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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Orange County

Orange County seal


COUNTY SEAT: Hillsborough

FORMED: 1752
FORMED FROM: Johnston, Bladen, Granville

LAND AREA: 397.96 square miles

White: 76.6%
Black/African American: 11.8%
American Indian: 0.6%    
Asian: 8.3%    
Pacific Islander: 0.1%
Two or more races: 2.6%
Hispanic/Latino: 8.6% (of any race)

From State & County QuickFacts, US Census Bureau, 2020.


Orange County

Piedmont region


REGION: Piedmont
RIVER BASIN: Cape Fear, Neuse, Map
NEIGHBORING COUNTIES: Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Durham, Person

Orange County, NC

See also: North Carolina Counties (to access links to NCpedia articles for all 100 counties)

by William S. Powell, 2006

Orange County, located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, was formed in 1752 from Johnston, Bladen, and Granville Counties and named for William V of Orange, the infant grandson of King George III of England. Early inhabitants of the area included the Eno, Occaneechi, and Haw Indians. English, German, Scotch-Irish, and Welsh settlers later populated the region. The village of Occaneechi on the Great Trading Path was visited by explorer John Lawson in 1701. Hillsborough, the county seat, was incorporated in 1759 as Childsburgh, named after Attorney General Thomas Childs; in 1766, the name was changed to Hillsborough in honor of Wills Hill, earl of Hillsborough. The town had a central role in the War of the Regulation (1764-71). Hillsborough maintains a substantial historic district with many important properties. Other communities in the county include Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Cedar Grove, Efland, Caldwell, Carr, and part of Mebane. Notable physical features of Orange County include the Eno River, Couch Mountain, Lake Michael, Turkey Hill Creek, Blackwood Mountain, and Chestnut Ridge.

Orange County is home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was chartered in 1789 and is the nation's oldest state university. Many cultural, historic, and educational institutions are associated with the university, including several libraries housing important historical collections, the Carolina Playmakers and Paul Green Theater, the Morehead Planetarium, and the Ackland Art Museum. Apart from campus buildings, Chapel Hill's historic structures include the Horace Williams House and the Episcopal Chapel of the Cross. Non-university-related cultural institutions in Orange County include the ArtsCenter in Carrboro and the Jewish Heritage Foundation. Orange County hosts several popular annual events, such as the Festifall street fair in Chapel Hill, Hillsborough Hog Day, the Hillsborough Candlelight Christmas Tour, and the Occaneechi-Saponi Spring Festival and Pow Wow.

Orange County agricultural commodities include corn, tobacco, dairy products, berries, horses, sheep, and swine. Manufactured goods from the county include food products, tobacco products, rubber, chemicals, paper, apparel, and furniture. Topaz, hematite, granite, and clay are mined in the county. As part of the thriving Triangle area, Orange County continues to move toward greater urbanization. The county's estimated population in 2004 was 120,900.

Annotated history of Orange County's formation:

For an annotated history of the county's formation, with the laws affecting the county, boundary lines and changes, and other origin information, visit these references in The Formation of the North Carolina Counties (Corbitt, 2000), available online at North Carolina Digital Collections (note, there may be additional items of interest for the county not listed here):

County formation history:

Index entry for the county:

Update from N.C. Government & Heritage Library staff: 

Correction to this entry: William V of Orange was the grandson on King George II of England. His mother, Anne, was the daughter of George II of England and wife of William IV, Prince of Orange, the stadtholder of the provinces of the Northern Netherlands. William V of Orange became the last Stadholdter of the Dutch Republic.

Additionally, while we do not find any surviving records of the attribution of the naming of Orange County, it may be that the county was named for William of Orange, who became William III of England in 1689 in the "Glorious Revolution," in the overthrow of James II. 

--Kelly Agan, North Carolina Government & Heritage Library, 2018

Additional resources:

Corbitt, David Leroy. 2000. The formation of the North Carolina counties, 1663-1943 (accessed June 20, 2017).

Orange County Government:

Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce:

DigitalNC, Orange County:

North Carolina Digital Collections (explore by place, time period, format):

Image credits:

Rudersdorf, Amy. 2010. "NC County Maps." Government & Heritage Library, State Library of North Carolina.

Origin - location: 


We have bought a State of North Carolina Orange County Court Of Pleas and Quarter Sessions May Term 1828. We have looked everywhere and cant find anything about it. If you can find information on it would you please let us know.


I will be contacting you via email to help you. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

I need to make you aware of a historical inaccuracY within this text dealing with the history of Orange County and the basis of its name. William V of the Netherlands was the grandson of King George II, not King George III. William is his grandson through his daughter Anne. King George III had 15 children, but only 3 were legitimate and survived childhood: Charlotte, who would have been queen had she not died in childbirth, Queen Victoria and George, Duke of Cambridge.
I've noticed this page is cited on several websites dealing wih the history of Orange County so this really should be corrected.

Dear Cynthia,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and especially for taking the time to share this error.  We appreciate your sharp eyes on the content!

In looking at the article, I am also convinced that Orange County was even more likely named for William of Orange, who became William III of England in 1689 in the “Glorious Revolution.”  But if you happen to know of any sources that I can look at regarding William V (who became the last Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic), I would be delighted to look at them.  I have consulted North Carolina’s Colonial and State Records and a few other sources, and they are all silent on the topic of the name origin. Which isn’t entirely surprising to me!  Still, William V would have been just 4 years old when Orange County was founded from the surrounding counties and at that age he would have had no important association to England, save that he was the grandson of the King. The only standard source that indicates anything about the naming is David Corbitt’s The Formation of the North Carolina Counties.  Corbitt concurs on the attribution to William of Orange (i.e. William III) but also doesn't have a source to rely on. 

This article is licensed from the University of North Carolina Press and I have contacted the Press to work with them on amending the entry, in either direction. I have made a temporary update to the entry in the box "Update from N.C. Government & Heritage Library staff" while we work with UNC Press.

Please let us know if you have any questions. And thank you again!

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

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