There are 95 counties now existing in Virginia. Additional counties were created by the General Assembly but have been dissolved, converted into cities, or lost to the Northwest Territory, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Several of the remaining 95 counties once had different names, and every remaining county has had its boundaries altered at one time or another.
Counties were created by the colonial legislature in the 1630's to offload some responsibilities for handling land ownership changes, process wills, and deal with minor crimes. The Virginia legislature created the counties; the counties did not unite to create Virginia.
The Federal government was created by the first 13 states, who coordinated with each other "in Congress assembled," but that model does not apply to Virginia. The authority for Virginia's state government comes directly from the people; the state is not a federated assemblage created by a vote of independent counties.
The initial contract between those states was the Articles of Confederation, but it did allowed for excessive commercial competition and ruinous taxes by individual states that limited trade and led to economic recession after the American Revolution. In 1787, those states wrote Version 2.0 of the contract, the US Constitution. The states ratified the US Constitution and 27 future amendments by a 3/4th majority. In contrast, the Virginia constitution adopted in 1970 and later amendments has been ratified by a vote of the people, not by a supermajority of counties.
The history of Virginia is reflected in place names; the colonist renamed the major river to honor King James rather than Powhatan. The General Assembly created new counties as the population increased and expanded away from the capital at Jamestown, Williamsburg, and ultimately Richmond. The names of those counties reflect the politics of the time.
In the colonial era, the legislature honored key English officials by naming counties after families or places associated with those officials. Frederick and Augusta counties, for example, were named after the oldest son of King George II and his wife. Prince William was named after a younger son of George II. Spottsylvania County was named after colonial governor Spottswood; Goochland County was named after Gov. Gooch, Dinwiddie County was named after Gov. Dinwiddie...
Pittsylvania County was created at a time when Virginia was frustrated with how Great Britain was governing the colonies. In Parliament, William Pitt was championing a different policy, and proposed granting more authority to the colonies. The names of the counties just to the west indicate that reconciliation failed. Those two counties were named after Patrick Henry.
At the time when population growth justified creation of new counties in the western Piedmont, Virginia stopped honoring the English and started honoring its home-grown rebels. Today, over 50% of counties still honor English officials or places associated with them.1
during the Civil War, historic legal records were destroyed at many Virginia courthouses, including the one in Fairfax County
Source: National Archives, Fairfax Court House, Virginia, ca. 1860 - ca. 1865
1. Charles M. Long, Virginia County Names, Neale Publishing Company, 1908, p.22