Hampton Roads - Name


The term "Hampton Roads" is a centuries-old designation that originated when the region was a struggling English outpost nearly four hundred years ago. The name is believed to have originated from the combination of two separate words.

The word "Hampton" honors one of the founders of the Virginia Company of London and a great supporter of the colonization of Virginia, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. In the easternmost part of the new colony, downstream from Jamestown, the early administrative center was known as Elizabeth Cittie, named for Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King James I, and formally designated by the Virginia Company in 1619. (The Elizabeth River was also named for the princess).

The town at the center of Elizabeth Cittie became known as simply "Hampton", and a nearby waterway was designated Hampton Creek (also known as Hampton River). The town (and later city) of Hampton was the county seat of Elizabeth City County for over 300 years, until they were politically consolidated into the current large independent city known as Hampton, Virginia, in 1952. The City of Hampton thus became one of the large cities of Hampton Roads, of which four others also grew to the larger sizes by consolidating with neighboring jurisdictions such as counties and towns in the mid-twentieth century.

A land area to the north across the bay in what is now called "the Eastern Shore" became known as Northampton. Another area south of the James River became Southampton. As with Hampton, both of these names also remain in use in modern times.

The term "Roads" as applied to a water channel is used elsewhere. Examples include Castle Roads, in another of the Virginia Company's settlements, Bermuda, and Lahaina Roads, in Hawaii. Signifying the safety of a port, the word "roads" (also called roadstead) in nautical terminology of the day meant "a place less sheltered than a harbor where ships may ride at anchor."

The combination of the words as "Hampton Roads" was recorded as the channel linking the James, Elizabeth, and Nansemond rivers with the Chesapeake Bay in an act of the Virginia General Assembly in 1755. Though it may be a misnomer, Hampton Roads has become well-known as the "world's greatest harbor." This is partially because it is the northernmost major East Coast port of the United States which is normally ice-free year round. The latter status is claimed with the notable exception of the extraordinarily cold winter of 1917, which was the entire U.S.'s coldest year on record.

Although the designation initially applied to the water area, the region has also come to be known as "Hampton Roads", a label more specific than the term "Tidewater Virginia", which could by implication, include other areas of tidal lands in eastern Virginia. The U.S. Postal Service changed its postmark from "Tidewater Virginia" to "Hampton Roads, Virginia" beginning in 1983.

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