New Counties

On January 24, 2012 · 4 Comments

I had so much fun hunting through counties with the recent Google Maps boundary release that I simply kept going. Somehow I fixated on a set of United States counties that are "New" in the sense that they start with the prefix New and are named after something older. There are several states so designated and I figured there would be plenty of counties too. I was quite surprised to learn that this isn’t the case. It’s actually rather uncommon and many of the examples are boring or obvious.

It wasn’t entirely a wasted effort, though.

New Haven County, Connecticut

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If it’s New Haven I wondered, then what was Haven? Apparently it was the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A set of Puritans considered themselves even more pure than their Puritan brethren. The colony in Massachusetts wasn’t theologically devout enough for this group of about five hundred people led by the Reverend John Davenport. They left in 1638, arriving at a suitable harbor along the Connecticut coastline, their New Haven.

Let’s note that New Haven County isn’t really a county anymore except for minimal instances such as the decennial census. Connecticut abolished county governments in 1960. Functions performed by counties elsewhere are performed by towns in Connecticut.

New Madrid, Missouri

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One perplexing aspect of New Madrid is its unusual pronunciation: New MAD-rid. I figured it couldn’t possibly be named for Madrid in Spain. Well, I continue to learn new things every day because New Madrid was indeed named after the city in Spain.

In 1789, Spain granted Col. George Morgan, a Princeton graduate and Indian trader, governorship of a portion of New Spain… Promising to develop the region, he took control of the town and renamed it New Madrid, hoping to turn it into the future capital of New Spain… New Madrid, as the seat of government for one of five Spanish districts in the territory, became one of the first five counties in Missouri.

It’s also remarkable for two nearby geo-oddities: Reelfoot Lake (one of the earliest 12MC articles) formed after the massive 1811-1812 earthquakes along the New Madrid fault; and the exclave known as Kentucky Bend or Bubbleland.

New Castle, Delaware

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I have to mention New Castle County because this northernmost slice of Delaware anchors the Twelve Mile Circle! The circle is centered on the town of New Castle that’s located in the county of the same name appropriately enough. Yet, I couldn’t find the castle for which the county was named. Does it tie back to Newcastle in England? I did find that it traces to 1664, being so designated by James, the Duke of York when he received the original land grant. Before that and sometimes afterwards it was part of a territory contested by Swedish, Dutch and English interests. This area was within or around several different New prefixes such as New Sweden, New Netherlands, and New Amstel before the English finally gained the upper hand and made sure that New Castle stuck.

There are also some fairly straightforward ones:

  • New York County, NY (map): Duke of York (later King James II)
  • New London County, CT (map): London, England.
  • New Kent County, VA (map): Kent, England
  • New Hanover County, NC (map): The House of Hanover that ruled Great Britain at the time, and then by extension back to the German Hanover.

That’s the complete list of New [Something] Counties. There are also several instances where New is mashed together with some other word.

  • Newport County, Rhode Island (map): The originally settlers left Portsmouth, Rhode Island after a falling-out with the Puritan leader Anne Hutchinson. I’m going to guess that Newport may have derived from the name of the earlier Rhode Island settlement. Rhode Island is another one of those states where its counties have little meaning.
  • Newport News, Virginia (map): Nobody is quite sure. It may have something to do with Christopher Newport who led the three ships to the original Jamestown Colony (where I visied recently). News may have come from an old English term for "new town." There are several other theories. Newport News isn’t actually a county. It’s one of those odd Virginia independent cities that are considered county-equivalents.
  • Newaygo County, Michigan (map): This one is a ringer. It’s of Ojibwe Indian origin and has nothing to do with anything new.

And I’ll throw in a Newberry and a few Newtons.

  • Newberry County, South Carolina (map)
  • Newton County, Arkansas (map)
  • Newton County, Georgia (map)
  • Newton County, Indiana (map)
  • Newton County, Mississippi (map)
  • Newton County, Missouri (map)

I went a little overboard with all the county map links in this post. I’m still having too much fun with the new Google Maps feature.

On January 24, 2012 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “New Counties”

  1. Peter says:

    There is some question as to the origin of New Haven’s name. According to some versions, the settlers originally named the harbor Fair Haven. Soon after they changed it to New Haven, most likely inspired by the British town of Newhaven.

    Fair Haven lives on as the name of a neighborhood in the city of New Haven.

  2. Steve says:

    I lived almost half my life in New Castle County and several years in New Haven County.

    Medal please!

  3. Mike Lowe says:

    There is a Newton County, Texas bordering Louisiana.

  4. Jon P says:

    Counties are still relevant in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts for certain purposes. In both RI and MA, superior courts sit by county. Each of Connecticut’s 15 judicial districts (for the most part) reside within single counties ( Also, when Connecticut acquired a new area code in 1995, Fairfield and New Haven Counties retained 203 while the remaining 6 counties moved to 860 (again, with a few exceptions in instances where border towns share a group of telephone exchanges.)

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