3 Virginia Counties Named After the House of Orange

  1. King and Queen, Organized 1691
  2. King William, Organized 1701
  3. Orange, Organized 1734

Three counties of Virginia are named in honor of the House of Orange, a prominent royal family of Holland that became connected with England by treaty and by marriage.

King and Queen County is so called in honor of King William III of England, who was the Prince of Orange, and of Queen Mary, who ruled England jointly with her husband.1

In 1701, seven years after Mary’s death, King William County was named after William,2 who was sole ruler of England during the eight years in which he survived his wife. Although William was a prince of Holland, he was grandson of Charles I of England through his mother Mary, who was the oldest daughter of that king. His wife Mary was his first cousin, for she also was a grandchild of Charles I. Thus in William and Mary the line of Stuarts was indirectly represented on the English throne.

There is hardly a doubt that the naming of Orange county in 1734 was a graceful way of extending congratulations to Prince William of Orange, who married Anne, the oldest daughter of George II of England, in that year.

The above explanation of Orange County’s name is original with me, and I adopted it even before I knew that a county in North Carolina was named in honor of the House of Orange. The historian John Fiske, as I learned in 1900, says without qualification, that Orange County is named after the House of Orange.

Two historians of Virginia give a different explanation bf how the county got its name. Martin’s “Gazetteer of Virginia”3 states that Orange county derived its name from the color of the soil in the mountainous portion of the county. Howe’s “History of Virginia,”4 which bought the copyright to Martin’s book, follows Martin in saying that the county was named from the color of the soil.

A number of considerations, besides the authority of Mr. Fiske, strengthen my belief that Orange County was named in compliment to Prince William of Orange.

The connection between England and the House of Orange had been long and close. The family influence of George II determined several Virginia county names, both before and after Orange County was named. In 1727 Caroline county was named after George’s wife, Queen Caroline; in 1730 Prince William County received the name of his son William; in 1738 Frederick and Augusta Counties were named after the Prince of Wales and his wife; in 1742 Louisa County received the name of a daughter of George II. Of the seven counties besides Orange that were formed during the sixteen years ending in 1742, five were named after members of George II’s family. Counties had been named after both of his sons, after one son’s wife, and also after two of his five daughters. As there was already a Princess Anne County, George’s oldest daughter, Anne, had not yet been honored by a Virginia county name, There was then no opportunity for bestowing such a distinction, but in 1734 the occasion offered to honor her by naming a county after her husband’s family. It is hard to believe that Virginia failed to seize the opportunity.

King and Queen County is south of Essex and Middlesex, and is separated from King William on the south by the Mattapony River. The county is drained chiefly by the Mattapony River, partly by the Piankatank.

King William County is enclosed on all except its northwest side by the Mattapony and Pamunkey Rivers; Caroline county bounds it on the northwest.

Orange County, in north-central Virginia, is watered by the Rapidan and North Anna rivers; its western surface is broken by mountains. Although it’s present area is only 349 square miles. Orange County, at its formation one hundred and seventy-four years ago, comprised all of Virginia west of the Blue Ridge.

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. William and Mary College, chartered in 1692, takes its name from these sovereigns.  

  2. Williamsburg was named in honor of King William, and the streets were to have been laid out in the shape of a W, but this plan was only partly carried out.  

  3. P. 253.  

  4. P. 417. 

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