First legislative assembly in America convenes in Jamestown

First legislative assembly in America convenes in Jamestown

In Jamestown, Virginia, the first elected legislative assembly in the New World—the House of Burgesses—convenes in the choir of the town’s church.

Earlier that year, the London Company, which had established the Jamestown settlement 12 years before, directed Virginia Governor Sir George Yeardley to summon a “General Assembly” elected by the settlers, with every free adult male voting. Twenty-two representatives from the 11 Jamestown boroughs were chosen, and Master John Pory was appointed the assembly’s speaker. On July 30, the House of Burgesses (an English word for “citizens”) convened for the first time. Its first law, which, like all of its laws, would have to be approved by the London Company, required tobacco to be sold for at least three shillings per pound. Other laws passed during its first six-day session included prohibitions against gambling, drunkenness and idleness, and a measure that made Sabbath observance mandatory.

The creation of the House of Burgesses, along with other progressive measures, made Sir George Yeardley exceptionally popular among the colonists, and he served two terms as Virginia governor.

READ MORE: What Was Life Like in Jamestown?

February 9, 2018 Kluge Center Convenes Symposium on 1619's Cultural Exchange

Kluge Fellow Joanne Braxton (right) with chief of Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia Lynette Allston. Photo by Rebecca Ann Parker.

The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress will convene a symposium, titled “1619 and The Making of America,” that will bring together respected scholars to explore the intricate encounters of Africans, Europeans and native people during this significant period in America’s history.

The symposium, held in collaboration with the Middle Passage Project of the College of William & Mary, the Virginia Commonwealth’s 2019 Commemoration and Norfolk State University, will take place at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23, in the Thomas Jefferson Building, room 119, located at 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. Tickets are not required for this event, which is free and open to the public.

The Kluge Center’s David B. Larson Fellow in health and spirituality Joanne Braxton will moderate the discussion. The half-day event will also feature a display of treasures and historical items from the Library of Congress’ collections related to the early Americas.

In 1619, a Dutch ship with about 20 Africans on board entered a port at the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia. This event is known as the arrival of the first recorded Africans to English North America. Their historic arrival, however, marked the beginning of a trend in colonial America, in which the people of Africa were taken from their motherland and consigned to lifelong slavery.

During this time in Jamestown, the first elected legislative assembly in the New World – the House of Burgesses – convened in the choir of the town’s church. Laws passed during its first six-day session included prohibitions against gambling, drunkenness and idleness and a measure that made Sabbath observance mandatory.

From 1619 to 1650, during the life span of the first arriving Africans, racial discrimination emerged and chattel slavery would be codified into law. The symposium will ask questions related to the historical importance of these events in 1619. For example, who were the Africans who arrived in Virginia in 1619, where did they come from, what world did they bring with them? What emerged from Africans’ engagement with indigenous Native American populations and their spiritual and cultural life ways, and what is the enduring legacy of this encounter today?

This Kluge Center program will promote historical accessibility to the meaning of 1619 and renewed understanding of major events that began 400 years ago and shaped American history.

The speakers for the program are:

  • Joanne M. Braxton, 2015 David M. Larson Fellow in spirituality and health at the John W. Kluge Center and the director of the Middle Passage Project at the College of William & Mary.
  • Robert Trent Vinson, Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings professor at the College of William & Mary.
  • Cassandra Newby-Alexander, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and director of the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Center for African Diaspora Studies at Norfolk State University and co-chair of Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration’s First Africans to English North America committee.
  • Lynette Lewis Allston, chief and tribal council chair of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, one of 11 officially recognized by the Commonwealth.

The Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, an American entrepreneur and philanthropist. For more information about the center, visit

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at and register creative works of authorship at

Founded in 1995, the Middle Passage Project explores the history and memory surrounding the trans-Atlantic slave trade, its resounding effects on Africans in the Americas and its representation in literature and the humanities, art and history.

Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, marks the 400 th anniversary of key historical events that occurred in Virginia in 1619 that continue to influence American democracy, diversity and opportunity.

2f. The House of Burgesses

After his arrival in Jamestown in 1619, Governor George Yeardley immediately gave notice that the Virginia colony would establish a legislative assembly. This assembly, the General Assembly, first met on July 30, 1619.

Although many differences separated Spain and France from England, perhaps the factor that contributed most to distinct paths of colonization was the form of their government.

Spain and France had absolute monarchies, but Britain had a limited monarchy. In New France and New Spain, all authority flowed from the Crown to the settlers, with no input from below.

More Information .

The English kings who ruled the 13 original colonies reserved the right to decide the fate of their colonies as well, but not alone. The colonists drew upon their claims to traditional English rights and insisted on raising their own representative assemblies. Such was the case with the Virginia House of Burgesses , the first popularly elected legislative body in the New World.

But forasmuch as men's affaires doe litle prosper where God's service is neglected, all the Burgesses tooke their places in the Quire till a prayer was said by Mr. Bucke, the Minister, that it would please God to guide and sanctifie all our proceedings to his own glory and the good of this Plantation . The Speaker . delivered in briefe to the whole assembly the occasions of their meeting. Which done he read unto them the commission for establishing the Counsell of Estate and the general Assembly, wherein their duties were described to the life . And forasmuch as our intente is to establish one equall and uniforme kinde of government over all Virginia &c.

&ndash John Pory, "A Reporte of the Manner of Proceeding in the General Assembly Convented at James City" (July 30, 1619)

The Magna Carta

The General Assembly (which later established the House of Burgesses), the first legislative assembly in the American colonies, held its first meeting in the choir at Jamestown Church in the summer of 1619. Its first order of business: setting a minimum price for the sale of tobacco.

English landowners had insisted on meeting with their leaders for consultation in local matters ever since the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. Virginia settlers expected that same right.

Modeled after the English Parliament, the General Assembly was established in 1619. In 1643 it became a bicameral body, establishing the House of Burgesses as one of its two chambers. Members would meet at least once a year with their royal governor to decide local laws and determine local taxation.

House of Burgesses

In April, 1619, Governor George Yeardley arrived in Virginia from England and announced that the Virginia Company had voted to abolish martial law and create a legislative assembly, known as the General Assembly &mdash the first legislative assembly in the American colonies. The General Assembly first met on July 30, 1619, in the church at Jamestown. Present were Governor Yeardley, Council, and 22 burgesses representing 11 plantations (or settlements) Burgesses were elected representatives. Only white men who owned a specific amount of property were eligible to vote for Burgesses. In 1643, the General Assembly became a bicameral body, establishing the democratically-elected House of Burgesses as its lower house, while the royally-appointed Council of State served as the upper house of the legislature.

King James I , a believer in the divine right of monarchs, attempted to dissolve the assembly, but the Virginians would have none of it. They continued to meet on a yearly basis to decide local matters.

Democracy in Practice

What is the importance of a small legislative body formed so long ago? The tradition established by the House of Burgesses was extremely important to colonial development. Each new English colony demanded its own legislature in turn.

Historians often ponder why the American Revolution was successful. The French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions each ended with a rise to power of a leader more autocratic than the pre-revolutionary monarch.

Famous Burgesses

There have been hundreds of members of Virginia's House of Burgesses. Among the most famous are: Peyton Randolph , William Byrd , George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Pendleton , and Patrick Henry.

But starting with the Virginia General Assembly, Americans had 157 years to practice democracy. By the time of the Declaration of Independence, they were quite good at it.

The First General Assembly

The Assembly’s work covered a wide range of business including commercial and economic arrangements for the colony, regulating moral offences, overseeing matters of religion, and relations with the Powhatan Indians. As well as acting as a legislative body, the Assembly served as a court and adjudicated between settlers and cases involving Indian peoples. The Assembly was an important part of the Great Reforms that swept away the existing military government and created a new democratic society based on the rule of law and consent of the governed.

In session from July 30 to August 4, 1619, the General Assembly was the first representative governing body to meet in North America, or anywhere in the Americas, and has continued to meet to the present day.

In 2019, Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists found the final fourth wall of the 1617 church and the locations of the choir and chancel area where the First Assembly met. An exhibit was then planned around the finds. Today, visitors can view the brick foundations of the early church through glass panels placed in the Memorial Church floor. They can also sit in the recreated pews in the very spot that the Assembly met 400 years ago.

"The Charbor Chronicles"

Once again, it should be reiterated, that this does not pretend to be a very extensive history of what happened on this day (nor is it the most original - the links can be found down below). If you know something that I am missing, by all means, shoot me an email or leave a comment, and let me know!

Jul 30, 1619: First legislative assembly in America

In Jamestown, Virginia, the first elected legislative assembly in the New World--the House of Burgesses--convenes in the choir of the town's church.

Earlier that year, the London Company, which had established the Jamestown settlement 12 years before, directed Virginia Governor Sir George Yeardley to summon a "General Assembly" elected by the settlers, with every free adult male voting. Twenty-two representatives from the 11 Jamestown boroughs were chosen, and Master John Pory was appointed the assembly's speaker. On July 30, the House of Burgesses (an English word for "citizens") convened for the first time. Its first law, which, like all of its laws, would have to be approved by the London Company, required tobacco to be sold for at least three shillings per pound. Other laws passed during its first six-day session included prohibitions against gambling, drunkenness, and idleness, and a measure that made Sabbath observance mandatory.

The creation of the House of Burgesses, along with other progressive measures, made Sir George Yeardley exceptionally popular among the colonists, and he served two terms as Virginia governor.

July 30, 1943: Hitler gets news of Italy's imminent defection

On this day in 1943, Adolf Hitler learns that Axis ally Italy is buying time before negotiating surrender terms with the Allies in light of Mussolini's fall from power.

Hitler had feared that such a turn of events was possible, if not probable. Hitler had come to Italy on July 19 to lecture Il Duce on his failed military leadership—evidence that he knew, even if he was not admitting, that both Mussolini and Italy were about to collapse, leaving the Italian peninsula open to Allied occupation. Despite a half-hearted reassurance from Mussolini that Italy would continue to battle on, Hitler nevertheless began preparing for the prospect of Italy's surrender to the Allies.

When Mussolini was ousted from power and arrested by his own police six days later. Hitler gathered Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Rommel, and the commander in chief of the German navy, Karl Doenitz, at his headquarters to reveal the plans of action he had already been formulating. Among them: (1) Operation Oak, in which Mussolini would be rescued from captivity (2) the occupation of Rome by German forces and the reinstallation of Mussolini and his fascist government (3) Operation Black, the German occupation of all Italy and (4) Operation Axis, the destruction of the Italian fleet (in order to prevent it from being commandeered for Allied use).

Hitler's advisers urged caution, especially since it would require recalling troops from the Eastern front. The Allies had not made a move on Rome yet, and although Mussolini was under arrest, the Italian government had not formally surrendered. Germany had received assurances from Mussolini's successor, General Badoglio, that Italy would continue to fight at Germany's side. Then on July 30, Hitler read a message from his security police chief in Zagreb that an Italian general had confided to a Croat general that Italy's assurances of loyalty to Germany were "designed merely to gain time for the conclusion of negotiations with the enemy."

Here's a bit on healthcare history in the United States:

July 30, 1965: Johnson signs Medicare into law

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare, a health insurance program for elderly Americans, into law. At the bill-signing ceremony, which took place at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, former President Harry S. Truman was enrolled as Medicare's first beneficiary and received the first Medicare card. Johnson wanted to recognize Truman, who, in 1945, had become the first president to propose national health insurance, an initiative that was opposed at the time by Congress.

The Medicare program, providing hospital and medical insurance for Americans age 65 or older, was signed into law as an amendment to the Social Security Act of 1935. Some 19 million people enrolled in Medicare when it went into effect in 1966. In 1972, eligibility for the program was extended to Americans under 65 with certain disabilities and people of all ages with permanent kidney disease requiring dialysis or transplant. In December 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), which added outpatient prescription drug benefits to Medicare.

Medicare is funded entirely by the federal government and paid for in part through payroll taxes. Medicare is currently a source of controversy due to the enormous strain it puts on the federal budget. Throughout its history, the program also has been plagued by fraud--committed by patients, doctors and hospitals--that has cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Medicaid, a state and federally funded program that offers health coverage to certain low-income people, was also signed into law by President Johnson on July 30, 1965, as an amendment to the Social Security Act.

In 1977, the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) was created to administer Medicare and work with state governments to administer Medicaid. HCFA, which was later renamed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and is headquartered in Baltimore.

Here's a bit more of some new to have happened on this date in history - England won their first (and so far only) World Cup:

July 30, 1966: England wins World Cup

In the first televised World Cup soccer match, host-nation England beats Germany 4 to 2 to win the tournament final at Wembley Stadium. In overtime play, England's Geoff Hurst scored his second of three match goals to give Britain a 3 to 2 lead. In the dying seconds of overtime play, he scored his third goal, making the score 4 to 2 and handing England the Jules Rimet Trophy for the first time in the World Cup's 36-year history. English star Bobby Charlton was marked on the field by German Franz Beckenbauer, an emerging talent who held the English midfielder to no goals. Hurst's second goal later stirred considerable controversy when film footage suggested that it failed to cross the goal line after bouncing off the crossbar.

On this day in history, a fleet of Spanish ships carrying gold and silver disappeared off the coast of Florida. The city of Baltimore was founded in Maryland. 500 men in Marseilles, France sang "La Marseillaise", which would become France's now long standing national anthem, for the first time, during the days of the French Revolution. Slaves rebelled and took over the Amistad. Despite official American neutrality at the time during the so-called "Great War (World War I), German saboteurs blew up a plant on Black Tom Island, in New Jersey. Uruguay defeated Argentina to win the first ever World Cup title. Hitler found out that Italy would soon be joining in the war effort against Nazi Germany. The first ever AFL (American Football League, which would become the American Football Conference once the league merged with the NFL) was played between the Boston Patriots and the Buffalo Bills. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Social Security Act, which established Medicare and Medicaid, and which would become effective the following year. The Beatles "Yesterday. & Today" album went #1, and stayed there for over a month! England won the World Cup. George Harrison released "Bangladesh". The US House of Representatives voted to impeach Richard Nixon. Vanuatu gained it's independence. Chile amended it's constitution, not long after the bloody days of the Pinochet dictatorship. And in Mexico in 2003, the last of the old-style Volkswagon Beetles went off the assembly line.

Here's a more detailed look at events that transpired on this date throughout history:

First Assembly Day 2011

Join the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia as we commemorate the beginnings of America's representative form of government.

On Saturday, July 30, 2011, Historic Jamestowne will commemorate the anniversary of the first legislative assembly in English North America. Programs throughout the day will explore the development of government in Virginia and the significance of the first meeting of elected officials in the colony. At 10:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:00 p..m in the theatre at the Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center, visitors will meet three people from Jamestown's past who will share their stories of Virginia's government during the colony's earliest years. At 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. in the Memorial Church, visitors can attend an interactive presentation at the site of the originial church where the 1619 meeting of the burgesses took place.

Mr. Dick Cheatham portraying John Rolfe

During the 45-minute living history programs in the visitor center, John Pory, speaker of the legislative assembly, will join with burgess John Rolfe and a female resident of the colony to interact with "new arrivals" (visitors) and discuss the events of the day during a recess of the 1619 assembly. During the Church programs, visitors take roles and participate in several short "scenes," representative of the events that occurred on the site during the first meeting 392 years ago.


Sidney King painting of the First Legislative Assembly at Jamestown

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. 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.

For more information about this first legislative assembly check out our Historic Brief - THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FIRST LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

Origins of American Democracy

This July, Jamestown Settlement will offer monthlong interpretive programs, interactive experiences and events exploring the origins of American democracy and a special three-month exhibit commemorating the 400th anniversary of the 1619 first General Assembly, the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere.

Origins of American Democracy” monthlong programs July 1 to August 1 will feature museum gallery exhibits and interpretive living-history programs exploring the various forms of governmental rule that evolved at Jamestown leading to the formation of the first representative legislative assembly in 1619.

“Proceedings of the First General Assembly,” July 30, 1619, by John Pory. Courtesy of the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

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.

The month culminates with “Democracy Weekend” on July 27 and 28 that will allow visitors to take part in themed tours, interpretive programs and military exercises honoring the first assembly of 20 “burgesses” who convened at Jamestown. Discuss Powhatan Indian politics in the re-created village, learn about the rule of law at the re-created Anglican church or join in a drill to defend the colony at the re-created James Fort.

Daytime special programs and events, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., are included with museum general admission: $17.50 for adults and $8.25 for ages 6-12. Children under 6 are free. Tickets and packages are available with other Williamsburg attractions. Admission for local residents of James City County, York County and the City of Williamsburg, including the College of William and Mary.

Jamestown Settlement, an official partner of the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, is a year-round stage for special exhibitions, events and programs honoring the 400th anniversary of key historical events in Virginia in 1619.

Jamestown Settlement, administered by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, features world-class exhibitions, immersive galleries and films, and interactive living-history experiences in re-creations of a Powhatan Indian village, three 1607 ships and a 1610-14 fort. The museum connects visitors with the lives of the Powhatan, English and west central African cultures that converged at 17th-century Jamestown.

Francis Wyatt

Sir Francis Wyatt (1588–1644) was an English nobleman, knight, politician, and government official. He was the first English royal governor of Virginia. He sailed for America on 1 August 1621 on board the George. He became governor shortly after his arrival in October, taking with him the first written constitution for an English colony. Also sailing with him on this voyage was his second cousin Henry Fleete Sr., who helped found colonies in both Virginia and Maryland. In 1622 he rallied the defense of Jamestown which was attacked by Native Americans, during which the lives of some 400 settlers were lost and he then oversaw the contraction of the colony from scattered outposts into a defensive core. [1]

Francis was the son of Sir George Wyatt and his wife Jane Finch. He was born at Boxley Manor in Kent, and attended St Mary Hall, Oxford, (from 1 July 1603) and Gray's Inn (1604). He was knighted 7 July 1618 at Windsor. [2]

Wyatt was governor of Virginia from November 1621. Virginia became a royal colony in 1624, but Sir Francis, at the request of the crown, remained on as governor until 18 September 1625, when Sir George Yeardley, whom he had succeeded, resumed the office. In 1624, Wyatt resided in Jamestown with his wife, his brother Haute, and seventeen servants. In 1625, he received a black servant girl after a court settlement from her previous employer. [3] After leaving office, he left Virginia for Ireland and England to settle his father's estate. He was appointed governor again in 1639, sailing from England to take up his post. He served from November 1639 until February 1641 and was then succeeded by Sir William Berkeley. He arranged the purchase of the home of the previous governor to use as the first designated "state house" of the colony, the government previously having met in the church. [4]

Wyatt returned to England after his second term as governor and died in Boxley. He was buried there on 24 August 1644.

Sir Francis Wyatt organized the General Assembly which had been called in 1619. This was the first legislative body in America. Sir Francis caused its privileges to be embodied in a written constitution, the first of its kind in the New World.

Francis Wyatt's grandfather was Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger, who had led the Kent faction of Wyatt's rebellion to the Spanish marriage of Queen Mary in support of Lady Elizabeth, and was executed for treason as a result. His great-grandfather Thomas Wyatt the elder, the poet, was briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London for an alleged relationship with Anne Boleyn.

Sir Francis's wife Margaret was the daughter of Sir Samuel Sandys and the niece of George Sandys, the treasurer of Jamestown. Francis and Margaret's children included Henry, whose daughter Frances briefly held Boxley Francis, who was at King's College, Cambridge, in 1639 Edwin, an MP who successfully sued his niece to regain Boxley, but whose son died without issue and Elizabeth, whose grandson Robert Marsham, 1st Baron Romney (1685–1724), eventually inherited Boxley. Boxley remained with the barons and earls of Romney for more than two hundred years. [5]

His younger brother, the Reverend Hawte Wyatt (1594–1638), who was the rector of Maidstone, Kent, traveled to Virginia with Francis in 1621 and returned with him to England in 1624, after their father died. Rev. Wyatt's many descendants in America include the late Duchess of Windsor, wife of Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor. [6]

Correction: Jamestown Ceremony story

JAMESTOWN, Va. - In a story July 28 about events commemorating key moments in Virginia’s colonial history, The Associated Press reported erroneously that July 30 marks the 400th anniversary of the first meeting of the House of Burgesses. It marks the 400th anniversary of the first General Assembly.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Events in Virginia mark beginnings of American democracy

Academics, lawmakers, dignitaries and President Donald Trump will gather in Virginia this week for events celebrating the beginnings of American democracy four centuries ago

Academics, lawmakers, dignitaries and President Donald Trump will gather in Virginia this week for events celebrating the beginnings of American democracy four centuries ago.

Tuesday marks the 400th anniversary of the first meeting of the first representative legislative assembly in the Western Hemisphere at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in North America.

Here’s a look at what to expect.

What’s the importance of the anniversary?

The first meeting of the General Assembly, which took place at a church in Jamestown, laid the foundation for representative government in what would become the United States. Beginning as a group of 22 men called burgesses — two chosen by the white male residents of each of the eleven major settlement areas — the body eventually evolved into a two-house form of government.

Today’s Virginia General Assembly is considered the oldest continuously operating legislative body in North America.

“The Commonwealth is honoured to have the President of the United States join for this historic occasion, as the General Assembly convenes on the same ground where the seeds of our system of democratic government were sowed four centuries ago,” Kirk Cox, the Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, said in a statement.

Tuesday’s events are just one part of a yearlong commemoration called American Evolution meant to honour key milestones in the state’s colonial history, including the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans’ arrival in English North America.

Another series of events is planned Aug. 23-25 at Fort Monroe to recognize that anniversary.

Event organizers say descendants of Jamestown colonists and Virginia Indians will be in attendance, along with members of Congress — including U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine — state lawmakers and dignitaries from other states.

On Friday, a White House spokesman confirmed earlier news reports that President Donald Trump will also be attending. A press release from organizers said he will give remarks.


Special programming open to the public is planned at several historical sites around Jamestown in the days surrounding the July 30 anniversary.

On Tuesday, lawmakers, members of Congress and other guests will gather at historic Jamestown for ceremonies to commemorate the meeting of the General Assembly.

Gov. Ralph Northam is scheduled to give an address at an early morning event. The president is expected to attend a second event, a commemorative session of the General Assembly. That private event is not open to the public but will be livestreamed online.

Wasn’t there some political drama?

The event comes at a time of heightened election-year partisanship in Virginia, and when word broke earlier in the month that Trump was expected to be in attendance, some Democratic lawmakers to threaten to boycott the event.

“The current President does not represent the values that we would celebrate at the 400th anniversary of the oldest democratic body in the western world,” leaders of the Virginia House and Senate Democratic caucuses said in a statement at the time.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment called their decision “disappointing and embarrassing.”

Organizers released a statement noting that Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were invited last year by Northam, a Democrat, and Republicans Cox and Norment.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax — a descendant of slaves and the second African-American to ever win statewide office — has broken with fellow Democrats and said he will attend.

“I want to be there in order to give voice to those enslaved Africans and to commemorate and celebrate the birth of representative democracy here in Virginia,” Fairfax told the AP.

Monument Listing Names of the Members of the First General Assembly, 1619

This document is a photograph of a monument erected on Jamestown Island in 1907. It recognizes the first meeting of the General Assembly of the Virginia colony, which met from July 30 to August 4, 1619 in a church building close to the monument’s location. This particular photograph was one of several displayed at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, one of the nation’s largest world’s fairs of all time.

The General Assembly’s meeting marked the start of what the state of Virginia considers to be the oldest continuous law-making body of the New World. The assembly allowed colonists the ability to be represented by people within their colony, who would be able to voice their concerns and help influence the laws and guidelines that ruled their daily lives. It was their hope that this group, called the House of Burgesses, would help ensure that the colonies ran smoothly, thus making it more enticing to potential investors and people looking to move to the colonies. The tenacity of the blossoming governmental body would continually be tested over time as America and England went through a series of revolutions and changes.

Since its inception, the General Assembly has continued to meet every year to discuss important matters and to approve – or decline – the passing of bills into law or to strike down existing laws. The general public is welcome to attend and even speak or otherwise submit testimony during the legislative sessions to speak on pending legislation, giving them the opportunity to influence the outcome.

The General Assembly is bicameral, meaning that it is comprised of two parts, the lower house – or the House of Delegates – and the upper house, the Senate. Both parts share legislative power and both were formed in 1776 when the Virginia Constitution was first enacted, although the House of Delegates is an immediate successor to the House of Burgesses. Terms and numbers for both groups differ, as the Senate is comprised of 40 Senators who serve four year terms while the House of Delegates have 100 members that serve for two year terms.

Citation: Monument Listing Names of the Members of the First Legislative Assembly in America, 1939 World's Fair Photograph Collection. Library of Virginia Special Collections Prints and Photographs. In Virginia Memory. Retrieved From [viewed 26 October 2016]


Suggested Questions

Artistic Exploration: If you were hired to design this monument, how would you design it differently? Who else may be included besides the General Assembly?

Current Connections: What do you think that current members of the General Assembly are discussing today? Were any of these topics discussed at the more modern Assemblies?

In Your Own Words: If you could create your own bill, what laws would you introduce? What existing laws would you amend or otherwise remove?

In Your Own Words: If you were to testify on a bill or amendment currently at the General Assembly, what types of arguments would you use to make your case? Can you think of any current or recent bills or amendments that you could speak about?

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