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House of Burgesses

The House of Burgesses was the name given to the first elected legislative assembly in the New World. The House of Burgesses, over time, came to represent the official legislative body of the colony of Virginia, and later, the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Virginia House of Burgesses was formed initially as part of a series of government reforms at Jamestown colony. Owned by the Virginia Company of London, the Jamestown colony only had around 1,000 colonists by 1619, so the Virginia Company made changes that the company hoped would make the colony more profitable. The Virginia Company established English Common Law, encouraged private investment from Jamestown settlers which allowed them to own their own land rather than simply being sharecroppers, and the creation of a legislative body similar to the British Parliament that would meet once annually.

Prompted by the Virginia Company, colonial governor Sir George Yeardley helped facilitate elections of representatives, or burgesses, to this new legislative body that would come from eleven Virginia boroughs adjacent to the James River, along with eleven additional burgesses.

The first meeting of the House of Burgesses occurred on July 30, 1619 at Jamestown, Virginia. The House of Burgesses became the first legislative body in the New World and would later be the foundation for later self-government in the American Colonies and, eventually, the United States of America.

Members of the first council were: Samuel Macock, John Pory, Captain Nathaniel Powell, Captain Francis West, Reverend William Wickham, John Pory was designated secretary and speaker; John Twine, clerk of the General Assembly; and Thomas Pierce, Sergeant of Arms. Plantations and their representatives were: For James City: Ensign William Spense, Captain William Powell; For Charles City: Samuel Sharpe, Samuel Jordan; For the City of Henricus: Thomas Dowse, John Plentine; For Kiccowtan: Captain William Tucker, William Capp; For Martin-Brandon, Captain John Martin's Plantation: Thomas Davis, Robert Stacy; For Smythe's Hundred: Captain Thomas Graves, Walter Shelley; For Martin's Hundred (also known as Wolstenholme): John Boys, John Jackson; For Argal's Gift: Thomas Pawlett, Edward Gourgainy; For Flowerdieu Hundred: Ensign Edmund Rossingham, John Jefferson; For Captain Lawne's Plantation: Captain Christophor Lawne, Ensign Washer; For Captain Warde's Plantation: Captain John) Warde, Lieutenant John Gibbes. (Source: Charles E. Hatch, Jr., "America's Oldest Legislative Assembly and its Jamestown Statehouses-Appendix II Proceedings of the Virginia Assembly, 1619," National Park Service Interpretive Series History No. 2, Washington: Revised 1956.)

The Virginia House of Burgesses became the Virginia House of Delegates in 1776, which still operates today along with the Virginia Senate to make up the Virginia General Assembly, the legislative branch of the Commonwealth of Virginia.