This section is from "The American Cyclopaedia", by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana. Also available from Amazon: The New American Cyclopędia. 16 volumes complete..
County (Fr. comte), in Great Britain and some of the British colonies, and in all the states of the Union except Louisiana, which is still divided into parishes, a political division nearly corresponding to a province of Prussia or a department of France. It is synonymous with shire, with which designation it is often interchanged in England, but never in Ireland. This division in England, though popularly attributed to Alfred, was probably earlier, since several counties, as Kent, Sussex, and Essex, are nearly identical with ancient Saxon kingdoms. There are 52 counties in England and Wales, 33 in Scotland, and 32 in Ireland. The county is an administrative division, and its principal officers are a lord lieutenant, who has command of the militia; a custos rotulorum, or keeper of the rolls or archives; a sheriff, a receiver general of taxes, a coroner, justices of the peace, an under-sheriff, and a clerk of the peace. The assize court, county court, and hundred courts are the chief judicial tribunals. There are in England three counties palatine, Chester, Lancaster, and Durham, the earl of each of which had all the jura regalia, or rights of sovereignty, in his shire.
The first two of these have been long annexed to the crown, and Durham, previously governed by its bishop, was annexed in 1836. In the United States, there are in each county officers who superintend its financial affairs, a county court of inferior jurisdiction, and stated sessions of the supreme court of the state.