9 Virginia Counties Named After the House of Stuart

When Jamestown was settled in 1607 by the English, James Stuart, son of the beautiful but unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots, sat upon the throne of England. England and Scotland had just been peacefully united into one kingdom under him, for he was heir to the throne of both countries.

The rule of the Stuarts began in Scotland in 1370 under Robert, the steward of that country, who then succeeded to the kingdom with the title of Robert II. The office of steward, which was hereditary, had long been held by Robert’s ancestors; and from the office came their family name of “Stuart.” Robert II of Scotland was grandson to Robert Bruce, who inflicted such a terrible defeat upon the English at the battle of Bannockburn. The House of Stuart had reigned in Scotland for 233 years, when, in 1603, James VI of Scotland became also James I of England.

The settlers who came to Virginia from England were loyal in their attachment to the mother country, and they manifested their devotion by the character of the names they bestowed on the lands and waters of their new home. Jamestown itself was so called in honor of King James I of England. The river1 that flows by the town was called James in honor of the same sovereign, while Cape Charles and Cape Henry bear the names of two of his sons.

Nine Stuart Counties

The nine counties named after the Stuarts, though small in area, are rich in historical associations. James City County contains Jamestown, which was the colonial capital until it was burned in Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676; and it also contains Williamsburg, which became the capital in 1699, and so continued until it was succeeded by Richmond, in 1779. Henrico owes much of its historical interest to its chief city, Richmond, the capital of the State and also of the Confederacy during most of the Civil War of 1861-65. President Tyler died in Richmond, and President Monroe is buried there, in the beautiful Hollywood cemetery. It seems rather strange that Charles City county, which contains only 183 square miles, should have been the birthplace of William Henry Harrison and of John Tyler, who became President and Vice-President respectively of the United States in 1841. Tyler became President a month later, at Harrison’s death.

  1. James City, Organized 1634
  2. Henrico, Organized 1634
  3. Charles City, Organized 1634
  4. Elizabeth City, Organized 1634
  5. York, Organized 1634
  6. Gloucester, Organized 1652
  7. Princess Anne, Organized 1691
  8. Fluvanna, Organized 1777
  9. Prince George, Organized 1703

In 1634, when Charles I, son of James I, held the throne of his father, the colony of Virginia was divided into counties, or shires, as they were then called. Eight shires were formed, and five of them bear the names of various members of the royal family of England.

James City county was named after James City2, as Jamestown was called in 1619 and for many years afterward. As has been indicated, the town bore the name of King James I of England – the king who had the common or “King James” version of the English Bible prepared.

Like James City, Henrico County was named after a town within its limits. In 1611 Sir Thomas Dale, with the permission of acting Governor Thomas Gates, made a settlement of 350 chosen men upon a neck of land on James River. The place, which was nearly surrounded by water, he called Henrico, in honor of Prince Henry, son of King James. A county formed twenty-three years later received the name of the town, and thus indirectly Prince Henry’s name. The Prince died in 1612, before he had reached his eighteenth birthday. He was a youth of great promise, and was heir apparent to the throne at the time of his death.

In the list3 Palatine. Frederick was chosen king of Bohemia in 1619, but was utterly defeated the next year by the army of the Catholic League, and had to give up both his electorate and his kingdom.

Elizabeth had thirteen children, several of whom are of considerable historical importance: Charles Louis, who was restored to the electorate at the close of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648; Rupert, the “mad cavalier,” and Maurice fought for their uncle, Charles I of England, in the civil war so disastrous to the royal cause. Sophia married Ernest Augustus of the House of Brunswick, who afterwards became Elector of Hanover. Parliament agreed that Sophia should succeed Anne as Queen of England, but Sophia died before Anne. Sophia’s son, however, – Elizabeth’s grandson, became king of England after Anne’s death, with the title of George I.

Elizabeth possessed an admirable character: strong and true in adversity, charming and vivacious in prosperity. She died in her native England in 1662 at the age of sixty-five.

The name of Elizabeth City County could not have come from Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Charles I, for she was not born until 1635, one year after the county was formed and named.

York and Gloucester counties are almost certainly named after the titles of two of King Charles Fs sons. York was one of the original shires, and was formed when James, Duke of York, was only one year old. Though the title was not formally bestowed on young James until 1643, he was, from the first, called the Duke of York. For a brief period of its existence York County was known as Charles River County.

Prince James succeeded his brother Charles as king of England in 1685, but reigned only three years. He died an exile in France in 1701.

The first time that the name of Gloucester county,4 which was formed from York, occurs is 1652. King Charles’s son, Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, was then eleven years old. Henry died of small-pox at the early age of twenty; his brother, Charles II, had shortly before become king.

York and Gloucester counties may possibly be named after English shires, though it is most probable that they were named, as indicated, in honor of the dukes of York and Gloucester. The time of their naming, and the naming of other counties after members of the same royal family, heighten this probability.

Princess Anne and Fluvanna counties are named after Anne, second daughter of James II.

This princess was born in 1664, when her father was the Duke of York. At the accession of William and Mary to the throne in 1688, she did not follow her father into exile, but adhered to the dominant Protestant party, and remained at the English court, where her oldest sister was queen. With the exception of the king and queen, Anne was probably the most prominent character at court.

It is therefore not surprising that, when King and Queen County was named in honor of William and Mary in 1691, Princess Anne County should have been named after Anne at the same time.

When nineteen years of age Anne married Prince George, son of Christian V, of Denmark. She had seventeen children, though only one of them survived infancy, and he died at the age of eleven. After receiving due honors in the reign of William and Mary, she succeeded to the English throne at William’s death in 1702, Mary having died before her husband. Anne’s older brother James, by right of birth, had a prior claim to the crown, but because he was a Catholic he was set aside in favor of the Protestant Anne.

The Virginians testified their loyalty to Queen Anne by naming Prince George County after her husband the same year in which she became queen. The Danish prince was never given kingly power in England; Anne, like Victoria, ruled alone.

Anne was twelve years queen. Though not brilliant, she seems to have won the affection of her subjects, and was known as the “Good Queen Anne.” She died in 1714 at the age of fifty.

The James River above where the Rivanna enters it was formerly called Fluvanna, in honor of Queen Anne. The Latin word fluvius means river; the English name “Anna” was added to fluv, the stem of the Latin word; and thus fluvanna, River Anna, was formed. Riv-anna was also named after Queen Anne; the name is merely a shorter way of saying River Anna. In 1777 the present county of Fluvanna was organized, and received the name by which the upper James had been called, thus indirectly receiving Queen Anne’s name. The sometime Fluvanna River was thenceforth called the James. The North Anna, South Anna, and Rapidan rivers are also named after Anne. And in her honor the capital city of Maryland had its name changed, in 1691, from Providence to Annapolis.

Of the nine Stuart-named counties, all except York, Gloucester and Princess Anne lie directly on the James. Elizabeth City, with an area of fifty square miles, is the smallest county in the State except Alexandria. It lies on the north side of Hampton Roads, and in it is the noted Fort Monroe. James City County lies between the York and the James, and is separated from Charles City by the Chickahominy River. Charles City and Henrico occupy the peninsula formed by the James and Chickahominy Rivers. York County lies along the south bank of the York River and adjoins the Chesapeake Bay on the east. Gloucester’s southern boundary is on the York River; Mobjack Bay bounds it on the southeast, and the Piankatank River separates it on the north from Middlesex.

Chesapeake Bay and its tidewater tributaries afford excellent transportation, and the immense supply of fish and oysters is a source of great wealth to the counties drained by these waters.

Princess Anne county lies south of the Chesapeake Bay on the Atlantic coast; it is bounded on the south by North Carolina, and North River, its chief stream, flows into the North Carolinian Currituck Sound.

Prince George County lies along the south bank of the James, just across from Charles City. The Appomattox, Blackwater, and Nottoway rivers, together with the James, receive the county’s drainage.

Fluvanna is situated between Goochland and Albemarle on the north bank of the James, and is nearly bisected by the Rivanna River.

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. Its Indian name was Powhatan, in honor of the great Indian Chief. 

  2. See p. 198, Martin’s “Virginia Gazetteer.” 

  3. See J. E. Cooke’s “Virginia.” p. 115.__ of towns, plantations, and hundreds for 1619 is Charles City. The place was almost certainly named after Prince Charles, afterwards King Charles I of England, who was beheaded in 1649 after a reign of nearly twenty-five years. The town could not have been named in honor of Charles II, for he was not born until 1630. Though I have no data to support me, I assume that Charles City county derives its name from that of the town, thus receiving, though indirectly, the name of the king that reigned at the time the county was formed in 1634.

    The naming of Elizabeth City County is a matter of greater doubt, for, so far as I can learn, there is no town from which the county might have been named. It is highly probable that the county is named, directly or indirectly, from Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I.

    In 1613 the princess married Frederick V, Elector((Electors were princes or churchmen who had the power of electing the emperor of Germany. Electors first met at Frankfort in 1152. There were seven electors, and their right to elect was hereditary. 

  4. Dr. B. W. Green, quoting Henning’s “Statues at Large for Virginia,” Vol. i, p. 371. 

1 thought on “9 Virginia Counties Named After the House of Stuart”

  1. Hello – just discovered your site. Is there any documentation about Stuart’s actually living in Virginia in the early to mid 1700s? The furthest back we can trace our line, the family story goes, is to a child who was born at sea on a ship sailing from Virginia to England in 1758. I can’t imagine that passenger lists were formalised at that time, or will have survived if they did . However, I wonder if any Virginian historian might help me . Regards. David Stuart

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