North Carolina County Formation

Today North Carolina has 100 counties, although some of their names, boundaries and borders have changed over time from the formation of the colony's earliest counties in 1664 to the addition of the state's last two counties in 1911.  In fact, during North Carolina's history, several counties were created that later became defunct, renamed, or absorbed into other counties. And the state also created three counties in the 1780s and 1790s that are now part of Tennessee. 

A knowledge of the history of the state's county formation is invaluable knowledge for guiding historical research. Knowing when a county formed or ceased to exist can help guide the resources and collections researchers may want to consider.

A number of resources are available to help with North Carolina historical county research:

  • The table below presents a list of all historical and current counties, including defunct counties, with the date of formation and parent counties. Click on the county name and you'll be directed to a page at NCpedia for that county. NCpedia county pages include a range of information about the history of the county with: links to biographies related to the county; currrent population and census demographic information; geographic and natural heritage information; and more.
  • The table also indicates events (war, fire, natural disaster, unexplained loss) that have impacted the status of county records that remain today at the State Archives of North Carolina. See the column "County Record History, State Archives of NC". It can be assumed that columns without an entry have fairly complete documentary records at the State Archives. 

To learn more about the history of North Carolina's counties, visit these resources:

A B C D E F G H I J L M N O P R S T U V W Y

County Name Year Parent Counties County Record History, State Archives of NC
Alamance 1849 Orange  
Albemarle 1664 Original county (extinct 1689)  
Alexander 1847 Iredell, Caldwell, Wilkes Many records burned by Federal troops in 1865.
Alleghany 1859 Ashe Courthouse fire in 1932 destroyed a few permanently valuable records.
Anson 1750 Bladen Courthouse fire of 1868 destroyed many court records.
Ashe 1799 Wilkes Courthouse fire of 1865 destroyed many court records.
Avery 1911 Mitchell, Watauga, Caldwell  
Bath 1696 Original county [extinct after 1724]  
Beaufort 1705 Bath [orignal name Pamptecough, 1705-1712]  
Bertie 1722 Chowan  
Bladen 1734 New Hanover Courthouse fires of 1800 and 1893 destroyed most of the court records and several land records.
Brunswick 1764 New Hanover, Bladen Many court records were destroyed by Federal troops in 1865.
Buncombe 1791 Burke, Rutherford Courthouse fires of 1830 and 1865 destroyed many court records.
Burke 1777 Rowan Many court records and most land records burned by Federal troops in 1865.
Bute 1764 Granville [extinct after 1779, divided into Franklin and Warren Counties]  
Cabarrus 1792 Mecklenburg Courthouse fire of 1876 resulted in the loss of a few court records.
Caldwell 1841 Burke, Wilkes  
Camden 1777 Pasquotank Some records were said to have been destroyed in a storage room fire; many records missing.
Carteret 1722 Craven  
Caswell 1777 Orange Some records were said to have been destroyed during occupation by militia troops during Reconstruction.
Catawba 1842 Lincoln Many court records missing; reason unknown.
Chatham 1771 Orange Many court records missing; reason unknown.
Cherokee 1839 Macon Courthouse fires of 1865 (Federal troops), 1895 and 1926 destroyed many court records.
Chowan 1668 Albemarle [Shaftesbury, 1670-82] Many court records said to have been destroyed by acting clerk of court in 1848.
Clarendon 1664 Original county [Abandoned by 1667]  
Clay 1861 Cherokee Fire (not courthouse) destroyed all records of the county in 1870.
Cleveland 1841 Rutherford, Lincoln  
Columbus 1808 Brunswick, Bladen  
Craven 1705 Bath [original name Archdale, 1705-1712]  
Cumberland 1754 Bladen  
Currituck 1668 Albemarle [Carteret, 1670-82] Many records of the county are missing; reason unknown.
Dare 1870 Currituck, Tyrrell, Hyde  
Davidson 1822 Rowan Courthouse fire in 1866 may have destroyed some records.
Davie 1836 Rowan  
Dobbs 1759 Johnston [extinct 1791, divided into Lenoir and Glasgow; Glasgow renamed Greene, 1799]  
Duplin 1750 New Hanover Many court records are missing; reason unknown.
Durham 1881 Orange, Wake  
Edgecombe 1741 Bertie Land records prior to 1759 are among those of Halifax County.
Forsyth 1849 Stokes  
Franklin 1779 Bute  
Gaston 1846 Lincoln Courthouse fire of 1874 destroyed many court records.
Gates 1779 Chowan, Hertford, Perquimans  
Glasgow 1791 Dobbs [renamed Green, 1799]  
Graham 1872 Cherokee  
Granville 1746 Edgecombe  
Greene 1799 Renamed from Glasgow Courthouse fire of 1876 destroyed many court records and all land records.
Guilford 1771 Rowan, Orange Courthouse fire of 1872 resulted in slight loss of records.
Halifax 1759 Edgecombe Many court records are missing; reason unknown. Land records of Edgecombe County and Bertie Precinct are included in the Record of Deeds series.
Harnett 1855 Cumberland Courthouse fires of 1892 and 1894 destroyed court records and many of the land records.
Haywood 1808 Buncombe  
Henderson 1838 Buncombe  
Hertford 1760 Chowan, Bertie, Northampton Courthouse fires of 1830 and 1862 destroyed majority of county's records.
Hoke 1911 Cumberland, Robeson  
Hyde 1705 Bath [original name Wickham, 1705-1712] Name changed to Hyde in 1712.
Iredell 1788 Rowan Courthouse fire of 1854 destroyed many court records.
Jackson 1851 Haywood, Macon Many records missing; reason unknown.
Johnston 1746 Craven No record of fires, but many records missing.
Jones 1779 Craven In 1862, courthouse burned during Civil War battle; many court records destroyed.
Lee 1907 Moore, Chatham  
Lenoir 1791 Dobbs Most court records destroyed in fires of 1878 and 1880.
Lincoln 1779 Tryon No known losses but many records are missing.
Macon 1828 Haywood No known losses but many records are missing.
Madison 1851 Buncombe, Yancey  
Martin 1774 Halifax, Tyrrell Courthouse fire of 1884 destroyed many court records.
McDowell 1842 Rutherford, Burke  
Mecklenburg 1763 Anson  
Mitchell 1861 Yancey, Watauga, Caldwell, Burke, McDowell Several records believed destroyed during move into new courthouse in 1907.
Montgomery 1779 Anson Courthouse fire of 1835 destroyed many records.
Moore 1784 Cumberland Courthouse fire of 1889 destroyed most land records and many court records.
Nash 1777 Edgecombe  
New Hanover 1729 Craven Courthouse fires have destroyed a few records through the years.
Northampton 1741 Bertie A few records are missing; reason unknown.
Onslow 1734 New Hanover Storms of 1752 and 1786 destroyed many records. Later court records are missing; reason unknown.
Orange 1752 Johnston, Bladen, Granville Many court records are missing; reason unknown.
Pamlico 1872 Craven, Beaufort  
Pasquotank 1668 Albemarle [Carteret, 1670-82] Many early records are missing; reason unknown.
Pender 1875 New Hanover  
Perquimans 1668 Albemarle [Berkeley, 1670-82] A few of the early records are missing; reason unknown.
Person 1792 Caswell  
Pitt 1761 Beaufort Courthouse fire of 1857 destroyed most of the court records.
Polk 1855 Rutherford, Henderson  
Randolph 1779 Guilford Many court records are missing; reason unknown.
Richmond 1779 Anson A few of the court records are missing; reason unknown.
Robeson 1787 Bladen Many of the court records are missing; reason unknown.
Rockingham 1785 Guilford A few of the court records are missing; reason unknown.
Rowan 1753 Anson A few records were destroyed by Federal troops in 1865.
Rutherford 1779 Tryon Courthouse fire of 1907 destroyed many court records.
Sampson 1784 Duplin Early court records are missing; losses may have been caused by Federal sympathizers in 1865 and clerk's office fire of 1921.
Scotland 1899 Richmond  
Stanly 1841 Montgomery A few early court records are missing; reason unknown.
Stokes 1789 Surry A few court records are missing; reason unknown.
Swain 1871 Jackson, Macon Courthouse fire of 1879 destroyed many records.
Surry 1771 Rowan  
Transylvania 1861 Henderson, Jackson  
Tryon 1768 Mecklenburg  
Tyrrell 1729 Chowan, Bertie, Currituck, Pasquotank A few of the early records are missing; reason unknown.
Union 1842 Anson, Mecklenburg A few of the early court records are missing; reason unknown.
Vance 1881 Granville, Warren, Franklin  
Wake 1771 Johnston, Cumberland, Orange A very few early court records are missing; reason unknown. Several deed books were destroyed in register's office fire in 1832.
Warren 1779 Bute Some court records are missing; reason unknown.
Washington 1799 Tyrrell Courthouse destroyed in Federal bombardment of 1862. Courthouse fires of 1869 and 1881, along with the destruction of 1862, destroyed most of the court records and many of the land records.
Watauga 1849 Ashe, Wilkes, Caldwell, Yancey Courthouse fire of 1873 destroyed all of the land records and most of the court records.
Wayne 1779 Dobbs A very few early court records are missing; reason unknown.
Wilkes 1778 Surry, District of Washington A few early records are missing; reason unknown.
Wilson 1855 Edgecombe, Nash, Johnston, Wayne A few early court records are missing; reason unknown.
Yadkin 1850 Surry  
Yancey 1833 Burke, Buncombe Many early court records are missing; reason unknown.