House of Burgesses


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Burgesses, HOUSE OF, the name given to the collected representatives of boroughs in Virginia when representative government was first established there under the administration of Governor Yeardly. That body was elected by the people, and at first consisted of two representatives from seven corporations. These, with the governor and council, formed the General Assembly of Virginia. That general form of government was maintained until that colony became an independent State in 1776. That first House of Burgesses assembled at Jamestown in July, 1619, and by the end of summer four more boroughs were established and representatives chosen. The character of the personnel of that popular branch of the Virginia legislature for many years was sometimes severely criticized by contemporary writers. A clergyman who lived there wrote that the popular Assembly was composed largely of those unruly men whom King James had sent over from the English prisons as servants for the planters, and were not only vicious, but very ignorant. These men (Stith, an accurate historian, observes) disgraced the colony in the eyes of the world. Finally better material found its way into the House of Burgesses; and when the old war for independence was kindling, some of the brightest and purest men in the commonwealth composed that House, and were the conservators of the rights of man in Virginia as opposed to the governor and his council.




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