Did you know the General Assembly met at Jamestown Island from 1619 until 1699? Did you know the Virginia General Assembly is the longest continuously operating legislative body in the Western Hemisphere?
Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement and American Evolution are all hosting events in honor of the 400th anniversary of the first representative legislative assembly from Monday, July 29 through Sunday, Aug. 4.
Historic Jamestowne will host events each day including archaeology and exhibits, walking tours and lectures. Lectures will feature a variety of topics and be given by historical interpreters and Jamestown Rediscovery staff. More information about specific daily events can be found on the Historic Jamestown 1619 website. These activities are included with paid admission to Historic Jamestowne.
Additionally, throughout the entire month of July, Jamestown Settlement will be hosting the “Origins of American Democracy.” An exhibit featuring the original minutes of the first legislative assembly that convened July 30, 1619 — on loan for the first time in America in 400 years from The National Archives of the United Kingdom — will be available for public viewing at Jamestown Settlement from July 1 through September 30.
Jamestown Settlement will host “Democracy Weekend” from July 27-28. The event will allow visitors to take part in themed tours, interpretive programs, military exercises and reenactments of the first assembly of 20 “burgesses,” who convened at Jamestown. Discuss Powhatan Indian politics in the re-created village, explore the governor’s house and learn about the rule of law or join in a drill to defend the colony at the re-created James Fort. These activities are included with paid admission to Jamestown Settlement.
On Tuesday, July 30, there will be a special 400th commemorative session of the Virginia Assembly from 11 a.m. until noon. In honor of this historic meeting, members of the Virginia General Assembly, Congress and state legislatures nationwide will convene at Jamestown Settlement to commemorate this special event. This event will be simulcast live at Historic Jamestowne in the symphony tent.
In the evening on July 30, the Fanfare to Democracy Concert at Historic Jamestowne will occur sponsored by American Evolution and Riverside. The concert is free and open to the public from 8-10 p.m.
Much like modern investments, the Virginia Company encouraged investments in the colony through offering land to Englishmen if they came to Virginia. This was referred to as the “Great Charter” by Sir Edwin Sandys. Along with the land, the Great Charter provided a system of government that gave colonists a chance to participate in government.
The first representative assembly met in the church at Jamestown Island on July 30, 1619. This General Assembly consisted of the Governor, his council, and 22 representatives serving as a House of Burgesses, who were elected by the colonists.
The burgesses served from each of the following areas: James Citty, Charles Citty, Citty of Henricus, Kiccowtan, Martin Brandon, Smythe’s Hundred, Martin’s Hundred, Argall’s Guiffe, Flowerdiew Hundred, Captain Lawnes Plantation, and Captain Warde’s Plantation.
While the Governor still had veto power, the representatives were allowed to pass laws. The authority that this self-governing body possessed evolved through the 17th century aided by some of the royal governors, who convened the Assembly once a year.
The General Assembly continued to meet at Jamestown until 1699 when Williamsburg became the capital of the colony.
For more information, please visit the Historic Jamestowne website, Jamestown Settlement website or American Evolution website.
Laura Messer, Tourism & Marketing Coordinator