American Journeys
Home Find a Document Images Advanced Search Highlights Teachers Help  
Document Number: AJ-080
Author:
Title: Proceedings of the Virginia Assembly, 1619
Source: Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (editor). Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907). Pages 247-278.
Pages/Illustrations: 34 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-080/

Author Note

The General Assembly of Virginia, which sat between July 30 and August 4, 1619, was the first legislative assembly to organize in America. The assembly was made up of a governor, six councilors and twenty burgesses who were charged with making regulations and laws for the colony in agreement with the Virginia Company in England. The members of the assembly were landholders who were responsible for one of ten settlements in the region. The Virginia Assembly of 1619 included Sir George Yeardley, governor, and the following burgesses: Captain William Powell, Ensign William Spense, Samuel Sharpe, Samuel Jordan, Thomas Dowse, John Polentine, Captain William Tucker, William Capp, Thomas Davis, Robert Stacy, Captain Thomas Graves, Walter Shelley, John Boys, John Jackson, Mr. Pawlett, Mr. Gourgaing, Ensign Roffingham, Mr. Johnson, Captain Christopher Lawne, Ensign Washer, Captain Warde, and Lieutenant Gibbes. John Pory was the speaker for the assembly and he documented the transactions that took place during the meetings.

Jamestown Settlement, 1607-1625

In 1606, the London Company received a royal charter from King James I to organize an expedition and establish colonies in North America. The Plymouth Company would establish the short-lived colony in Maine (see AJ-042). The Virginia Company set up England’s first permanent colony in Jamestown, Virginia. Their primary goal was profit; investors hoped settlers would find valuable natural resources, such as lumber, herbs, pitch, and even gold, to send back to England. However, the English government also wanted to resist the Spanish colonization of North America (see AJ-077 for a Spaniard’s account of the Jamestown colony). One hundred and four men and boys came ashore in May 1607-no women arrived until the following year. Over the next three years almost eight hundred settlers would arrive to colonize the Virginia coasts-six hundred of them arriving in 1609. Unfortunately, Jamestown was not an ideal spot for a colony. The low marshy land was not healthy, and clean water could be difficult to find. Attacks by the Powhatan Indians began shortly after the English colonists built their first fort at the Jamestown site. Fighting between the English and Indians continued, despite the settlers’ reliance on the Indians for corn during the difficult winters. In addition, many of the settlers were hardly qualified to farm and survive in this difficult setting. During the first years, mortality was very high through disease, starvation, and accident.

Captain John Smith was elected president in September 1608 (see AJ-074 and AJ-075). By enforcing strict discipline and requiring all settlers to farm, he increased the food supply. However, a serious injury in 1609 forced his return to England. One of the original settlers, George Percy, (see AJ-073) was president of the Virginia’s council during the winter of 1609 and 1610, called the “starving time” when only sixty settlers survived. In June 1610, they decided to abandon the town, but the arrival of the new governor, Lord De La Ware, and his supply ships brought the colonists back to the fort. In 1612, the settlers began to grow tobacco on their plantations-over time, this successful crop transformed the colony into a successful venture. John Rolfe, who married Pocahontas (see AJ-079), is credited with first planting a marketable tobacco in Virginia. In 1619, the same year Africans were brought into the colony as slaves, the first representative assembly in North America was set up-the Virginia Assembly. In 1624, the Virginia Company dissolved and Virginia became a royal colony under the governance of the English Crown.

Document Note

The first meeting of the General Assembly was conducted to establish rules for the economic, social, political and religious activities of Jamestown’s colonists. The assembly divided land, established inheritance rights, and requested the transportation of servants from England and other locations on behalf of the burgesses. The assembly passed laws to regulate the price of the tobacco cash crop and to secure the necessary resources to build a university. Laws were also passed that outlined the treatment of settlers caught participating in all kinds of crime or social deviance as defined by the colony. Additionally, the assembly created laws regulating the colonists relations with Native Americans which included suggestions for creating schools for Native American children that would be designed to teach them English religious and cultural ideas. The original of these proceedings was found in the in government archives in England and in 1857, they were published in George Bancroft’s Collections of the New York Historical Society (second series, III, 1857)and then in 1874 in Hon. D. C. De Jarnette’s Colonial Records of Virginia, Senate Document Extra. The document shown here is from Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (editor), Narratives of Early Virginia, 1606-1625. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The Jamestown Rediscovery archeology project website at http://www.apva.org/jr.html contains historical summaries, a timeline, biographies, and description of the archeological findings made at Jamestown.

At the Virtual Jamestown website, you can find a portrait of George Percy, at http://www.iath.virginia.edu/vcdh/jamestown/pic24a.html as well as other first-hand accounts of the Jamestown settlement (see http://www.iath.virginia.edu/vcdh/jamestown/fhaccounts_date.html).

The Public Broadcasting Station website on the history of Africans in America presents a narrative of the early years of Virginia’s history and explores the settlers’ difficult relationship with the Native Americans and the introduction of black slavery at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/title.html.

Information about the establishment and government of the Jamestown Colony and the role of the General Assembly can be found at http://www.nps.gov/colo/Jthanout/1stASSLY.html

Read this Document
Print or Download
Read Background
View Reference Map (PDF)
How to Cite
Copyright and Permissions
© 2014 Wisconsin Historical Society Feedback | Site Help
Wisconsin history