Monday, March 12, 2007


For some odd reason, I always take note of what county I'm in - not just where I live, or where I visit, but even the counties I just drive through. Having traveled over a lot of the country, in lived in a lot of different parts of it, the county as a political and geographical unit has grabbed my imagination. When I see a beautiful vista, I file it in my mind under the name of the county I saw it in. When I move to a new state (which I do often enough), I acquaint myself with the towns in my county and the surrounding counties. I have even been known to flip through pictures of county courthouses.

OK, so I'm weird. I have no end of interests that would bore any normal person.

Somewhere along the line, I compiled the following statistics that may or may not interest you. I may have made a few errors in my reckoning, but here goes.

Did you know that thirteen different states have a Carroll County? Most of them are named after Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832; fig. 1), the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. However, Tennessee's Carroll County is named after William Carroll (1788-1844), who was governor of the state on two different occasions.

Thirteen states is nothing. Fourteen states have a Greene County, and there are also 14 Warren Counties in the U.S. All of these counties are named after one American Revolutionary War general or another. The Greenes are named after Nathanael Greene (1742-86; fig. 2), a self-taught soldier who rose through the ranks during the Revolutionary War to become a major general and George Washington's ablest commander. Greene has been quoted saying, "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." He died of sunstroke only three years after the war ended.

Then there's General Joseph Warren (1741-1775; fig. 3), who was killed at Bunker Hill. Guy only lives to be my age, gets 14 counties named after him. Hmm.

Anyway, the tie between Greene and Warren is broken by the fact that two states can't spell. Kentucky and Wisconsin have counties named Green that are allegedly named after Greene.

There are counties in 14 states, plus a parish in Louisiana, named Grant. The Indiana one is named after Capts. Stewart and Moss Grant of Kentucky. The Kentucky one is named after Col. John Grant. I assume all the other Grant Counties are named after Civil War General and two-term president Ulysses S. Grant, though Wikipedia only states this positively in 4 or 5 instances. However, the seat of Grant County, Kansas, is Ulysses; and the seat of Grant Parish, Louisiana, is Colfax (Schuyler Colfax was Vice President during Grant's first term as President). Interestingly, the counties of Grant in Arkansas, Kansas, and Kentucky are all more or less "dry" counties, prohibiting or limiting the sale of alcoholic drink. Too bad Grant wasn't a dry president.

Another Revolutionary War General, "Mad" Anthony Wayne (1745-96; fig. 4), is the namesake of at least most of 16 U.S. counties named Wayne. Wikipedia claims there are 15 Wayne Counties, but they left the one in Mississippi off the list. See? I'm not a slave to Wiki after all. Anyway, one Wayne county is particularly noteworthy: the one in Michigan has Detroit in it. And one Wayne county, the one in Utah, may have been named after the son of a state legislator - or after Mad Anthony. No one knows for sure!

You think I'm done, but I'm not even close. Marion and Monroe counties exist in 17 states - each. The Monroes are all named after 5th President of the US James Monroe (1758-1831; fig. 5), one of only three US Presidents to die on the 4th of July. His presidency is known as the "Era of Good Feeling," probably because nobody remembers anything about it. He is tied with Gen. Francis Marion (1732-95; fig. 6), a Revolutionary War hero whose guerilla tactics earned him the nickname "the Swamp Fox." Actually, Marion County, Kansas, is named after Marion County, Ohio, but since the Ohio one is named after Francis, it comes to the same thing. Two state capitals are in a Marion County - Salem, Oregon; and Indianapolis.

There are 17 counties of Union, plus a Union Parish in Louisiana. Amazingly, none of these counties are named after a Revolutionary War General. Interestingly, 7 of these states seceded from the Union during the US Civil War.

There are 18 Montgomery Counties, mainly named after Revolutionary War General (like, duh) Richard Montgomery (1736-75), who died at the battle of Quebec. If you've never heard of him, this just shows you should study your country's history a bit more. 36% of all US States seemed to think he was worth remembering. Some states aren't sure Richard is the Montgomery in question; Tennesseeans are pretty sure their county is named after a local settler named John, and Texans claim their Montgomery County is named after a local settler named Andrew.

There are also 18 Clay Counties. Henry Clay (1777-1852; fig. 7) was a powerful Kentucky congressman and later senator, at a time when congress was really the driving force in the US government. Clay is considered one of the handful of greatest senators in US history. He brokered the Missouri Compromise (1820) and the Compromise of 1850, which staved off the Civil War for a while. This earned him the nickname "The Great Compromiser." Actually the Clay Counties in Iowa and Kentucky are named after relatives of Henry Clay, while the one in Arkansas was shortened from Clayton County and so doesn't have anything to do with Henry C.

A whopping 20 states have Madison Counties. The one with the bridges (if anyone remembers the movie The Bridges of Madison County) is in Iowa. All of them, as far as I know, are named directly or indirectly after James Madison (1751-1836, fig. 8), fourth President of the US, and one of the key designers of the US Constitution. Madison co-wrote the Federalist Papers which helped persuade the voters to ratify the constitution; he wrote the Bill of Rights that became Amendments 1-10 of our constitution; and was also the first graduate student at Princeton. Not bad for the schmuck who blundered into the war of 1812 and lived to see Washington captured by the British and the White House in flames. His other notable achievement is burying two (2) Vice Presidents, one dying in office during each of his two terms as President.

You ain't seen nothin' yet. There is a Lincoln County (or Lincoln Parish) in 24 states - half of the lower 48! Not all of these Lincolns, however, are named after Honest Abe. Some of them are named after Revolutionary War General (of course) Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810; fig. 9). The story goes that British General Cornwallis was so humiliated at his defeat at Yorktown that he refused to surrender his sword in person, sending a subordinate in his place. Washington retaliated by sending Gen. Lincoln to accept Cornwallis' sword. By the way, the Lincoln County in Nebraska is not where the capital city of Lincoln is located.

23 counties and 1 parish are also named Jackson, mostly after War of 1812 hero and 6th President of the US Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), the dude on the $20 bill. Which, contrary to the standard view of American history, makes Jackson 4 times as valuable as Lincoln. In Michigan they call Jackson County one of the "cabinet counties," because quite a few counties were named after members of Jackson's cabinet. See? It pays to know people. Significant Jackson Counties include the one in Missouri (where Kansas City is situated). Insignificant ones include the one in Mississippi, where the capital city of Jackson is not situated.

Leaving Abe and Andy to duke it out, it's interesting to find that someone who was neither a President, nor a Senator, nor a General, beats them both. Franklin County can be found in 24 states, plus Louisiana has a Franklin Parish (pretty much the same thing). The only one not named after US founding father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is the one in Idaho, which (ahem) perhaps not surprisingly (ahem) is named after an Apostle of the LDS Church, Franklin D. Richards.

But even Franklin isn't the big winner. Holding 2nd place at 25 counties and 1 parish is Jefferson. It would be amazing if all of these were not named (at least indirectly) after Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd President of the US, author of the Declaration of Independence, and the early Republic's greatest all-around renaissance man. Some of the counties named after him are pretty important. The one in Alabama has Birmingham in it. The one in Kentucky has Louisville in it. The one in Colorado contains the state center of population. The one in Pennsylvania is home to Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog that predicts when winter will end on February 2. The one in Mississippi is statistically the most African-American, and the most obese, county in the US.

But the grand prize goes to our nation's first president, George Washington (1732-1799), who has 30 counties and 1 parish named after him - over 3/5 of the states. Washington was also, natch, a Revolutionary War General. Among the counties named after him are the birthplace of Capt. James T. Kirk (in Iowa) and the capital of Vermont (Montpelier). Also, a portion of the District of Columbia was once called Washington County, and an additional Washington County in South Dakota merged with 3 other counties in 1943. Even with this attrition, President George the First remains top dog in the historical honor roll of our nation's counties. If you have done any interstate traveling, chances are good that you have gone through a county named after the "father of our country." But chances are also good, if you don't know who Benjamin Lincoln or Richard Montgomery were, you could also stand to learn more about what Washington did to make it possible for you to live in this wonderful country.

1 comment:

kaleidoscopicepic said...

Don't forget that Washington also has a state named after him! :)