When the Romans came to Great Britain, they built a bunch of forts called castra, which was Anglicized to chester. So, English cities whose names end in -chester, -caster and -cester were once Roman settlements, places like Manchester, Cirencester and Worcester.
When the Anglo-Saxons arrived in England, they divided the land into shires, which is why so many English place names end in -shire.
Finally, the Normans invaded England in 1066, and they subdivided the land into counties, from which we get the title of “Count”.
Of course, English settlers to North America brought the county system with them. And thus, every state in America is subdivided into counties, except for Louisiana (which is divided into parishes based on an old Spanish system) and Alaska (which is divided into boroughs).
Texas, being one of the largest states in the Union, has the most counties with 254. But Georgia, inexplicably, has the second-most with 159. Texas is huge, so one can easily understand the need for so many subdivisions. But why does Georgia need so many counties?
The short answer is that it doesn’t. But how the largest state east of the Mississippi River came to have 159 counties is pretty interesting. It involves philanthropy, corruption, war, genocide, urban legends and Progressivism.
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Georgia’s history begins with an English politician named James Oglethorpe. Born on December 22, 1696 in Surrey, Oglethorpe attended Corpus Christi College at Oxford before leaving early to become aide-de-camp to Prince Eugene of Savoy during the Austro-Turkish War of 1716-1718. Afterwards, he returned to England, where he was elected to Parliament.
There Oglethorpe took an interest in the state of London’s prisons. What he found shocked him, but he became especially distressed at the plight of debtors. As hard as it might be to believe, people who owed debts were often thrown in prison back then. Oglethorpe understood how the threat of prison worked as a motivator for people to pay their debts, but he also knew that bad debts often happened to good people. It was manifestly unfair, he thought, that a hardworking, yet down-on-his-luck family man should be locked up with murderers and thieves.
This gave Oglethorpe an idea, the idea of a colony in North America where “worthy debtors” would be given farmland to grow silk or indigo. The colony’s trustees would then take the crops and sell them, paying down the colonist’s debt. Eventually, the debtor would be debt-free, and would have a productive farm to show for it.