New River Notes

Since 1998 - Historical and Genealogical Resources
for the Upper New River Valley of North Carolina and Virginia

The Colonial Virginia Register

A list of Governors, Councillors and Other Higher Officials, and also of Members of the House of Burgesses, and the Revolutionary Conventions of the Colony of Virginia --- Compiled by William Glover and Mary Newton Standard, published by Joel Munsell's Sons, Publishers, Albany, New York, 1902.


The compilers of this Register trust that it may prove useful to students of Virginia History and Genealogy.

They have been at pains, through diligent research and faithful citation, to secure for it that accuracy which is the only merit of a book of its character, and have exhausted all American sources known to them, though they believe it possible that there may be some few lists of the House of Burgesses which, in spite of every effort, they have failed to bring to light. They are well aware that many lists could be added from the unpublished journals of the House of Burgesses in the British Public Record Office, which they hope may some day be copied for the Virginia Historical Society, or the Virginia State Library, and the information contained in them be made accessible.

There will be found below, a very brief account of the various offices of the Colonial Government, and some notice of the sources from whence the lists are derived.

GOVERNOR--The Colony of Virginia was from 1607 to 1624, under the control of the Virginia Company, of London. At the first settlement, in 1607, the governing body consisted of a council of seven, with a president whom they were to select out of their own number. This system lasted until 1609, when the Company chose a Governor and Lieutenant Governor (Lord Delaware and Sir Thomas Gates) who were the first to bear those titles, and whose successors were, like themselves, appointed by the Company, until the revocation of its charter.

Throughout the remainder of the Colonial period the executives of Virginia were appointed by the King. Their titles varied, some being styled "Governor and Captain-General," others Lieutenant Governor," or " Deputy Governor." From 1704 to 1768 the higher title was borne by sinecures in England, while the actual power was in the hands of "Lieutenant Governors," resident in Virginia.

Vacancies were occasionally supplied, until an appointment could be made in England, by the election of a governor, by the Council, but this was only the case during the earlier years of the Royal Government. Later, the office was filled by the succession of the member of the Council senior in point in service, under the title President of the Council, or sometimes, President of Virginia.

From 1652 to 1660 the Governors were elected by the House of Burgesses, though there is some reason to believe that their choice may have been influenced by the wishes of the Parliamentary authorities, or of Cromwell.

SECRETARY OF STATE.--Lord Culpeper, writing in 1683, said, The Secretary is a patent officer, from the first seating of the country, the very next in dignity to the Governor, or Commander-in-Chief." The office was one which conferred much power and influence on the occupant. He had the right to appoint all county clerks, and as these were men of weight in their respective communities, it was frequently charged that through them the Secretary exercised too much influence in the House of Burgesses. He was keeper of the colonial seal and ex-offio clerk of the Council and General Court, though the duties of these offices were actually performed by the titular clerks of the respective bodies.

All patents and other papers from the executive were issued from the Secretary's office, and all of the executive records, as well as those of the General Court were in his custody.

An important part of the Secretary's duties was to keep the English govemment constantly informed in regard to affairs in Virginia, and send home copies of all public papers.

AUDITOR GENERAL.-As the name of this office indicates, the duty of the incumbent was to examine and audit all accounts of collectors and receivers of the public revenue in Virginia. During a considerable period the place was held by persons who were nominally deputies, while the chief title was borne by an Auditor General of the Colonies in England.

THE RECEIVER GENERAL was the custodian of the revenues of the Colony, particularly of quit rents. There were certain taxes, however, raised under acts of the General Assembly which were in charge of a treasurer elected by that body and which did not go into the hands of the Receiver General.

THE TREASURER at an early period seems to have had the duties afterwards assigned to the Receiver General, and was appointed by the Conipany, or the King. But from 1693 he was elected by the General Assembly, and had charge of the revenues raised under the laws enacted by that body. Practically he was the agent of the House of Burgesses, and the representatives of the people were so jealous of keeping entire control over this office, that through a long period of years the Speaker of the House was chosen Treasurer.

THE ATTORNEY GENERALS office requires no explanation. There were in each county deputy king's attorneys corresponding to our modern cormnonwealth's attorneys.

THE SURVEYOR GENERAL appointed, and had general supervision over the county surveyors, and it is believed wuld be appealed to in case of dispute. William and Mary College was granted the office of Surveyor General, but frequently the visitors of the college chose an individual to execute it.

THE COUNCIL.-From 1607 to 1624 the members of the Council were chosen by the Virginia Company, and during the Royal Government, which succeeded, were appointed by the Crown on the recommendation of the Governor. As a rule, when a vacancy occurred, the Governor made a temporary appointment, which was usually confirmed by the King.

The Councillors were the Governor's advisers in executive matters, and patents, etc., are stated to be issued with their "advice and consent." They constituted the General Court -the supreme court of the Colony and also had legislative functions as members of the upper house of the Assembly, corresponding somewhat to our senate. The same persons, therefore, held executive, legislative, and judicial offices.

Among those slightly acquainted with our colonial history there seenis to he a common impression that the House of Burgesses alone constituted the colonial legislature. This, of course, is a mistake, for though the Council did not have the power to originate money bills, yet their concurrence was necessary to all laws, as was also the Governor's consent, and ultirnately, the King's.

In addition to the powers already named the members of the Council almost uniformly held the higher offices, such as secretary, auditor, etc., and were also, as a rule, the county lieutenants or commanders in chief in their own and neighboring counties.

Theoretically this accumulation of offices in a few hands was entirely wrong, but it seems, in practice, to have worked fairly well, as the members of the Council, who in general were men whose estates and interests lay entirely in Virginia, do not appear to have had views at variance with thcse commonly entertained in the Colony.

THE HOUSE OF BURGESSES.-This was the popular portion of the Government composed of the representatives of the people. The members were elected upon a suffrage basis which varied at times, but which during all the latter part of the colonial era was a freehold.

After some vanation during the first part of the Seventeenth Century the number of Burgesses became fixed at two for each county, with one each for the City of Williamsburg, Borough of Norfolk, Jamestown and William and Mary College. For a time Virginia included one pocket" or "rotten" borough, for after the population at Jamestown had dwindled away and the island had come into the possession of the Ambler and Travis families, the Burgesses appear to have been practically appointed by these two families.

An assembly could be called, prorogued, or dissolved by the Governor, and very frequently the same assembly would continue in existence for many years, but of course with changes of membership as vacancies occurred.

When a member of the House of Burgesses accepted any office of profit he vacated his seat in the House by so doing, but was always eligiNe for re-dection except when he became a sheriff or coroner. In the first case it was doubtless thought that the duties of his office would require his presence in his county. There does not seeen to be the same objection in the last named case, but at any rate, accepting the office of coroner seems to have been a favorite device for getting out of the House of Burgesses.


For the lists of Governors, Councillors, Secretaries of State, Auditor, Receiver, Surveyor and Attorney Generals, and Treasurers, the principal sources have been: Of books in print, Alexander Brown's Genesis of the United States and First Republic of America; the various works of E. D. Neill; Hening's Statutes at Large of Virginia; Campbell's History of Virginia; The Calendar of Virginia State Papers; Hotten's Emigrants; The "Collections" of the Virginia Historical Society; The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography; The William and Mary Quarterly; the Lower Norfolk Antiquary; Water's "Gleanings; the Virgiria Colonial Almanacs; the printed journals of the House of Burgesses, and the Virginia Gazette newspaper. Of records in manuscript, information has been chiefly derived from the abstracts of English State Papers made by W. N. Sainsbury for the State of Virginia; the journals of the Council, in the Virginia State Library; the records of the Virginia Company of London (from the copy in the Virginia Historical Society collections); the "Randolph Manuscripts," and "Robinson's Notes," both consisting of extracts from the Virginia colonial records, and both part of the Virginia Historical Society Collections, and various manuscripts relating to the early history of Virginia now in the Congressional Library. Occasional assistance was obtained from the Virginia county records, where not infrequently an order of Council or of the General Court is found recorded with the names of the Councillors present when it was made.

The sources from whence the lists of Burgesses are derived are given under each session, but some little additional explanation may he useful here. It was the rule during most of the Seventeenth Century, and not infrequently in the early years of the Eighteenth, for the salaries of the Burgesses to be paid by their respective counties, and in the levy laid next after the session, these items would appear. In this way the names of many members are found in the county records.

The printed journals of the House of Burgesses in the Virginia State Library and the Congressional Library also afforded most valuable information, for though the names of the members are rarely given in full (except when there are two persons of the same surname) yet in the appointment of committees practically all of the surnames of members appear, and a comparison of these with other lists, together with an acquaintance with Virginia family history and with the county records, enables one to supply with certainty the Christian names. The journals, too, show what vacancies occurred during the existence of the Assembly, by the entry of requests from the House to the Governor to issue writs for new elections, and also furnish names in the action of that body on contested election cases.

The colonial almanacs (which were always published late in the year before that whose date they bear-as is the case now) contain lists which have in the main been found to be very accurate, of the members of the House in existence at the time when the almanac was printed.

The Journals of the Council, sitting as Upper House, also contain information, for they give the names of members of many committees which from time to time came up with bills passed by the Burgesses.

Of course all the remaining volumes of the Virginia Gazette are of much value for this purpose.


September 28, 1901.



1720-1722WILLIAM COCKE1712-1720JOHN CARTER1722-1743THOMAS NELSON1743-1776