This year Virginia and the nation are commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first representative assembly in America, the General Assembly. Highlighting the importance of this foundational event, Jamestown Rediscovery is completing a remodel of the Memorial Church to reflect the interior of the original 1617 church where the first Assembly was held. When finished, the space will include new exhibits that emphasize the broad significance of 1619 in regard to self-government, the rule of law, diversity, and race.
Within the original James Fort, the Memorial Church is located around the foundations of a much earlier wooden church—the second oldest English church in America—built in 1617. Extensive archaeological excavations over the past two years have exposed the floor of the early church allowing researchers to learn more about its interior design and to pinpoint for the first time the exact location of the “choir,” where the first assembly sat.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is the recent archaeological discoveries represented by the new floor design. The original eastern end wall of the 1617 church was located approximately 10 feet to the west of the Memorial Church’s east wall. The original 1617 footprint is demarcated using brick and wood to show the original locations of the walls, chancel, choir, and body. Tile pavers mark the chancel locations of the two later 17th-century churches constructed on the site. A reinforced glass window in the floor enables visitors to see the original brick and cobblestone foundations of the early church. A second glass window covers Governor Sir George Yeardley’s restored monumental ledger stone, the oldest such stone in the country. Located in the center of the chancel, a place of great honor, it provides a fitting reminder of the remarkable man who implemented the extensive reforms of 1619 that came to underpin the beginning of our democratic form of government. Wooden pews in the choir are consistent with examples found in English churches of the period.