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Virginia Counties

The Commonwealth of Virginia is divided into ninety-five counties and thirty-eight independent cities, which are considered county-equivalents for census purposes.

York County, Virginia

York County Education, Geography, and History

York County, Virginia Courthouse

York County (formerly Charles River County) is a county in the eastern part of the Commonwealth of Virginia, located in the Tidewater. Based on the 2010 census, the population was 65,464. The county seat is the unincorporated town of Yorktown.

Located on the north side of the Virginia Peninsula, with the York River as its northern border, York County is included in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Etymology - Origin of York County Name

York is named for James II of England, created Duke of York in 1644.


County QuickFacts: CensusBureau Quick Facts

York County History

The area which is now York County was long inhabited by succeeding cultures of Native Americans. These were hunter-gatherer groups during the late Woodland Period (1000 BC to AD 1000) and earlier.

By the late 16th century, much of the coastal plain draining to the Chesapeake Bay of the current Commonwealth of Virginia was called Tenakomakah in Algonquian, meaning "densely inhabited land". The historic tribes of the Tidewater area spoke related Algonquian languages. Other Algonquian-speaking peoples occupied coastal areas north and into present-day Canada, as well as to the South.

In the Virginia region, a weroance (or chief) named Wahunsunacock (1547–1618) of the Powhatan people created a powerful empire of eastern-Algonquian language-speaking peoples known as the Powhatan Confederacy; he conquered or allied by agreement with approximately 30 tribes. Known as the Powhatan, meaning the paramount chief, he was from a village also known as "Powhatan", near the fall line of the James River. (The Powhatan Hill neighborhood of the current city of Richmond was developed near this former site.) Chief Powhatan later established a second capital village, known as Werowocomoco, in a centrally located position in Tenakomakah. Rediscovered in the early 21st century by archeological work, it was located along the north bank of the York River in present-day Gloucester County.

The Chiskiack tribe of the Powhatan Confederacy lived in York County along the York River until the 1630s. Escalating conflicts with the expanding English colony based at Jamestown caused them to move to the west. The English developed a village settlement near the village of Chiskiack and adopted its name. (It is sometimes spelled "Kiskiack"). This became part of the developments included within the present-day Naval Weapons Station Yorktown near Yorktown and are included in the military base. Cheesecake Road and Cheesecake Cemetery are also within the base; their names are thought to derive from the early Chiskiack people.

After the Powhatan moved his capital from this area in 1609, the site believed to have been Werowocomoco near Purtan Bay was lost to history. It was rediscovered in the early 21st century, and has been under continuing archaeological study projects. The discoveries and ongoing research led by the College of William and Mary hold great promise in expanding understanding of the lives of the Native Americans in the area during that era of York County's history.

In 1570, Spanish Jesuit priests founded the Ajacán Mission in this area. They were guided by interpreter Don Luis, a Native American from this area who had been taken captive by an earlier expedition. He was taken to Spain and later to Mexico, where he was baptized as Don Luis and educated in the Jesuit system. Ten years later after returning to Virginia, he soon abandoned the Spanish group. In February 1571 he led an attack on the Jesuits; all of the party except a young boy were killed. The following year, a Spanish force returned to the region for punishment and reclaimed the youth Alonso. The Spanish did not attempt another mission in this part of North America.

About 30 years later, English colonists arrived and established Jamestown in 1607 on the southern shore of the Virginia Peninsula in the Colony and Dominion of Virginia. In 1619, the area which is now York County was included in two of the four incorporations (or "citties") of the proprietary Virginia Company of London which were known as Elizabeth Cittie and James Cittie.

In 1634, what is now York County was formed as Charles River Shire, one of the eight original shires of Virginia and named for King Charles I, . Charles River Shire took its name from the younger son of King James I. In the 21st century, it was one of the five original shires considered extant in essentially its same political form, making it one of the oldest counties in the United States.

During the English Civil War, Charles River County and the Charles River (also named for the king) were changed to York County and York River, respectively. The river, county, and town of Yorktown are believed to have been named for York, a city in Northern England.

The first courthouse and jail were located near what is now Yorktown although the community, founded as a port for shipping tobacco to Europe, as variously called Port of York, Borough of York, York, Town of York, until Yorktown was established in 1691, when the House of Burgesses required each county to designate a port of entry and build warehousing. Although never formally incorporated as a town, Yorktown is the county seat of York County. The only town ever incorporated within the county's boundaries was Poquoson, which was incorporated in 1952 and became an independent city in 1975.

It is most famous as the site of the surrender of General Cornwallis to General George Washington in 1781, ending the American Revolutionary War. Yorktown also figured prominently in the American Civil War during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862.

In 1949, the county grew by 4 square miles (10 km2), as land in that amount was ceded to York County by neighboring Warwick County. At the time, the move was part of a successful attempt by Warwick County to block an annexation suit brought by the City of Newport News. Warwick eventually consolidated with the city in 1958 by mutual agreement. (The reduction in size allowed Warwick County to claim an exemption from the proposed annexation at the time).

In 1975, the county lost 15.5 square miles (40.1 km2) of land as the incorporated town of Poquoson, which had been within York County, became an independent city, although ties between the county and the new city remained close. Over 30 years later, they continued to share courts, sheriff's office, a jail, and some constitutional services.

York County also adjoins another small independent city, Williamsburg, which was long located within James City County. In the 20th century, some areas of York County adjacent to Williamsburg were lost to the growing small city through annexation.

York County, Virginia formed from Charles River County (name change only). Legislative enactment in 1642. Organized in 1643. [Virginia Counties: Those Resulting from Virginia Legislation, by Morgan Poitiaux Robinson, originally published as Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, Volume 9, January, April, July 1916, reprinted 1992 by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, MD.]

Formed in 1642 as one of the eight original shires (counties) of the Virginia Colony. York County was originally named Charles River County, for Charles I, and was one of the eight shires formed in 1634. The present name was given in 1643, probably in honor of James, duke of York, the second son of Charles I. Its area is 106 square miles, and the county seat is Yorktown.

Geography: Land and Water

As reported by the Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 216 square miles (558 km2), of which, 106 square miles (274 km2) of it is land and 110 square miles (285 km2) of it (50.98%) is water. It is near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Also, in terms of population clusters, the County is divided by the vast expanse of federal land in the mid-section of the county. The southern portion of the County is fairly dense with suburban developments and contains the majority of the county's population and growth. The northern portion is more connected with the Williamsburg community than Yorktown and, although less populous than the south, is also fairly dense. Having not seen a significant amount of growth until recently, the northern portion is now seeing the development of new communities and shopping centers.

Neighboring Counties

Bordering counties are as follows:

  • Gloucester County, Virginia (northeast, across the York River)
  • Mathews County, Virginia (east, water boundary only, in Chesapeake Bay)
  • Northampton County, Virginia (east, water boundary only, in Chesapeake Bay)
  • Poquoson, Virginia (southeast)
  • Hampton, Virginia (south)
  • Newport News, Virginia (southwest)
  • James City County, Virginia (west)
  • Williamsburg, Virginia (west)


High Schools

Bruton HS
Grafton HS (connected to Grafton Middle School)
Tabb HS
York HS
York River Academy
Virtual High School

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