Historic Jamestowne Commemorates the Beginning of Representative Government for Our Nation
Jamestown, Va. – On Wednesday, July 30, 2008, Historic Jamestowne will commemorate First Assembly Day, the 389th anniversary of the first legislative assembly convened in English North America. At 2:30 p.m., a special one-hour living history program led by Patrick Henry will explore the significance of the first meeting of elected officials in the colony of Virginia. Henry, one of the most influential and radical advocates of the American Revolution and republicanism, had experience with the Virginia General Assembly as governor of Virginia. The program will take place in Historic Jamestowne's Jamestown Memorial Church, site of the first assembly in 1619.
About the First Assembly of 1619
In April 1619, Sir George Yeardley, Virginia's new governor, arrived at Jamestown, announcing that the Virginia Company of London had, in an effort to improve the social conditions of the colony, voted for the abolition of martial law and the creation of a legislative assembly. This assembly would be held no more than once a year, "wherat were to be present the Governor and Counsell with two Burgesses [representatives] from each Plantation freely to be elected by the inhabitants thereof."
The first meeting of this authorized assembly was convened on July 30, 1619. Over a six-day period of unbearably hot and humid weather, the assembly covered several items on the agenda. They petitioned for some minor changes in the settlement of land tenure. Then, the assembly approved the "greate Charter" of 1618, which had allowed for its creation. Next, the assembly adopted measures against drunkenness, idleness, and gambling.
The 17th-century Church Tower at Historic Jamestowne. The first legislative assembly met in an earlier church that is no longer standing.
Other legislation discussed included personal conduct of the settlers, land ownership, crop selection and relations with the Powhatan Indians.
On August 3, the assembly discussed "a thirde sorte of laws suche as might proceed out of every man's priviate conceipt." Here lies the power of the individual burgess to initiate legislation, and not simply to pass those laws proposed from above. Finally, on August 4, the assembly approved its first tax law. This was a poll tax requiring that every man and servant in the colony pay the officers of the assembly "one pound of the best Tobacco" for their services during this hot, midsummer season.
If You Go
Historic Jamestowne offers a wealth of activities for exploring the first permanent English settlement in North America. Visitors can share the moment of discovery with archaeologists and witness archaeology-in-action at the 1607 James Fort excavation; learn about the Jamestown Rediscovery excavation at the Natalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium, the site’s new archaeology museum; tour the original 17th-century church tower and reconstructed 17th-century Jamestown Memorial Church, and take a walking tour with a Park Ranger through the New Towne area along the scenic James River. Entrance to the site is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center and Voorhees Archaearium are open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and the grounds remain open until dusk.
The nearby Jamestown Settlement, administered by the Commonwealth of Virginia's Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, offers a film, museum exhibits, and living history in outdoor re-creations of a colonial fort, a Powhatan Indian village, and three ships like those that brought the settlers to Jamestown.
Historic Jamestowne is jointly administered by the National Park Service and APVA Preservation Virginia and preserves the original site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Admission is $10.00 for adults (children under age 16 are free) and includes admission to Yorktown Battlefield for seven consecutive days. National Park Service and federal recreation passes are also honored. For further information, visit www.HistoricJamestowne.org or call (757) 229-1733 or (757) 898-2410.