October 10 history blog post: One of a series of short essays to provide the cultural, political and geographical context for the 1766 travelers.
Orange County was established in 1734 and named for William of Orange, a member of the Dutch royal family, who had married Princess Anne, the daughter of King George II of England that same year. When the House of Burgesses, Virginia’s assembly of elected representatives, formed the county, they did so with the current geopolitical situation in mind. Spain, France and England were all looking to extend their foothold in North America, and the French had already claimed territory from Canada and south through the Ohio and Mississippi valleys to the French territory of Louisiana. Orange County was formed to challenge the French, so its borders went to the Blue Ridge Mountains, down to the North Carolina border, then west to current day West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. The colony of Virginia extended to the Pacific Ocean at the time, but Orange County was still considerably larger than Virginia’s other organized counties.
One of the earliest settlers of Orange County was James Madison’s grandfather, who named his land Mount Pleasant. James Madison’s father, James Madison Sr., began building the house now known as Montpelier in 1761. When it was finished in 1764, it was the largest home in Virginia’s Piedmont region. This was where President James Madison grew up, and he inherited the house in 1801 when his father died.
Virginia S. Hart A’75
“Largest County in US History?”