Henry Downs' dismissal from the House of Burgesses

Article Covers
Prince George County, Maryland
Orange County, Virginia
Augusta County, Virginia

Early Settlers of Augusta County, Virginia


Welcome to
Old Augusta

Early Settlers
Beverley Manor
Borden's Grant

……………………..The Tapestry
Families Old Chester OldAugusta Germanna
New River SWVP Cumberland Carolina Cradle
The Smokies Old Kentucky


Henry Downs' dismissal from the House of Burgesses

Henry Downs served a very brief stint in the House of Burgesses beginning on May 6, 1742 and ending just five days later on May 11th. It seems that just a few days after his appointment that a "youthful indiscretion" came back to haunt Henry Downs, when Thomas Wright Belfield sent a Petition (complaint) "of the undue election of Mr. Henry Downs" to the House of Burgesses.

It seems that several years earlier, in 1721 in Prince George County, Maryland, that Downs and two other men stole a sheep from an un-named neighbor, and were sentenced and punished accordingly. It is assumed that Henry Downs was in his early to mid 20's during this incident, since most sources list his birthdate between 1694-1698. There may have been some "political motives at play" since there were several "contested and bitter elections" in Orange County for the House of Burgesses in 1741. [1]

This notice was entered into the minutes of the House of Burgesses as follows:

Saturday, May 8, 1742.

The House being informed, that Mr. Henry Downs, a Sitting Member, has been guilty of many scandalous Practices; of which he has been convicted, and thereupon received condign Punishment,

This Petition was referred to the "consideration of the Committee of Priviledges and Elections", and on the following Tuesday, heard testimony, (including Henry Downs' denial of being the same person listed in Prince George County, Maryland records) reported the following and voted unanimously to expel Downs from the House:

Tuesday, May 11, 1742.

Mr. Conway, from the Committee of Privileges and Elections, reported,

THAT they had had under their Consideration, the Information against Mr. Henry Downs, a Sitting Member, to them referred; and had examined the Matter thereof, and heard the said Mr Downs; Whereupon it appeared to the Committee, from the Transcript of a Record of the Court of Prince George County, in Maryland, produced to the Committee, duly attested by the Clerk, and certified under the Public Seal of the said County, That at a County Court of the Right Honourable the Lord Proprietary of that Province, held at Marlborough Town, in and for the County aforesaid, on the Twenty Seventh Day of June, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Twenty One, Henry Downs, together with Edward Brown, and James Jones, all of the said County, were indicted of Felony, in stealing one Sheep, of a white Colour, of the Price of Ten Shillings, the property of a certain Person unknown, on the Twenty Ninth Day of August then last past, at a Place called the Chapel, in that County: And that the said Downs, upon his Arraignment, the same Twenty Seventh Day of June aforesaid, did confess himself guilty of the Felony and Theft, so as aforesaid laid to his Charge, and put himself upon the Grace and Mercy of the Court. And thereupon, it was considered by that Court, that the same Henry Downs, by the Sheriff of that County, from the Bar to the Whipping-Post, should be taken; and there being stripped naked, from the Waist upwards, receive on his bare Back Fifteen Lashes well laid on, by the Sheriff aforesaid, so that the Blood appear: And that after the Whipping aforesaid, the said Henry Downs, by the Sheriff aforesaid, be put on the Pillory, for and during the Space of Half an Hour. And afterwards, the said Henry Downs, the same Twenty Seventh Day of June aforesaid, was, with the Consent of one Jacob Henderson, Clerk, (his Master) sold by the Court aforesaid, for One Year and Nine Months, to one John Middleton, Planter, to discharge the Fees of the Conviction aforesaid. But the said Henry Downs, the Sitting Member, denied, before the Committee, that he was the same Henry Downs mentioned in the said Record: But it appeared to the Committee, from the Testimony of several Gentlemen, Members of this House, That the said Henry Downs, the Sitting Member, had lately confessed himself to be the same Henry Downs, mentioned in the Record aforesaid. Therefore, upon "the Whole, the Committee had come to several Resolutions; which he read in his Place, and afterwards delivered in at the Table; where the same was read.
And the said Mr. Henry Downs was heard in his Place, and withdrew. Then the Resolutions of the said Committee were again read, and agreed to, by the House, Nemine Contradicente, as follows:
Resolved, That the said Henry Downs having been convicted of Felony and Theft, and punished, as aforesaid, is unworthy to sit as a Member in this House.
Resolved, That the said Henry Downs, for the Causes aforesaid, be expelled this House.
Resolved, That the said Henry Downs be disabled to Sit and Vote as a Member of this House, during this present General Assembly.

From Criminal to Sheriff

A few years later, in 1749, a Petition from Henry Downs, then "Sheriff of Augusta County", was presented to the House of Burgesses for reimbursement for his horse dying while transporting two criminals to the "Public Goal" (Jail). His Petition must have been unimpressive to the Burgesses, since it was summarily rejected:

Wednesday, April 19, 1749.

A Petition of Henry Downs, Gent. late Sherif of Augusta County, was presented to the House; setting forth, That as Sherif of the said County, he was obliged to convey Two Criminals from that County Goal, to the Public Goal: That by the Fatigue of the Journey his Horse died; and praying Relief:

And the Question being put, That the said Petition be received?

It passed in the Negative. Resolved, That the Petition be rejected.


Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1742-1747, 1748-1749, The Colonial Press, E. Waddey Co., 1909