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By the early 1700s, the population along the eastern seaboard of America was growing steadily, so it was no surprise when people began casting their eyes westward -- to the backcountry as it was then called. The western frontier at the time was the Shenandoah Valley, territory that had hardly been explored by European settlers. In the 1720s immigrants were technically settling in Orange County, which today is east of the Blue Ridge. As the numbers of settlers increased, it became apparent to legislators that new counties needed to be formed. On Nov. 1, 1738 an act was passed that carved two Shenandoah Valley counties out of Orange. They were Frederick, named for the Prince of Wales, and Augusta, named for the Princess of Wales. The description of Augusta included the phrase "to the utmost limits of Virginia." At that time the British Crown claimed all the territory to the Mississippi so that meant Augusta stretched to that river. Technically, of course, there were very few English settlers in the far reaches of Augusta.

The territory of Augusta eventually had seven states carved from it: West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and part of Pennsylvania. For the first seven years of Augusta county’s existence, residents had to conduct business in Orange County which was quite a hindrance. Once the Augusta population increased enough, however, a courthouse was established in 1745 at Beverley’s Mill Place, which is present day, Staunton. From the beginning Staunton has been the county seat of Augusta. County officials had to be elected and an Anglican minister and vestry had to be chosen before the government was operating smoothly. John Lewis who is given the title of first European settler in the Staunton area. Before the century closed, the county fathers created a seal, which can be seen today over the doorway at the Verona government center, and had written a county motto: Nec debunt quamvis redeant in aurum Tempora priscum. The motto is a reference to Emperor Augustus and his golden age of simplicity and happiness. Roughly translated, it means "Let the ages return to the first golden period."

The establishment of Bath County in 1790 left Augusta at its present size of 968 square miles, the second largest county in Virginia after Pittsylvania.

-Nancy Sorrells

Last updated: 12/10/2007 10:22:26 AM