Rhode Island, served with distinction during the entire Revolution. His services in that war probably rank second to Washington’s only in value. He took a prominent part in many of the leading battles of the north, and, by his successful stand at the battle of Brandywine, saved the American army from destruction. In the autumn of 1780, after he had been transferred to the command of the army of the South, by a skillful campaign of hard-fought battles he in ten months’ time recovered all of the Carolinas and Georgia except the three seaports of Charleston, Wilmington, and Savannah. The scene of the hotly contested battle of Guilford Court House is now called Greensboro, in honor of General Greene. The Carolinas and Georgia granted him valuable property, and Congress gave him a medal in recognition of his services. After the war he visited his native State, but settled in Georgia in 1785 on lands that had been given to him by that State. He lived less than a year in his new home, for he died of sunstroke June 19, 1786, at the age of forty-four.

Greene, which is decidedly smaller than the average Virginia county, is just east of the Blue Ridge and is watered by the Rivanna and Rapidan Rivers.

Charles Carroll, of Maryland, and Benjamin Franklin, of Massachusetts, are each honored with a county name in southwest Virginia.

Carroll County contains some of the most elevated land in the State, and is enclosed on two sides by ranges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is drained by New River waters. Franklin is separated from Carroll by Floyd, and has the main Blue Ridge range on its western border. The county contains 445 square miles, and is drained by the Staunton and Dan rivers.

For over two hundred years the name of Carroll has been especially prominent in the State of Maryland. Though many of his name are held in high esteem, Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, is easily first of them all in the love and respect of his countrymen. His naturally strong business capacity was rendered stronger by the opportunities afforded by a college education and by travel in Europe. At the outbreak of the Revolution he was considered the richest man in the colonies, and was probably worth two million dollars. During the Revolution Carroll served in the legislative halls of State and nation, and was one of the framers of Maryland’s State constitution. The Maryland delegates to the General Congress of 1776 had been instructed by the legislature to disavow any claim of independence, but Carroll had these instructions removed and was himself one of the first to sign the Declaration of Independence. Until 1801 he was busily engaged in public affairs, but he then retired to a well-earned repose at his magnificent country estate near Baltimore. Many friends used to visit him there to enjoy the society of their cultured and generous host. At the death of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, on July 4, 1826, Carroll was left as the sole survivor of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Exactly two years later he made has last public appearance, when he laid the comer stone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He died in 1832 at the age of ninety-five. Ten years later the Virginia county was named in honor of the venerable Maryland patriot.

Three of Carroll’s granddaughters married English noblemen, and were distinguished at the court of George IV as “The American Graces” – a title fairly earned by their attractive manners and great beauty. In 1876 Governor John Carroll of Maryland, a great-grandson of the illustrious Charles, took a prominent part in the Philadelphia Centennial of American Independence.

Virginia is but one of many States to name a county after the patriotic Ben Franklin. When Franklin County was formed in 1785 the fame of Dr. Benjamin Franklin was well established both in Europe and America. As the founder of the University of Pennsylvania, as inventor of the lightning rod, as opposers of the Stamp Act, and as signer of the Declaration of Independence, the great Bostonian proved his love for learning, science, and native land.

Source: Virginia Country Names: Two Hundred and Seventy Years of Virginia History, Charles M, Long, PH.D., New York and Washington, The Neale Publishing Company, 1908

  1. Seven, if Greenville County is named after General Nathaniel Greene. See pp. 75-76. 

  2. Many Northern States had passed laws, in opposition to the United States law, that prevented Virginia and other Southern States from recovering runaway slaves. If the central government could not protect the individual States of the South in one domestic institution, – slavery – was it not natural for the South to suppose that other States’ rights were also in danger? 

  3. Bland was organized March 26, Sumter was attacked April 12 

  4. The county clerk of Bland, 1895, suggested that the county was named after a Mr. Bland who was instrumental in having the county organized. 

  5. Bancroft’s History of the United States, Vol. v. p. 43. 

  6. Then a colony. 

  7. The other delegates were Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton. 

  8. Cooke’s “Virginia,” p. 406. 

  9. October 29, 1776. 

  10. See Howe, p. 305, for a good description of the battle. 

  11. Including West Virginia, for Point Pleasant is in West Virginia. 

  12. Clark spelled his name without an e as may be seen from many of his letters, which are in the State Library in Richmond. The Virginia County, strange to say, though named in his honor, is generally spelled Clarke. Ohio and Indiana have Clarke counties, both probably named after General Clark, and Illinois has a Clark county, also probably named after the same man. Missouri has a Clark county, so called (“American Cyclopedia”) in honor of George’s brother, William Clark. Some of the States, then, are inaccurate in spelling county names Clarke while intending for them to honor George Rogers Clark by the county name. 

  13. American Encyclopedia.” George was born 1742, died 1808 or 1817; William was born 1770, died 1838. 

  14. Until the census of 1900 Lynchburg was larger than Roanoke. 

  15. P. 75. 

  16. P. 144 

  17. See Pp. 75-76 also 

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