By Aila Boyd
This month marks the 400th anniversary of the first meeting of elected members of the House Burgesses in Jamestown, the legislative body that later became what is now known as the Virginia House of Delegates.
To commemorate the anniversary, the House of Delegates Clerk’s Office unveiled the Database of House Members (DOME), a multi-year project that offers biographical and legislative information on every House member since the first Burgesses convened in July of 1619 earlier this year. Information on the nearly 10,000 current and former burgesses or delegates that have served in the Virginia General Assembly over the past four centuries is available through the database.
The name of the database is a reference to the 30-foot dome masked under the marble roof within the rotunda of the Capital of Virginia that was designed by Tomas Jefferson in 1785 and was first occupied by the General Assembly in 1788.
Search options on the database allow users the ability to search for burgesses or delegates by session year, last name, locality, gender, race, political party, and military service. The database shows that 9,522 men and 91 women have served in the House over the past 400 years. Political affiliations that have been represented in the House have included American, Anti-Federalist, Bull Moose-Republican, Conservative, Conservative Democrat, D, Debt Payer/Readjuster and Republican, Democrat, Democratic-Republican, Federalist, Funder, Fusionist, Independent, Independent Democrat, Jeffersonian-Republican, Populist, Radical Republican, Radical Republican/Readjuster, Readjuster, Readjuster and Republican, Republican, Republican (Progressive), True Republican-Conservative, and Whig.
The House of Delegates is the first and oldest continuous English-speaking representative legislative assembly in the Western Hemisphere.
The General Assembly is made up of 100 delegates, who serve two-year terms, and 40 senators, who serve four-year terms. Each delegate represents roughly 80,000 citizens, whereas each senator represents roughly 200,000 citizens.
Throughout the past 400 years, the House of Burgesses/House of Delegates has met at three different locations, including a church at Historic Jamestowne Island, the Colonial Capital in Williamsburg, and the current seat of government atop Shockoe Hill in Richmond.
Botetourt County is currently represented in the House by Del. Terry Austin and Del. Chris Head.
Austin, a Republican, has represented the 19th House District, which includes part of Botetourt County, Alleghany County, Bedford County, the City of Bedford, and the City of Covington, since 2014. He is the president and chief executive officer of Austin Electrical Construction.
Head, a Republican, has represented the 17th House District, which includes parts of Botetourt County, Roanoke County, and the City of Roanoke, since 2012. He is a franchise owner of Home Instead Senior Care.
“The DOME project is a great tool for researchers, students, and history buffs to find out about Virginia’s unique history and role in America. I want to applaud Paul Nardo, the clerk of the House of Delegates, and his staff for their hard work in getting this program off the ground,” Head said. “Over 150 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, a small band of men met in a cramped church in Jamestown to start an experiment in self-governance. Today, it is the longest continuously meeting legislature in the Western Hemisphere. It is a testament to the ideals of liberty, democracy, and grace that, after four hundred years of experience, we continue this tradition.”
The initiative that led to the creation of DOME was led by Paul Nardo, who currently serves as house clerk. He has been in the position since 2011.
“Developing, organizing, and maintaining online in one place a more transparent and easier to access registry of individual members and overall history of this vital institution that I’m honored to serve and genuinely love has been a high priority for me since I was first elected in 2011,” Nardo said. “My many outstanding colleagues and I in the House Clerk’s Office hope and trust DOME will be a valuable new tool for anyone searching to learn more about and better understand Virginia history from a legislative perspective. It shares the outlines and stories of Virginia leaders inspired to seek and take an active role in shaping the course of the Commonwealth’s past, present, and future.”
The current speaker of the House of Delegates is Kirk Cox, a Republican who has represented the City of Colonial Heights and part of Chesterfield County since 1990.
“Virginia has long been recognized as the birthplace of America,” Cox said. “Leaders of our Commonwealth were the founders of the United States’ ongoing experiment in representative self-government, a topic I relished sharing with my students for 30 years as a high school civics education teacher. Since the story of American democracy began in Virginia and endures even now in 2019 with citizen-lawmakers continuing to serve our Commonwealth, I’m delighted to join with the dedicated team of talented professionals who are the House Clerk’s Office in making this timely, innovative educational resource accessible to the public.”
DOME can be accessed at http://history.house.virginia.gov.