The county was named for George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, one of the eight Lords Proprietors of the Province of Carolina, for whom the Albemarle Sound is also named. It contained approximately 1,600 square miles of territory, though its boundaries were not precise. Under the original divisions of the province, the county to the south of Albemarle was called Clarendon County and centered on the Cape Fear region, but was only briefly occupied in the 1660s. Bath County was organized in 1696 and lay more closely to the south.
By 1670, four precincts of Albemarle County had been formed: Shaftesbury, Currituck, Pasquotank, and Berkeley. In 1681, Berkeley was renamed Perquimans, and by 1685 Shaftesbury became Chowan. By 1689 the county ceased to function as a governmental unit, replaced by the four "precincts" (which would later become counties themselves): Chowan County, Currituck County, Pasquotank County, and Perquimans County.
From the original four precincts, Bertie Precinct was formed from part of Chowan in 1722, consisting of all territory west of the Chowan River. Tyrrell Precinct was created in 1729. Local residents asked that the western part of Bertie be divided into a new precinct as early as 1732, which led to the creation of Edgecombe Precinct (dates of the formation of Edgecombe vary from 1732 to 1741).