America’s First Government Meeting Begins with Prayer in 1619

Dateline: Virginia, July 30, 1619: The Anglican Virginia colonists under Sir George Yeardley met in a plenary session to invoke God’s blessing and set out basic rules. They met in the choir of the church. This is the first official government assembly. These men were not greedy, Indian-murdering atheists.

The first half of this post lists the names of those present. These are the courageous pioneers who made the journey across the ocean. The second half shows the content of their first official government assembly.

King James I ruled from 1603 to 1625.

Sir George Yeardley is the Governor, and his Council served him, under King James I. Then the House of Burgesses was elected out of each incorporation or plantation.

A “hundred” is a smaller unit of regional measurement that was imported directly from England.

Will the new government and the Company in England take from the people who have been here a long time their special privileges as free landholders?

I like the word we in their records, as if it’s personal to them. It was, too!

This is modernized transcription, except the words in bold font.

A Report of the Manner of Proceeding in the General Assembly

Convened at James City [Jamestowne] in Virginia, July 30, 1619, consisting of the Governor, Council of Estate [State], and two Burgesses elected out of each Incorporation & Plantation & being dissolved the 4th of August ensuing

First SIR GEORGE YEARDLY, Knight, Governor, & Captain General of Virginia, having sent his summons all over the country, as well to invite those of the Council of State that were absent, as also for the Election of Burgesses there were chosen and appeared.

For James City [named after James I]

Captain William Powell

Ensign William Spence

For Charles City

Samuel Sharpe

Samuel Jordan [probably related to James Monroe]

For the City of Henricus

Thomas Dawse

John Polentine

For Kiccowtan

Captain William Tucker

William Capp

For Martin-Brandon Capt. John Martin’s Plantation

Mr. Thomas Davis,

Mr. Robt. Stacy

For Smyth’s Hundred

Captain Thomas Graves

Mr. Walter Shelley

For Martin’s Hundred

Mr. John Boys [Boice]

John Jackson

For Argall’s Guisse [sic]

Mr. Pawlett

Mr. Gourgainy

For Flower Dew Hundred [dieu in French means God, but it should probably read dew]

Ensign Rossingham

Mr. Jefferson [John, who is probably related to Thomas Jefferson]

For Captain Lawnes’ Plantation

Christopher Lawnes

Ensign Washer

For Captain Ward’s Plantation

Captain Ward

Lieutenant Gibbs

Where the first government met

The most convenient place we could find to sit was in the Quire of the Church, where SIR GEORGE YEARDLEY, the Governor being sit down in his accustomed place; those of the Council of State sat next to him on both hands except only the Secretary then appointed Speaker, who sat right before him; JOHN TWINE, clerk of the General Assembly being placed next the Speaker and THOMAS PIERCE the sergeant standing at the bar, to be ready for any service the Assembly should command him.


But for as much as men’s affairs do little prosper where God’s service is neglected, all the Burgesses took their places in the Quire till a prayer was said by MR. BUCK, the Minister, that it would please God to guide us and sanctify all our proceedings to his own glory and the good of this plantation [of Virginia]; prayer being ended to the intent that we had begun at God Almighty so we might proceed with awful [awesome] and due respect towards his Lieutenant, our most gracious and dread Sovereign [KING JAMES], all the Burgesses were entreated to retire themselves into the body of the Church;

Oath of office

Which being done, before they were fully admitted, they were called in order and by name, and so every man (none staggering to it) took the oath of supremacy and then entered the Assembly ….

Transcription ends.

The first order of business is to get the record right. CAPT. WARD did not join the Virginia Company, but because he had been in Virginia already and worked so diligently for the common good, “the Assembly was contented to admit of him and his Lieutenant (as members of their body and Burgesses into their society), provided that the said CAPTAIN WARD, with all expedition [haste], that is to say, between this and the next General Assembly (all lawful impediments excepted) should procure from the treasurer and Council and Company, as the chiefs of other plantation have done. And in case he do neglect this, he is to stand to the censure of the next General Assembly.”

He and his lieutenant swore the oath. Issue solved.

Treating the Indians fairly

Now comes the issue of Capt. John Martin. It is widely believed that the original government in Virginia did not treat the Natives fairly. Here at the very beginning, they tried to do the right thing.

Modern transcription resumes:

Then came in a complaint against CAPTAIN MARTIN that having sent his shallop to trade corn into the Bay under the command of Ensign Harrison, the said ensign should affirm to one THOMAS DAVIS of Paspaheighs [alias Argall’s Town], Gent. (as the said THOMAS DAVIS deposed upon oath) that they [would have] made a hard voyage, had they not met with a canoe coming out of a creek, where the shallop entered the canoe with arms and took it by force, measuring out the corn with a basket they had into a shallop and (as the said Ensign Harrison says) given them satisfaction in copper, beads and other trucking stuff; hitherto MR. DAVIS upon oath.

Furthermore it was signified from Opochancanoa to the Governor that these people had complained to him to procure them justice, for which consideration and because such outrages as this might breed danger and loss of life to others of the Colony, who should have leave [permission] to trade in the Bay hereafter and for the prevention of the like violences [sic] against the Indians in time to come, this order following was agreed on by the General Assembly.

A second order made against Capt. Martin at James City, July 30th 1619

It was also ordered by the Assembly the same day that in case CAPTAIN MARTIN and the gang of his shallop could not thoroughly answer an accusation of an outrage committed (his patent notwithstanding the authority whereof he had in that case abused) he should from henceforth take leave of the Governor as other men and should put in security that his people shall commit no such outrage anymore.

Upon this a letter or warrant was drawn in the name of the whole Assembly to summon CAPTAIN MARTIN to appear before the in form following:

By the Governor and General Assembly of Virginia

CAPTAIN MARTIN, we are to request you upon sight hereof with all convenient speed to repair hither to James City to treat and confer with us about some matters of especial importance which concern both us and the whole Colony and yourself; and of this we pray you not to fail.

Transcription ends.

Studying the Great Charter

This section shows that the Burgesses wanted to ensure their liberty, despite the Great Charter imposed from above by the political authorities.

Modern transcription resumes:

These obstacles [Capt. Ward and Capt. Martin] removed, the Speaker, who a long time had been extreme sickly and therefore not able to pass through the long harangues, delivered in brief to the whole Assembly the occasions of their meeting; which done, he read unto them the commission for establishing the Council of Estate [State] and the General Assembly, wherein their duties were described to the life [sic]; having thus prepared them, he read over unto them the Great Charter or Commission of Privileges, Orders and Laws sent by SIR GEORGE YEARDLEY out of England, which for the more ease of the committees, having divided into four books, he read the former two the same forenoon, for expedition’s sake, a second time over & so they were referred to the perusal of two committees, which did reciprocally consider of either, and accordingly brought in their opinions.

But some man may here object to what end [purpose] we should presume to refer that to the examination of committees, which the Council and Company in England had already resolved to be perfect and did expect nothing but our assent thereunto.

To this we answer that we did it not to the end [purpose] to correct or control anything therein contained, but only in case we should find aught [anything] not perfectly squaring with the state of the Colony or any law which did press or bind too hard that we might by way of humble petition seek to have it redressed, especially because this Great Charter is to bind us and our heirs forever.

The names of the Committees for perusing the first book of the four:

  1. Capt. William Powell
  2. Ensign Rosingham
  3. Captain Ward
  4. Captain Tucker
  5. Mr. Shelley
  6. Thomas Douse [Daws]
  7. Samuel Jordan
  8. Mr. Boice

The names of the committee for perusing the second book:

  1. Captain Lawne
  2. Captain Graves
  3. Ensign Spence
  4. Samuel Sharp
  5. William Cap
  6. Mr. Powlett
  7. Mr. Jefferson
  8. Mr. Jackson

The committees thus appointed, we broke up the first forenoon’s Assembly.

After dinner the Governor and those that were not of the committees sat a second time, while the said committees were employed in the perusal of those two books.

And whereas the Speaker propounded four several objects [goals] for the Assembly to consider on, namely,

First the Great Charter of Orders, Laws and Privileges;

Secondly, which of the instructions given by the Council in England to my LORD LE WARRE, CAPTAIN ARGALL, or SIR GEORGE YEARDLY, might conveniently put on the habit of laws;

Thirdly what laws might issue out of the private conceit of any of the Burgesses or any other of the Colony;

And lastly what petitions were fit to be sent home for England;

It pleased the Governor for expedition’s [speed and efficiency’s] sake to have the second object of the four to be examined and prepared by himself and the non-committee.

Wherein after having spent some three hours conference, the two committees brought in their opinions concerning the two former books (the second which begins at these words of the Charter).

And forasmuch as our intent is to establish one equal and uniform kind of government over all Virginia, etc. because it was late, deferred to treat of till the next morning.

Transcription ends.

The Great Charter, emanating from the King and the Virginia Company, will prove too restrictive, as the next posts will show. But here and now these Anglicans recognized that God must be called on, for success.


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