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George Washington 1761 Election House of Burgesses – DIRTY POLITICS?

By
When:
May 18, 2015 all-day
2015-05-18T00:00:00-04:00
2015-05-19T00:00:00-04:00
Where:
Winchester Court House
Winchester
VA
USA

George Washington 1761 Election House of Burgesses – DIRTY POLITICS?

by Jim Moyer Updated 3/7/2016, 10/2/16

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Story not finished. Still working on this. Still assembling the references.

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A word about this analysis and of the headline above.

We are simultaneously liberated

and imprisoned

by our modern eyes.

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Liberated:

we’ve evolved to understand

better  principles of election practice

even if we don’t follow them.

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Imprisoned:

because looking back into the past

is like looking into a foreign country.

Our judgment

might not be fair because

we are ignorant of context.

May future eyes

looking back at us

have the mercy of trying to understand.

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This was Washington’s re-election to the House of Burgesses 18 May 1761, to represent the large old sprawling County of Frederick.

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First, a Brief chronology of Washington’s election career:

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Washington lost the 10 December 1755 election,

then won the 24 July 1758 election

and 18 May 1761 elections

to represent Frederick County VA.

In 1765, a House of Burgesses position became open in Fairfax County,

enabling GW to

represent his hometown area

instead of Frederick County.

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1761 ELECTION

May 18, 1761
Election to House of Burgesses.  This was a bitter election.

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Mainly a Three-Way Race for 2 seats to the House of Burgesses to represent the huge old Frederick County Virginia. Who were the 3?  (Well, there were more but they only got 1 vote each)

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Our old Captain, George Mercer, having reached Lt Colonel rank of the 2nd Virginia Regiment, is running for election — his first time. So is Adam Stephen.  And George Washington is the only one of the 3 running for re-election. So …. Who lost? Adam Stephen.

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We don’t quite know what outrageous actions Adam Stephen was taking, but we do get indications he was encouraging voters who may not have met freeholder status as defined in the law.  Voters had to own so much land to be eligible to vote.

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In the letter below, Washington does not state what the infraction is but does state Adam Stephen disavowed accusations with the Sheriff present.

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This caused a law to make clear who can vote, and how much land they must have.  November 1762, Volume IV, page 518 Henings Statutes.

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We do know the previous 1758 election here and most likely elsewhere caused the House of Burgesses to pass a law restricting the use of alcohol and favors.

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In that same 1762 law, Volume IV, Chapter I, Page 526, “That no person hereafter to be elected a member of the general assembly …  give, present or allow, to any person or perons, having voice or vote in such elections, any money, meat, drink, entertainment or provision, or make any present, gift, reward or entertainment, or any promise, agreement, obligation or engagement, to or for any person or persons …”

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THE LETTER

From George Washington to Van Swearingen, 15 May 1761.

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This letter is three days before the election.

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In this letter, George Washington, a candidate, asked the Sheriff A FAVOR to put Washington’s voters first in line.

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A favor is being asked by a candidate, George Washington,  of Sheriff Van Swearingen, who will be standing as an election official to make sure nothing unruly or illegal occurs, to see if the Sheriff can orchestrate moving Mercer’s and Washington’s voters to the front of the line.  And then avers that the Sheriff cannot appear openly biased.

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And why have Washington’s and Mercer’s voters moved to the front of the line?

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Because back then, voters declared their picks openly and out loud for everyone to hear.

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This was no secret ballot.

And who did these voters say out loud their picks to?

They said their picks directly to the candidates

sitting in front of them.

In this case the 3 candidates

would be sitting at the table,

or their designated seconds,

and so would be the sheriff and undersheriff

or some other member to record the votes.

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The effect of declaring your picks out loud could cause peer pressure, guilt, leverage, dishonor – whatever – to anyone who was thinking of voting differently.

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AND if it looks like all the people ahead of you are voting for an apparent winner, maybe you wouldn’t like to pick a loser and live in that same county.

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The letter Washington writes to Sheriff Van Swearingen, 15 May 1761, three days before the election:

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“…Col. Stephens proceedings is a matter of the greatest amazement to me. I have come across sundry of his Letters directed to the Freeholders wherein he informs them that he acquitted himself of what was charged to him on the Streets of Winchester while you were present, and goes on to draw Comparisons to prove his Innocence, which are by no means applicable unless he had continued them,  However His conduct throughout the whole is very obvious to all who will be convinced, but I find there are some that do not choose to have their Eyes opened.

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I hope my Interest in your Neighbourhood still stands good, and as I have the greatest reason to believe you can be no Friend to a Person of Colo. Stephens Principles;

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I hope, and indeed make no doubt that you will contribute your aid towards shutting him out of the Public trust he is seeking,

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could Mercer’s Friends and mine be hurried in at the first of the Poll it might be an advantage,

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but as Sheriff I know you cannot appear in this,

nor would I by any mean have you do any thing

that can give so designing a Man as Colo. Stevens

the least trouble.

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I am, etc.”

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The first 13 voters in line were Washington’s in the 1758 election and the same approach was orchestrated for the 1761 election.

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Now for the history of animosity

built up against Adam Stephen before this election:

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Lt. Edward Hubbard of the Virginia Regiment wrote Bouquet on 9 March 1759 from Winchester:

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“The Virga Assembly have Voted the Recruiting this Regt to a Thousand. And I hear offer’d the Command to Col. Wm Byrd. Col Washington has Recievd the thanks of the House for his Servicesand is Resolv’d to have the Conduct of Lt Col Stephens examin’d, by the assembly intending to lay before them the many Crimes of which he is Accus’d—which will (perhaps) Require all his Dexterity to Elude . . .” (Stevens, Bouquet Papers description begins Donald H. Kent et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Bouquet. 6 vols. Harrisburg, Pa., 1951-94. description ends , 3:182–83).   See founders online source.

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Cash Accounts, May 1759

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To George Washington from George Mercer, 17 February 1760 letter

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“…Stephen is to be down at the Assembly too, not only to direct Them, but also to back Bullitthe rubs his Hands, shrugs his Shoulders, and says he knows if Tom gets the Place he will serve a Friend—Tho. I was once very easy about this Affair, I cant say now but it woud give Me the greatest Joy imaginable to disappoint these mighty Schemers—they are to have all the best Land on the Ohio &c. in Partnership—The Plan has been long concerted, and they already think Themselves absolute Proprietors—tho. Ill be crucified if they’ll leave the two Men to themselves, if ever they describe its Bounds and Situation by Chain & Compass.

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I have wrote Bullitt that he may depend I’ll do all I can, to have at least a Refusal of a Place, as well as himself, & that I shoud beg the Favor of my Friend Washington’s Assistance—It woud vex Me much to be disappointed in any Thing I attempted by him & his Friend Stephens. I shall also write the Commissary on this Occasion.”

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To George Washington from Robert Stewart, 14 April 1760 letter

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” I’m extremely sorry to find the Regiment in so bad a situation—Step[hen]s (whose gone to Pennsylvania to Buy Land) employ’d several of the Soldiers on his own Plantation, in driving Cattle &Ca and many have had Furlough’s of whose return there’s little probability;…”

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To George Washington from Robert Stewart, 12 March 1761 letter

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“S[tephen]s continues indefaticable and Im informd intends to make use of every method to arrive at his point de vue but nothing can raise the most remote suspicion of your Interest’s being immutably Establish’d4

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THE BAD RELATIONSHIP CONTINUES  — YEARS LATER

Adam Stephen is accused of another fraudulent election in 1775.  See Page 511, Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants: A History of Frederick County, Virginia …

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This attack on Adam Stephen’s conduct foreshadows years later a court martial after the Battle of Germantown October 1777 in the War for Independence.

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In that battle of Germantown, One of Greene’s brigades, under the command of Brigadier General Adam Stephen, veered off course and began following Meetinghouse Road instead of rendezvousing at Market Square with the rest of Greene’s forces. The wayward brigade collided with Wayne’s brigade and mistook them for the redcoats. The two American brigades opened heavy fire on each other, became badly disorganized, and both fled.”

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BUT !  This Friendly Fire Disaster?  Washington should have had some mercy on this.  For George Washington and George Mercer also had the same horrific encounter during the Forbes Expedition in the French and Indian War in 1758, nineteen years earlier.  Washington never wrote anything about it.  And remained friends with George Mercer, even running for office in 1761 with George Mercer for House of Burgesses to represent Frederick County.

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Adam Stephen and Washington had a lot of history together that was good up until prior to the 1761 election for House of Burgesses for Frederick County Virginia.

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Adam Stephen was with Washington at Battle of Jumonville Glenn, Fort Necessity, Braddock’s Defeat, and stood watch at Fort Cumberland at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel as Washington’s 2nd in command of the Virginia Regiment, dealing with the Captain Dagworthy Controversy and the Indian raids around the fort.

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Lt Col Adam Stephen saw Col Washington avoid Fort Cumberland, avoiding in particular  challenge to his authority by Captain Dagworthy of Maryland.  Washington went on a trip to Boston to both get commissions for his Va Regiment officers, something Adam Stephen wrote to Washington about, and more importantly to have Gov Shirley, then Commander of all North American forces stipulate Washington’s rank of Va Regiment Colonel is higher than Dagworthy’s Captaincy, from a previous out of date British commission.

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Adam Stephen stays in the service through  Pontiac’s War,  and Lord Dunmore’s War, and onto victories in NJ and Norfolk in the War for Independence.

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More than just 3 candidates for this 1761 election

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The following is the poll taken at the election of Burgesses in Frederick County, 18 May 1761:

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Colonel Geo: Washington—505
Colonel Geo: Mercer—399
Colonel Adam Stephen—294
Robert Rutherford—1
Colonel John Hite—1
Henry Brinker—1
Signed by Tho:s Wood, Poll taker

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A list of all the voters for the elections of 1755. 1758, 1761

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Only 2 seats for House of Burgesses are allotted to each county. The top 2 candidates win.

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Washington and Mercer “campaigned” as allies against Adam Stephen.

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INTERESTING SIDE NOTES ON THIS 1761 ELECTION.

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Voter Participation

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1,201 votes in this 1761 election. See totals above for each candidate. 1201 Land Owning White Male voters hiked, walked, rode a horse, from the far corners of this really huge The County Courthousecounty with bad roads, swollen streams to Winchester,  to a fortified log court house that used to sit where the 1840 Courthouse exists now.  Not all at once did they come, but maybe in groups.  Voting was all day like it is now, roughly 7am to 7pm.

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Only 794 voters in the 1758 election. And that election had 4 major candidates whereas this 1761 election had 3 major candidates and 3 minor ones only netting one vote each.

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Openly declaring their preference

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As mentioned earlier, there was NO secret ballot. You the voter said OUT LOUD your preference in front of the candidates, and for all the other voters to hear!

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This Link prints the quote below.

Gentlemen Freeholders: Political Practices in Washington’s Virginia, Charles S. Sydnor wrote:

As each freeholder came before the sheriff, his name was called out in a loud voice, and the sheriff inquired how he would vote. The freeholder replied by giving the name of his preference. The appropriate clerk then wrote down the voter’s name, the sheriff announced it as enrolled, and often the candidate for whom he had voted arose, bowed, and publicly thanked him.

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See also this link, restating the above on Page 511 in Cartmell’s book :

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Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants A History of Frederick County, Virginia ( ILLUSTRATED ) From its Formation in 1738 to 1908 Compiled Mainly from Original Records of Old Frederick County, now Hampshire, Berkeley, Shenandoah, Jefferson, Hardy, Clarke, Warren, Morgan and Frederick T. K. Cartmell Clerk of the Old County Court MAR 24 1914 COPYRIGHT 1909 By T. K. CARTMELL printed BY THE Eddy Press Corporation Winchester, VA.

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So voting out loud could have been a proud event for these brave men. For lesser souls, maybe there was some peer pressure or other perceived threats if they voted for the wrong person, or a benefit of a favor if they voted the right way.

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And as mentioned earlier, George Washington liked to get his voters first in line, even to the point of asking the Sheriff who officiates at this election to help his voters be first in line.

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But, voting out loud had one protection: no stuffing  of secret ballots.

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CONFLICTING LOYALTIES

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Here’s an example of an odd mix of loyalties to the modern eye but which makes perfect sense to the men involved:

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Thomas Bryan Martin , who was a burgess elected in 1758 and who decided not to run again, voted for Adam Stephen in this 1761 election.

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On the one hand you have Thomas Bryan Martin who served his Uncle Lord Fairfax, who voted for both GW and Adam Stephen, knowing both candidates are at odds.  It is GW and George Mercer who are joined as allies to take the 2 seats to represent old Frederick County VA and leave the odd man out, Adam Stephen.  And George Mercer coveted Adam Stephen’s colonelcy when serving with him in the South Carolina venture.

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On the other hand you have Adam Stephen, long the 2nd in command to George Washington in the French and Indian War, which wasn’t treaty-wise ended yet until 1763, and here they are in 1761 at odds as candidates for election, because of recent competition between the two for land.

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Adam Stephen fathered the creation of Martinsburg in 1778  in honor of Thomas Bryan Martin, a neutral loyalist if you could coin such a term.  Washington honored Lord Fairfax, even keeping the name of Mt Vernon after a British Admiral through the Revolutionary War, just as Adam Stephen after the debacle of the Germantown 1777 battle, honors Thomas Bryan Martin, who worked for his Uncle, Lord Fairfax who was still loyal to the crown.

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This area, in the later years of revolution, didn’t seem to mimic as strongly the civil war of anger between loyalists and patriots in other colonies.

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Some voted for both Washington and Stephen, despite the current antipathy between the 2 candidates.

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1736 LAW   ELIGIBILITY TO VOTE

Here’s the law in Hening Volume 4, Chapter 2, pages 475-476 in August 1736:

I. WHEREAS, divers frauds have of late been practised, to create and multiply votes, in elections of members to serve in the general assembly, by making leases of small and inconsiderable parcels of land, upon feigned considerations, and by sub-dividing lots of ground in towns, in prejudice of the rights of the true freeholders, and contrary to the true intent and meaning of the laws in that behalf: Preamble.
      II. Be it therefore enacted, by the Lieutenant-Governor, Council and Burgesses, of this present General Assembly, and by the authority of the same, That no  person or persons whatsoever, shall hereafter have a right to vote at any election of members to serve in the general assembly, for any county, who hath not an estate of freehold, or other greater estate, in one hundred acres of land, at least, if no settlement be made upon it; or twenty five acres with a house and plantation, in his possession, or in the possession of his tenant or tenants, for term of years, in the same county where he gives such vote: But if any person or persons shall have such estate in one hundred acres of land, uninhabited, or upwards, lying in two or more counties, such persons shall have a right only to vote in that county wherein the greater quantity of the said land lies, although the same shall not amount to one hundred acres in either county.

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1762 LAW ON ELIGIBILITY TO VOTE

Voting qualifications in November 1762, Hening pages 518-519:

IV. And for settling what freeholders shall have a right to vote, Be it further enacted, by the authority aforesaid, That every person shall have a right to vote at any election of Burgesses for any county who hath an estate of freehold for his own life, or the life of another, or other greater estate, in at least fifty acres of land, if no settlement be made upon it, or twenty five acres, with a plantation and house thereon, at least twelve feet square, in his possession, or in the possession of his tenent or tenants, for term of years, at will or sufferance, in the same county where he gives such vote; and any person having such estate, in fifty acres of land, in one tract, uninhabited, lying in two or more counties, shall have a right to vote in that county only wherein the greater quantity…

of the said land lies, although the same shall not amout to fifty acres, in either county; and every person possessed of twenty-five acres, with a plantation and house thereon, as aforesaid, lying in two or more counties, shall have a right to vote in that county only where the house shall be, and every person possessed of a lot, or part of aa lot, in any city or town established by act of assembly, with a house thereon; at least twelve feet square, shall have a right to vote at such election.
      V. Provided always, That where lands are held by several joint tenants, or tenants in common, or the interest of any such house and lot, or part of a lot, is or shall be divided among several persons, no more than one single vote shall be admitted in right of such lands, or house and lot, or part of a lot, and that only in case all the parties interested can agree; otherwise no vote shall be allowed to be given for such freehold, unless the quantity of such lands shall be sufficient to allot to such tenant fifty acres at least, if the same be uninhabited, or twenty five acres, with a house and plantation, as aforesaid. Joint tenants in common.
      VI. Provided also, That no person shall vote for the electing any burgess in right of any lands or tenements whereof he has not been in possession, or hath had a legal title, for one whole year, next before the teste of the writ for such election, unless such lands or tenements came to such person within that time by descent, marriage, marriage settlement, or devise. Further qualifications.
      VII. And be it further enacted, That no feme, sole or covert, infant under the age of twenty-one, recusant, convict, or any person convicted in Great Britain or Ireland, during the time for which he is transported, nor any free negro, mulatto or Indian, although such persons be freeholders, shall have a vote, or be permitted to poll, at any election of burgesses, or capable of being elected; and if any person, not being a freeholder, qualified as by this act is directed and required, shall presume to vote or poll at any such election, he shall forfeit and pay five hundred pounds of tobacco; one moiety to the king, his heirs and successours, for the better support of this government, and the contingent charges thereof; the other moiety to the informer, to be recovered with costs, by action of debt or information, in any county court of this dominion:

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Session date of 1761-1765 term

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November 3, 1761, continued under various prorogations until June 1, 1765, when it was dissolved.

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During this period the House of Burgesses met eight times  though  there were only seven distinct sessions  – since the October meeting of 1764 was adjourned to  meet on the 1st of May following.

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The session beginning November 3rd, 1761 and continuing to the 14th  of the same month, contains twenty-eight pages, including the title page. A printed  copy of this Journal is located in the Virginia State Library, while the original manuscript is on file in the British Record Office in London.

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The first session of 1762 convened on January 14th and was prorogued on the 21st of the same month. Two printed copies of this Journal are known to exist, though it  is not unlikely that others will be found located in private collections. One copy of the Journal in question is in the Library of Congress and the other in the Virginia State  Library. In each instance the text of these copies commences on page three and ends
with page fourteen, which would indicate that title pages were printed though not preserved. The original manuscript for this and succeeding sessions of 1762 contained in this  volume are located in the Public Record Office in London.

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The second session of 1762 met March 3o> and was prorogued on the 7th of April
following. Printed copies of this Journal have no title pages, the text beginning on
page three and ending on page sixteen. The only copy of this Journal known to exist
in a public institution is in the Virgin-ax State Library. In this and other Journals of the
sessions of this particular Assembly, where the text begins on page three, bibliographers
frequently record an erroneous pagination. In this particular instance this Journal is
ſaid to contain thirteen pages, while in fact the last page of the text is sixteen. This is
due, no doubt, to insufficient bibliographical information being furnished students Working on this subject.

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The third and last session of 1762 met on November zn4 and continued until the 2 3″*
of the following December. The only printed copy of this Journal recorded at the
present time, is in the Virgin-la State Library, and like the preceding sessions the text
begins on page three. This copy likewise contains no title page though perfect in every
other respect. The text ends with page one hundred and sixteen.

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But one session of the assembly was held in 1763. The Burgesses met during that
year on May 19> and were prorogued on the 31″ of the same month. Unlike other
Journals of this particular assembly the text begins on page one. This would indicate
that no title page was printed in this particular instance, and the Journal is apparently
complete in thirty-one pages of printed matter. Printed copies of this Journal are to
be found in the Library of Congress and in the Virginia State Library.

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There were two sessions of the assembly in 1764, the first extending from the 12th
of January to the 21″ of the same month. The Journal of this session evidently had a
title page at one time as the text begins on page three. The only printed copy of this
Journal known at the present time is located in the Virginia State Library, and it contains twenty-five pages.

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https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015039496164;view=plaintext;size=300;page=root;seq=15;num=vii
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The second session of 1764 convened on October 3o> and continued in session until
the 21″ of December following. So far as is known there is not a complete printed copy
of this Journal extant. The copy in the Virgin-la State Library begins On page three
and ends on page ſeventy-eight, which carries the sessionthrough Thnrſday, December
1z> only. There is likewiſe an imperfect copy in the Library oſ Congreſs, which con-
tains eighty-eight pages of printed matter, including the records of the meeting of
December 18>. That this Journal was publiſhed in full is indicated by a continuous
pagination covering this session and the session which convened on May 1f’, 1765, the
copy in queſtion ending on page ſeventy-eight and the session of 176 5 beginning on page
ninety-nine. This would indicate twenty pages miſſing, as the text of all session begin
on the recto page. It was neceſſary, therefore, to have a tranſcript of this Journal made
from the original in the Britifh Record Oſfice in London, which not only gives a complete
record of this session, but determines that it was prorogued on the 21 i’ day of December,
1764.
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The final session of this Assembly met on May 1st, 1765 and continued until the first
of June of the same year. As noted in the preceding paragraph the paging of this
Journal commences with page ninety-nine and ends with page one hundred and fifty-
four. There are two printed copies of this Journal in public institutions, one being in
the Virginia State Library, and the second in the Library of Congress. The latter copy
is reported as being imperfect.
Hening, in his “Statutes At Large,” records the acts of this session oſ the Assembly
as passed in October, 1765. Stanard – likewise assumes that two session were held during that year. Both are in error, however, as the acts recorded by Hening under date
of October, 176 5, were actually passed at the May session of the same year. This is at-
tested by the Journal of the session in question, which shows clearly the acts referred
to were passed at that time. That no session of the Assembly was held in October, 176 5,
is attested by the fact that the new Assembly, which followed as the reſult of the dissolution proclamation oſ June 1st 1765, did not take the oath of office until Thursday the
sixth of November, 1766.
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https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015039496164;view=plaintext;size=300;page=root;seq=16;num=viii

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JOURNAL 1761, NOVEMBER SESSION . . . . 5
JOURNAL 1762, JANUARY Snssxon . , . . 33
JOURNAL 1762, MARCH SESSION . . . . 47
.JOURNAL 1762, Novnunzn SESSION . . . . 65
Jouruux. 1763 , . . . . , . ſi 17:
JOURNAL 1764, JANUARY SESSION . . . . 2o3
JOURNAL 1764, OCTOBER SEss1oN . . . . 227
JOURNAL 1765 . . , . . . , . 315

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Source:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015039496164

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NOTES and LINKS

Use to put forth the story

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Overview of the evolution of the Virginia House of Burgesses

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The First Election of Washington to the House of Burgesses, Paper read before the Virginia Historical Society, Tuesday December 22, 1891, by Mr. R.T. Barton

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Members of the House of Burgesses

The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

        Vol. 8, No. 3 (Jan., 1901), pp. 245-260

        Published by: Virginia Historical Society

        Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4242354

        Page Count: 16

http://www.jstor.org/stable/4242354?seq=7#page_scan_tab_contents

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Two points on this page. First point is that there was no secret ballot. Voters voted out loud looking right at the candidates and for all other voters in line to hear. The other interesting point is how Adam Stephen’s Berkeley County election was called into question. See Page 511 in Cartmell’s book :

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Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants A History of Frederick County, Virginia ( ILLUSTRATED ) From its Formation in 1738 to 1908 Compiled Mainly from Original Records of Old Frederick County, now Hampshire, Berkeley, Shenandoah, Jefferson, Hardy, Clarke, Warren, Morgan and Frederick T. K. Cartmell Clerk of the Old County Court MAR 24 1914 COPYRIGHT 1909 By T. K. CARTMELL printed BY THE Eddy Press Corporation Winchester, VA.

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A good background on scope of voting, suffrage

http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/spring07/elections.cfm

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Great article on the Swearingen family of both Van and Thomas:

http://www.historicprincewilliam.org/fairfax-prince-william%20counties-french-indian-war.html

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The Papers of Henry Bouquet

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Interesting journal entries in May of 1760 about small pox in Winchester and so court had moved out of Winchester to set up in Stephens City, then referred to as Stephenson.

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Excellent online look at the different Mercer families in old Frederick County VA:

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http://dna-explained.com/2015/09/22/edward-mercer-c1704-1763-hard-drinking-quaker-52-ancestors-90/

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List of Mercers voting in 1761 election:

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James Mercer for George Washington and George Mercer

Richard Mercer for Adam Stephen and George Mercer

Mercer Babb for Adam Stephen and George Mercer

Moses Mercer for Adam Stephen and George Mercer

John Mercer for George Washington and George Mercer

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Reference links

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Cash Accounts, May 1759

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To George Washington from George Mercer, 17 February 1760 letter

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To George Washington from Robert Stewart, 14 April 1760 letter

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To George Washington from Robert Stewart, 12 March 1761 letter

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From George Washington to Van Swearingen, 15 May 1761 letter

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