Final Meeting of the House of Burgesses (“Finis” Document), May 6, 1776
On May 6, 1776, members of the Virginia House of Burgesses met for the last time, as recorded on this final page of the official journal. The three records shown indicate that twice during the preceding autumn and spring a few members of the House met at the Capitol in Williamsburg under the authority of repeated orders of adjournment. Because a majority of the eligible members did not attend the October 1775 and March 1776 meetings, the ones who were present, according to parliamentary law, adjourned and set another date for meeting. Furthermore, royal governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, had fled Williamsburg in June 1775. Neither he nor the members of his advisory Council met at the Capitol on those days, making a meeting of the House of Burgesses useless. A General Assembly could be held only if the burgesses, Council members, and governor all attended at the same time.
The assistant clerk of the House of Burgesses, Jacob Bruce, recorded these last entries. His concluding Latin word, Finis, means finished, or the end. Edmund Pendleton, a member of the House of Burgesses who was present at the final meeting, wrote in a letter to Richard Henry Lee on the following day, “We met in assembly yesterday, and determined not to adjourn, but let that body die.”
Later in the morning of May 6, the members of the fifth and final Virginia Revolutionary Convention met in the chamber of the House of Burgesses in the Capitol and elected Pendleton its president. The convention voted for independence from Great Britain, bringing to a conclusion the General Assembly of the colony of Virginia. The convention also adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the first constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it elected Patrick Henry the first governor of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia.
1. Who was the clerk of the House of Burgesses? Who wrote the journal entry?
2. What happened immediately after the House of Burgesses was dissolved?
1. In what ways did the House of Burgesses protest colonial taxation? How did these methods affect the House of Burgesses as a legislative body?
Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Selby, John E. The Revolution in Virginia, 1775–1783. Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1988.