The House of Burgesses

Hurrah for democracy! On July 30, 1619, the House of Burgesses met for the first time in Jamestown, Virginia. It was the first assembly of English colonists in North America and would eventually become the Virginia House of Delegates, the lower house of the Virginia General Assembly.

The House of Burgesses was formed after the Virginia Company made some major changes to the colony. Namely, ending the monopoly on land ownership to allow colonists to own land themselves, and adopting English Common Law as the basis of Virginia’s legal system, which meant the governor was no longer the final voice on legal matters. The House would consist of delegates elected by the colonists (well, the white male colonists over the age of 17, anyway) and would meet once a year in Jamestown.

The first session was cut short by an outbreak of malaria, but the House of Burgesses reconvened, moving in 1699 to Williamsburg (then known as Middle Plantation) and then to Richmond in 1779 for safety reasons during the war. In 1776, they became the Virginia House of Delegates.

Every other year, the Virginia General Assembly leaves Richmond and meets for one day in the restored Capitol at Colonial Williamsburg, in honor of the original House of Burgesses. They held a special session at Jamestown in 2006 to mark the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s founding.

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