It was on a summer’s day in 1619 when two Englishmen from each of the 11 main Virginia settlements first gathered for a historic meeting at Jamestown that would lay the foundation for American government.
And 400 years later, there are several noteworthy events planned throughout the area to commemorate that meeting, which was the first meeting of a representative legislature in English North America.
The 1619 meeting had its genesis in a decision by leaders at the Virginia Company of London to implement policies to make colonists more invested in the colony: it ended the martial law that had governed the colony in favor of a representative government, said Nancy Egloff, historian at Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.
The assembly heard a list of concerns the company had regarding trade with Indians and other issues. Representatives brought petitions from constituents regarding a variety of complaints ranging from movement on the river, drunkenness and trade, Egloff said.
“The idea was it would make people feel like they had a stake in the colony,” she said.
Historic Jamestowne, the College of William & Mary and Jamestown Settlement all feature programming focused on the 400th anniversary of representative government in North America.
At Historic Jamestowne, there’s a full week of commemorative programming July 29 to Aug. 4. Every day, except on Aug. 1, there will be reenactments of the first assembly session.
“The program will depict the six days of the first General Assembly session, interspersed with narrations to guide guests through the events,” said Justin Bates, manager of public programs at Historic Jamestowne.
On July 30, the actual commemoration day, Historic Jamestowne will hold a video stream of a special session of the General Assembly from 11 a.m. to noon. Members of the General Assembly, Congress and state legislatures across the United States will gather at Jamestown Settlement to recognize the anniversary.
Historic Jamestowne also will welcome the Richmond Symphony Orchestra for a special evening program July 30. It will be the first time the orchestra has performed on Jamestown Island, according to an event brochure.
Throughout the week, archaeologists will share recently made discoveries at the unearthed 1617 church remnants, where the assembly met. It is also the site on which the currently standing Memorial Church is located.
For a look at the historical context that led to the creation of the assembly, visitors can join the First Assembly Walking Tour, which includes four or five stops where the successes and failures that led to the assembly’s creation are explored, Bates said.
There are also children’s activities like hands-on archeology programs.
William & Mary
Representatives and political figures from democratic societies across the world will gather at William & Mary for the Forum of the Future of Representative Democracy July 30 to Aug. 1.
The forum features speakers such as Attorney General William Barr, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and others to discuss the evolution of democracy, particularly in regard to the challenges that face the development and preservation of democratic government.
“Global challenges facing democracy will be a recurring theme,” said Frank Atkinson of the 2019 Commemoration.
A number of panels and discussions will take place on topics ranging from the rule of law to development of democratic government to protection of civil rights and the relationship between the United States and United Kingdom, Atkinson said.
A small group of young, international activists, who were part of the 2019 Commemoration’s recent Global Pathfinder Summit in Charlottesville, will discuss the challenges democratic government face in their countries, he said.
The forum is free and open to the public, Atkinson said.
Throughout July, Jamestown Settlement will hold interpretive programs and interactive experiences in honor of the first representative legislative assembly. On display will be the original minutes of the first meeting of the assembly’s session on July 30, 1619. The artifact is on loan for the first time in the United States, and can be viewed through September.
“It’s just great to have the original document in the hand of the person who recorded (the meeting),” Egloff said, noting that the records of subsequent meetings are sporadic.
The minutes are on loan from the National Archives of the United Kingdom.
Jamestown Settlement will also hold Democracy Weekend July 27-28. The event will commemorate the first assembly’s session with tours, military exercises and interpretive programs.
Visitors can explore the Powhatan Indian society’s government in the recreated Powhatan village. There also are programs about the evolution of government at Jamestown and how the Jamestown colony was defended from attackers.
For more information
Jamestown Settlement programming: historyisfun.org.
Historic Jamestown programming: historicjamestowne.org
Forum of the Future of Representative Democracy: AmericanEvolution2019.com/events.
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, email@example.com, @jajacobs_