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HomeNewsHistoric Jamestowne Commemorates the Beginning of Representative Government for Our Nation
Historic Jamestowne Commemorates the Beginning of Representative Government for Our Nation

July 19, 2011

On Saturday, July 30, 2011, Historic Jamestowne will commemorate First Assembly Day, 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 theater at the 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 original church where the 1619 Burgesses meeting took place. This meeting marked the first representative assembly in the New World and the birth of the system of government Americans enjoy today.

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

About the First Assembly
Jamestown Memorial Church, which sits on the site where the first representative assembly met.  Photo courtesy of C. Durfor.
Jamestown Memorial Church, which sits on the site where the first representative assembly met.
Photo courtesy of C. Durfor.
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.

Historic Jamestowne is jointly administered by the National Park Service and The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (on behalf of Preservation Virginia) and preserves the original site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

Visitors to Historic Jamestowne share the moment of discovery with archaeologists and witness archaeology in action at the 1607 James Fort excavation April-October; learn about the Jamestown Rediscovery excavation at the Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium, the site's 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. For further information, visit www.HistoricJamestowne.org or call (757) 229-0412 or (757) 898-2410.

Preservation Virginia, a private non-profit organization and statewide historic preservation leader founded in 1889, is dedicated to perpetuating and revitalizing Virginia's cultural, architectural and historic heritage thereby ensuring that historic places are integral parts of the lives of present and future generations. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia.

Williamsburg is located in Virginia's Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour's drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg's website at www.history.org.

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