The Capitol in Williamsburg -- meeting place of the Governor's Council and the House of Burgesses prior to the Revolution.
Here is a brief description of the governance of Virginia during her colonial days, prior to the Revolution. Note the governor and council were not elected -- the only elected officials in Virginia prior to independence were the members of the lower house, the House of Burgesses. The following selection describes this governmental structure with a particular emphasis on Cumberland County, Virginia:
"The governor and the colonial council were important in their role as the executive body of the colony. It was these appointed men who exercised veto power over legislation produced by the House, appointed local officials in all of the counties, and even acted as a supreme court of appeals for the colony. The crown appointed the governor, or more frequently in the eighteenth century, lieutenant governor. The Governor’s Council “had twelve members appointed for life by the king”from the prominent political families of
House of Burgesses
The other organ of colonial authority, and justly the more famous, is the House of Burgesses. This elected assembly of representatives legislated for the colony from its creation in 1619. Each county was entitled to two Burgesses,elected by the freeholders of the county he would represent. Thus, the House of Burgesses not only represented the voice of the landowners in the colonial government, but also serves as the only sphere of electoral and nearly republican politics in the royal colony. Several historians have executed insightful studies into the voting habits of Virginia freeholders, and the character and stability, or lack thereof, of a county’s voting habits can often give the historian unique insights into politics of the day.
Elections for the House of Burgesses were not a regular occurrence: they happened on the occasion of the arrival of a new governor, and at the command of the governor whenever he may see fit to dissolve the body. “By-elections” could be conducted, of course, to fill a seat made vacant by death or resignation, but general elections were far more significant. “There were eight general elections between 1750 and 1774,”the years that
sent representatives to the House. Cumberland
The laws governing elections remained rather stable after the revision of 1736 and stipulated that freeholders, those eligible to vote, were to be defined as a white male over twenty-one years of age who possessed “one hundred acres of unimproved land or twenty-five acres with a house and plantation.” Eligibility to vote in an election depended upon this land ownership, not physical residence in the county. Despite the written limitation of franchise to these freeholders, “by law and practice freehold status came to encompass more than outright ownership of property and meant that both actual owners and holders of life leases could vote.” After 1762, the requirement for one hundred unimproved acres was reduced to fifty, and provision was made for those owning a house and lot in an incorporated town. This meant that a significant number of the white males of
counties could typically vote: “at most 15 percent of th[e] white population.” Virginia , in 1763, had 586 freeholders out of 704 white tithables, an impressive 83.2%. In Cumberland County Cumberland’s Southside neighbor, , for comparison, some 76% of 831 adult white males were eligible to vote in 1749, going down to approximately 55% of 1,243 in 1768. Thus, although voter eligibility was certainly strict by the standards of the twenty-first century, they were quite open and universal for the day. Indeed, historians have often debated whether this was a democracy or an aristocracy. Nevertheless, while franchise may have included a majority of white males, the office holders were almost universally a much more select group. Amelia County
Lucille Griffith, The Virginia House of Burgesses 1750-1774 (University, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1970), 15.
 W. L. Hall, ed., Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial
, Vol. V, 1739-1754 (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1978, 2nd edition), 284. Virginia
Each city or borough, viz.
Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Norfolk, and the & Mary each elected one Burgess. College of William
Griffith, The Virginia House of Burgesses,45.
Ibid., 49. Also, see IV Hening 524.
John Gilman Kolp, Gentlemen and Freeholders: Electoral Politics in Colonial
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 43. Virginia
 Albert Ogden Porter,
County Governmentin : A Legislative History, 1607-1904 (New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1966), 55-56. Virginia
Kolp, Gentlemen and Freeholders, 43.
Griffith, The Virginia House of Burgesses,167.
Kolp, Gentlemen and Freeholders, 45.
Cf. Robert E. and B. Katherine Brown,
1705-1786: Democracy or Aristocracy?(East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1964) Virginia
County Governmentin ,55. Virginia
See Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of
, 1740-1790(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 111-113; Griffith, The Virginia House of Burgesses, 53; Kolp, Gentlemen and Freeholders, 28-32." Virginia
[From,"To declare for an Independency": Cumberland County, Virginia and the Revolution: 1749-1789 / by Thomas Eric Cole; http://magik.gmu.edu/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=1427221]