Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Finis Document

  • Final Meeting of the House of Burgesses (“Finis” Document), May 6, 1776
On this last page of the Journal of the House of Burgesses, the dissolution of that body was recorded on May 6, 1776.
Related documents:
  • 5th Va. Convention Motion for Independence
    Fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention Called for Independence, May 15, 1776
  • 5th Va. Convention Elected Henry
    Fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention Elected Patrick Henry Governor, June 29, 1776
  • Richard Henry Lee Portrait
    Richard Henry Lee, oil painting
  • Edmund Pendleton Portrait
    Edmund Pendleton, oil painting
  • Patrick Henry Portrait
    Patrick Henry, oil painting
« Return to The Revolution Begins

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.

For Educators

Questions

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?

Further Discussion

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?

Links

This Day in Virginia: May 6

Suggested Reading

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.

Thursday the 12th of October 15 Geo. III. 1775.
The House met according to the Adjournment; but no more than thirty seven Members appearing, which was not a sufficient number to proceed to Business.
The House adjourned til the first Thursday in March next.
Thursday the 7th of March 16 Geo. III. 1776.
The House met according to the Adjournment; but no more than thirty two Members appearing, which was not a sufficient number to proceed to Business;
The House adjourned til the first Monday in May next.
Monday, the 6th of May, 16 Geo. III. 1776.
Several Members met, but did neither proceed to Business, nor adjourn, as a House of Burgesses.
FINIS.