On July 30, 1619, the first elective governing body in America met for the first time. Governor George Yeardley arrived in Virginia from England earlier that year and announced that the Virginia Company had voted to abolish martial law and create a legislative assembly. The first assembly met in the church at Jamestown. Present were Governor Yeardley, Council, and 22 burgesses representing 11 plantations (or settlements) Burgesses were elected representatives. Only white men who owned a specific amount of property were eligible to vote for Burgesses. King James I, a believer in the divine right of monarchs, attempted to dissolve the assembly, but the Virginians would have none of it. They continued to meet on a yearly basis to decide local matters.
What is the importance of a small legislative body formed so long ago? The tradition established by the House of Burgesses was extremely important to colonial development. Each new English colony demanded its own legislature in turn. So, starting with the Virginia House of Burgesses, Americans had 157 years to practice democracy. By the time of the Declaration of Independence, they were quite good at it.