Skip to main content

Jamestown, VA: Where 400 years of representative government is born

Written By | Aug 2, 2019

By Robert Sears, A pictorial description of the United States (s.n., 1854), pg. 315 – Robert Sears, A pictorial description of the United States (s.n., 1854), pg. 315, Public Domain,

..WASHINGTON: The last Tuesday of July marked the 400th anniversary of the first meeting of the House of Burgesses at Jamestown. The House of Burgesses is the first representative legislative assembly in the Western Hemisphere.  Jamestown is the first permanent English colony in North America.

In April 1619, Colonial Governor George Yeardley arrived in Jamestown

One of Yeardley first announcements was abolishing Marshall Law by the Virginia Company of London. In its place, a legislative assembly is to govern the Virginia colony. From July 30 to August 4, 1619, Yeardley presided over the first meeting of the legislative assembly, convening a group of 22 representatives st the newly built wooden church.

Former Virginia Governor George Allen notes that
” The meeting in Virginia set America on the course toward the ideals of a free and just society..The first Legislative Assembly focused on the important issues of the time—-how to sustain the 12-year-old colony, commercial and economic arrangements, matters of religion, and how to manage relations with the Powhatan Indians.  The Legislative  Assembly launched a new society based on the rule of law and consent of the governed.”

Read Also: Celebrating Juneteenth – a day for all freedom-loving Americans

This first official meeting, states Allen,

“was the formative event in establishing the United State’s’ current system of representative government…These earliest expressions of democracy in Jamestown established important guiding principles,  The Jeffersonian freedom of religion…for all men and women in a self-governing  representative democracy; private ownership of property as the basis of the free enterprise system…and the rule of law where our natural rights are protected…”
American history found in Virginia.

In 1969, I visited the Berkeley Plantation to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving.  I remember interviewing the plantation owner, Malcolm Jamieson. Jamieson showing letters from President John F. Kennedy and former Massachusetts Governor John Volpe declaring beyond a doubt that Berkeley, located in Charles City County, Virginia, was the site if the first formal Thanksgiving in the New World.

Berkeley is the site of other historical firsts as well.

The land of Berkeley was part of a grant made in 1610 by King James I to the Berkeley Company calling it the “Berkeley Hundred.”  On December 4, 1619: the settlers stepped ashore there and in accordance with the proprietor’s instructions that

“the day of our ship’s arrival….shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of Thanksgiving” celebrated the first Thanksgiving Day—- more than a year before the Pilgrims arrived in New England.

At a time when American history is under attack in some circles, it is important to recognize the great achievement of maintaining representative government for 400 years.  The Founding Fathers gave us a system including the flaws of humanity.  Soon after its first legislative assembly met in Jamestown,  the first slaves arrived at the settlement.

Yet, they created a system with the ability to change and grow.

Looking back, we easily see its faults and imperfections.  But 400 years ago, it was the freest spot in the Western world. Continuing to be so for generations.

Being in Jamestown for the 350th anniversary was the start of my close connection with this historic site.

As a freshman at the College of William and Mary, driving the rural roads between Williamsburg and Jamestown, as well as on the Colonial Parkway, between Williamsburg and Yorktown, was how we learned to drive.

Also Read:  The colonies in trouble: Colonial Williamsburg in decline

History repeats and several of my children also had their first driving experience on these historic highways.

Those who engage in divisional rhetoric on the basis of race, religion, and ethnicity would do well to review Jamestown’s 400-year history.

Our democracy began at Jamestown. We would do well to remember the lessons which our rich and diverse history teaches us. These early settlers were immigrants, leaving their native country for a better life. Men and women have been seeking a better life in America for 400 years.

Thus making America a truly unique society.


Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.