Named for Captain Newport

On January 19, 2014 · 1 Comments

It started with a 12MC article, Upstart Eclipses Namesake and more specifically with an amusing comment from from KCJeff, "I’m willing to go out on a limb and state from my perspective that Newfoundland has surpassed Foundland!" From there I determined to find equally clever examples along the same vein. It stopped at a list of one. I finished searching pretty much immediately as I pondered Newport News — an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia — and it led me down a series of tangents. Maybe I’ll return to the original quest someday although not today.

Newport News, in alignment with the previous entry, had two New opportunities of course. I started with the second one, News. Following the comical progression introduced by KCJeff, I wondered if New S had surpassed S. I figured it hadn’t since regular old S seemed to be doing just fine on its own. All kidding aside, News seemed an odd choice to append to a city name. Historians offered several possible explanations and it had been subject to considerable speculation. News might be a corruption of the surname of an early colonial official, Sir William Newce, or it might not.

The Newport part was generally believed to have been named for Captain Christopher Newport. Historians interpreting the available evidence seemed to lean towards that conclusion although a piece of paper saying, "hey, we named it for Chris" either didn’t exist or remained lost to history. That also reminded me of an earlier 12MC article where the captain of a ship inspired placenames in his figurative or possibly literal wake, Named for Captain Cook. I don’t know if there will be any other articles in the "Named for Captain" series although if it becomes a trilogy I think the next one will be Named for Cap’n Crunch.



Christopher Newport Univ., Newport News, Virginia, USA

Thus a city in Virginia was likely named at least partially for Christopher Newport. That wouldn’t have seemed likely during the earlier part of his career. He spent most of his adult life as a privateer — a legal pirate — plundering Spanish and Portuguese cargo ships for personal profit and the financial gain of English investors who bankrolled his adventures. Then he commanded a fleet of three ships that brought an initial round of settlers to Jamestown in 1607 (my visit), the first permanent English settlement in what would later become the United States. That was enough to transform him from pirate-by-another-name to noble historical figure.

Logically one would assume that most things named for Newport would happen to be located in proximity to his several supply voyages to the Jamestown colony. That was mostly true. The preponderance fell along Virginia’s James River as one would expect, the riverine highway leading to and from Jamestown.

For example, an institution of higher learning was established in Newport News in 1961, initially called Christopher Newport College and now Christopher Newport University. Also, Newport Avenue in the Colonial Place and Riverview neighborhoods of nearby Norfolk (map) was also named for Christopher Newport. A variety of other tidewater Virginia roads likely paid homage to Newport as well although the occurrence in Norfolk was the only one that I could document with absolute certainty.



Christopher Newport Cross, Richmond, Virginia, USA

Elsewhere in Virginia and a little farther upstream, one can visit the Christopher Newport Cross in Richmond. As noted on a nearby inscription,

On May 24, 1607, Captain Christopher Newport and a party of explorers who had landed at Jamestown just days earlier arrived at the site of modern-day Richmond. Hoping to find a passage to the Pacific, they found instead a fortified Indian village with outlying agricultural fields. Newport… traveled the next day a short distance upstream. There he planted a cross in honor of King James I of England, probably on a small islet not too far from the fall line.

The current cross along Richmond’s Canal Walk dated to 1907. The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities commissioned it for "the tercentenary of Christopher Newport’s visit."


Newport, Kentucky



Newport, Kentucky, USA

Newport, Kentucky seemed distant from Christopher Newport’s legacy both in time and miles. While definitely a "new port" on the expanding frontier of the nascent United States, the name did not derive from its tenuous foothold along the Ohio River. Neither was it named for an earlier Newport unlike nearly every other place bearing that name (e.g., Newport, Rhode Island). The Kentucky town across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio definitely commemorated Christopher Newport.

The original settlement had been founded by General James Taylor in 1795 on land that he’d inherited from his father. The Taylor family had a multi-generational history of wealth and privilege that traced back to the early colonial plantations of Virginia. President Zachary Taylor came from the same extended family, for example. This historical connection to Virginia traveled with Taylor to his home on the frontier and provided a context for the naming of Newport in Kentucky.


Named, In the Past Tense



Champlain Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA

Champlain Mountain’s summit rises more than a thousand feet on Mount Desert Island, a popular hiking destination in Maine’s Acadia National Park. It wasn’t always Champlain Mountain though. Once it was Mount Newport.


Newport-Mountain,-Mount-Desert
Newport Mountain, Mount Desert — Frederic Edwin Church, the Complete Works
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

The artist Frederic Edwin Church of the Hudson River School painted this mountain in the early 1850′s, when it was still named for Christopher Newport. It seemed odd to commemorate Newport in a place so far removed from his haunts, and I guess that others must have felt the same or they wouldn’t have changed the name.

The painting sold at auction in 2000 for $4.186 million. Now that would be something any privateer would love to plunder.

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



View Larger Map

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



View Larger Map

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



View Larger Map

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.

Revisiting the Swap

On October 26, 2010 · 2 Comments

It’s not every day that I get an opportunity for a do-over. I was in Williamsburg, Virginia during the early part of this week. It’s so tantalizingly close to The Swap that I featured a few weeks ago.

I travel to Williamsburg about once a year on business and I have mixed feelings about the town quite frankly. The history buff in me enjoys the old colonial aspects. Last year, however, I caught the H1N1 Swine Flu down there. I guess that played in the back of my mind as I drove along Interstate 64 following the spine of the peninsula. Remember all the panicked people standing in line for flu shots a year ago? I didn’t have to worry about that. I gained my immunity the old-fashioned way: waves of fever lasting most of a week. I passed the virus promptly to my dear wife and our family cat. I digress though. I must be feeling particularly tangential this evening so let me get back on topic.

Quickly summarizing the salient point for those who don’t wish to read the original article, York County and the independent city of Newport News (considered a county-equivalent for Census and other purposes) swapped an unusually large amount of land in 2007.

I told myself that I’d cross the territorial boundaries of the geo-oddity during my next Williamsburg trip. It’s a mere fifteen minutes away from The Swap.



View Newport News – York Co. Adjustments; twelvemilecircle.com in a larger map

I didn’t feel motivated after a full day of work so I considered every excuse conceivable: I was tired; traffic might be a hassle; it looked like it might rain. The ridiculousness of these rationalizations finally took hold and I was able to push through the excuses. I hit the road and visited both parcels personally.


Land Swap - Went to Newport News

This section along Richneck Road switched from York County to the City of Newport News. I wasn’t sure if I would reach the spot. Currently it’s closed to all but local traffic due to construction. One reason why Newport News wanted this parcel was so that it could expand Richneck Road to relieve traffic pressures on chronically congested roads nearby. I can attest that the effort is underway. Notice the dirt that’s been pushed away in the photograph. I considered myself fortunate to reach the spot without dodging construction equipment.


Land Swap - Went to York County

The parcel that switched from the City of Newport News to York County belongs to the Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. Most of it sits behind a secured perimeter with the exception of a large parking lot directly outside of the entrance. I’m guessing this may be a staging area for base access. Several tractor-trailers idled there waiting for permission to enter.

I parked and took a quick photograph, taking care to not record anything of military significance and quickly went on my way. Yes, I realize it’s completely visible in Google Street View. However I didn’t want to make any guards nervous or get my license plate noted in some database somewhere. I can only hope that nobody comes knocking on my door after a secret government computer correlates all the unusual spots I’ve visited over the years. Who’s going to believe that it’s due to my unnatural fascination with geo-oddities?

I take these personal risks for the loyal readers of the Twelve Mile Circle! Actually I did it for myself but I hope you enjoyed it too.

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