Having been steeped in early American history, on my arrival in Washington plenty of years ago, I thought the lower house of the Virginia legislature was called the House of Burgesses.

After all, we outlanders had been taught in school that Burg. Patrick Henry of Louisa County, then 29, had made a fiery speech in 1765 in the colonial House in Williamsburg against taxation unilaterally imposed by the British crown: "If this be treason, make the most of it." (A decade later, at a Richmond church, he made his even more famous speech with the ringing phrase: "Give me liberty or give me death!")

So much for historical highlights and lost illusions. I soon discovered that the lower chamber of Virginia's legislature hasn't functioned as the House of Burgesses since June 20, 1775, and it couldn't attract a quorum on May 6, 1776, when the minutes read: "Several members met, but did neither proceed to business, nor adjourn as a House of Burgesses. Finis." (A burgess, by the way, is broadly defined as the representative of a borough, or town.)

In place of the House of Burgesses, scarcely a month later, was created a House of Delegates, which endures to this day.

And the Virginia legislature, Senate and House together, is known as the General Assembly.

Which brings us to the spinoff from some research done recently by my colleague Milton Coleman. He discovered that in 19 states the legislature is called the General Assembly; three states -- Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia -- call their lower houses the House of Delegates; and five states -- New York, California, Nevada, New Jersey and Wisconsin -- call the lower house the Assembly. (It's awfully jarring to a Californian or a New Yorker when a know-nothing editor in a distant city inserts the word "General" in front of "Assembly.")

A postscript: Patrick Henry, having served as a burgess, a member of the Continental Congress and a two-time governor of Virginia, must hold some kind of record for the number of high federal jobs turned down. He was offered and rejected a seat in the U.S. Senate, as secretary of state, chief justice of the United States and minister to France.