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American Evolution™ 1619-2019


Virginia commemorated the 400th anniversary of key historical events that occurred in Virginia in 1619.

Twelve years after the founding of Jamestown in 1607 saw five important events:

We are one nation with many stories, and the Old Dominion has plenty of stories to share to help us understand the foundation for today’s America and our ongoing American Evolution.

Come learn about the challenges, successes and inequities of the past to help understand and appreciate the difficult path our nation has taken to arrive where we are today.

America Evolution™ featured a series of exciting, creative education programs, events and legacy projects to show Virginia’s role in the creation of the United States.

Link to captioned video about American Evolution™.

The one hour documentary “Evolution of America: 1619 to Today" was featured on your local PBS stations. The program explored four historical events of this seemingly obscure but decisive year, and the effect that year had on the growth and development of the U.S., which still resonates today. It is available on Maryland Public Television. Just select WHRO as your channel choice.

Link to the one hour documentary "Evolution of America: 1619 to Today."


Events and exhibitions gathered Virginians, travelers, history lovers, and special guests throughout Virginia to join events in the themes of democracy, diversity, and opportunity.

1619: Making of America Summit

This cross-cultural event explored the 400-year journey of the three founding cultures: Native, African and English peoples, and their contributions and influence that shaped the building of America. Moderated interviews, roundtable discussions, and breakout sessions fostered conversation, and audience members participated with the aid of a special app created for the event. Select sessions were live-streamed to high school and college classrooms nationally, so that students could witness and remotely participate in the important dialogues.

Evening cultural programs including the Norfolk State University Theater Company’s production of the play “Gem of the Ocean” by American playwright August Wilson and a special screening and discussion of the prize-winning documentary film Ghosts of Amistad: In the Footsteps of the Rebels rounded out the event.

Link to PDF transcript of this event.

Link to video of this event.

Link to video of roundtable discussions.


History In Your Hand

Virginia History Trails is a FREE easy-to-use travel app for Android/Google and iOS. A “trail” is a number of historic destinations grouped by subject that tell the story of Virginia’s rich history as part of the American Evolution™. With 20 trails containing over 400 stories, you can find the trail that both inspires and motivates you to start exploring.

Virginia has hundreds of museums and historic places. How do you sift through them all to find the stories that interest you? Explore over 400 of the most impactful people, places and events that shaped Virginia and that are continuing to influence America today.

Link to download the app for iOS devices.

Link to download the app for Android/Google devices.


The First Representative Legislative Assembly

In 1619 officials of the Virginia Company authorized Governor George Yeardley to oversee the selection of two male settlers from each of the eleven major settlement areas to attend a “General Assembly” with the purpose of passing laws and hopefully improving management in the colony.

The representatives, called burgesses, sat with the governor and his appointed council as the Assembly. They discussed and passed legislation on a number of key topics. They forbade idleness, gambling, drunkenness, and the oppression of Native Americans, and approved farming regulations, trade restrictions, and new rules regarding indentured servants. The concept of parliamentary government was brought to Virginia.

Link to dramatic reading of the laws enacted by the first General Assembly.

After 1619 the General Assembly met only sporadically, and formal recognition of the Assembly by the English crown did not come until 1627. The General Assembly gradually evolved into a two-house form of government in the 1640's. This legislative body continues today as Virginia’s General Assembly. It became the model for other English colonies and eventually the basis for the democratic government of the United States of America.

Guardians of Jamestown, 1619 is an Emmy Award–winning video series focused on the five historical events that occurred in Virginia in 1619 and have been shaping America ever since. While visiting Historic Jamestown with her father, Safiri is swept up into a time-traveling adventure! With the help of the “Time Guardian,” Safiri must locate and save artifacts from 1619, ensuring that they are found by archaeologists in the present. This is the story about the first General Assembly.

Link to captioned video Guardians of Jamestown about the General Assembly.


Historic Jamestowne: Democracy & Diversity

In the Footsteps of Democracy showcases the archaeological discoveries that identified the exact footprint of Jamestown’s 1617-18 church where the first legislative assembly took place and where democracy in America was born during 1619. The exhibition inside the Memorial Church reflects the interior of the earlier church with wooden floors, a center aisle of brick, and pavers in the chancel around the restored Knight’s Tombstone.

A partial reconstruction of the 1617-18 timber-frame church, including a belfry that houses a reconstruction of the original bell, helps define the size of the space. In addition, reinforced glass now covers the Knight’s Tombstone and another glass portal covers a portion of the original 1617-18 cobblestone and brick foundations along the south wall.

From Fort to Port: Legacies of 1619, located in the Nathalie P. & Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium, examines Jamestown’s evolution from a small triangular fort to a thriving port city. It challenges long-held perceptions of democracy, diversity, and race in early English America through exploration of difficult themes such as the ‘othering’ and exploitation of Africans, Virginia Indians, and indentured servants, the genesis of an English system of race-based slavery, and the establishment of a plantation society reliant on tobacco. It also explores the impact of the large-scale uprising against the government known as Bacon’s Rebellion. The exhibit includes a full-scale representation of the two rows of houses constructed in James Fort in 1610-11 as the beginning of the new phase of timber-frame construction leading to the 1617-18 church building.

Link to access information on Historic Jamestowne.


Commemorative Ceremony of the First Representative Legislative Assembly

The seeds of American democracy were planted when the first representative assembly met at Jamestown from July 30 to August 4, 1619. Four hundred years later, members of the Virginia General Assembly, state and national dignitaries, and special guests gathered at Historic Jamestowne, the site of the first assembly meeting, and Jamestown Settlement to commemorate this important moment in time that laid the groundwork for today’s democracies.

Link to PDF transcript of this event.

Link to accessibility information on Historic Jamestowne.

Link to accessibility information on Jamestown Settlement.


The Arrival of the First African Americans to English North America

In August 1619, a privateering ship flying the flag of the Dutch Republic arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia (in present-day Hampton). According to John Rolfe, the ship held no cargo but “20 and odd” Africans, who were traded to Governor George Yeardley and Cape Merchant Abraham Peirsey in exchange for provisions. These individuals, originally captured by Portuguese slavers in West Central Africa (likely modern-day Angola), were the first recorded Africans to arrive in English North America.

Modern research has revealed that both the ship and its captain, John Jope, were English. Jope held a letter of marque from Vlissingen, a notorious privateer haven in the Netherlands, which allowed him to legally plunder Spanish and Portuguese vessels. Spain and England were at peace in 1619.

Jope, with the help of another English privateer, captured a Portuguese slave trading vessel, the São João Bautista (Saint John the Baptist) in the Gulf of Mexico. It is likely that many of the enslaved Africans onboard the Portuguese ship were skilled laborers from West Central Africa’s urban centers, and many were likely Christians as well, converted by the Portuguese before or after their capture. After taking on as many captive Africans as their ships could carry, Jope decided to sail north to the Virginia colony.

Despite the fact that slavery was not officially acknowledged in the laws of Virginia until 1661, there can be no mistaking that the first Africans brought to the colony were treated much as slaves were in other European colonies, regardless of age or gender. Scattered amongst a variety of plantations, they were immediately treated as commodities by the colonial elite. In rare instances, some Africans were allowed to work their own land, earn an income, and eventually purchase their freedom, but most were assigned to heavy labor in fields, kitchens, and outhouses.

The African population in Virginia remained quite small for the next several decades, with only 300 Africans residing in the colony by 1650. By 1680, however, that number had increased to 3,000 and by 1704, to 10,000.

Link to African American heritage sites in Hampton.

Link to Hampton University Museum.

Link to captioned video of African American history in Virginia.

Link to dramatic readings on African American events including John Punch, the first African American to be declared a slave for life and runaway slave ads from the 1730's.

Link to Guardians of Jamestown video, continuing Safiri's adventures with the first African Americans in Jamestown.


African Arrival Commemoration and Fort Monroe Visitor & Education Center Dedication

Thousands attended the four-day First African Landing Commemorative weekend organized in partnership with the City of Hampton, Fort Monroe Authority, and the National Park Service. A series of events including a “political firsts” luncheon, cultural activities, musical performances, and public tours of Fort Monroe commemorated the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America at Point Comfort in 1619.

Link to PDF transcript of this event.

Link to video of this event.


Dance Theatre of Harlem

In partnership with the Virginia Arts Festival, American Evolution commissioned a new ballet from the world-renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem. The piece that is titled “Passage” was created by Claudia Schreier, an award-winning choreographer.

The work in three parts for 12 dancers was set to a score composed for the 2019 Commemoration by Jessie Montgomery, whose music has been hailed as “wildly colorful and exploding with life” (The Washington Post). The new ballet reflected the themes of the commemoration and expressed, in abstract, the fortitude of the human spirit, while celebrating the unvanquished spark within that must prevail.

Link to video of this performance.


Women Arrive in Jamestown

When the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery arrived in Virginia with a group of 104 settlers in 1607, women were not among them. The Virginia Company sent men to Virginia primarily to explore the region and discover how to best exploit its natural resources for commercial profit. These men did not initially expect to settle permanently in Virginia.

The first English women to come to Virginia, Mistress Forest and her maid Anne Burras, arrived as the only two women amongst Jamestown’s second supply of colonists in 1608. Other women followed in subsequent years but were not sent in any systematic fashion.

After many years of hardship, officials recognized that they would need to establish a family structure in the colony if they wished to bring stability to Virginia and ensure that Jamestown became a permanent settlement. In November 1619, the Virginia Company declared its intention to recruit “a fit hundredth . . . of women, maids young and uncorrupt to make wives to the Inhabitants and by that means to make the men there more settled and less movable.” 90 women arrived in Jamestown in May 1620, followed by another 57 women in 1621.

In Virginia, as in England, women had to surrender their legal right to their husbands. They could not vote, hold public office, or control their own property. Upon the death of their husbands, some widows obtained freedom from the legal and economic control of men.

Long before English women arrived in the colony, some Native American women lived amongst the English settlers at Jamestown, the most famous being Pocahontas. Women held an important role in the Powhatan people of Virginia. The position of chief was inherited through the female line, and women could hold positions of significant authority, although few ever did. Women were responsible for farming, foraging, home construction, and child care, giving them a great deal of influence through their control of the tribes’ primary food supply.

The first documented African women in Virginia arrived in 1619 after having been held as slaves aboard a Portuguese trade vessel. In the colony’s early years, some African women were treated as servants, able to earn their freedom after five to seven years of bondage. Mary, an African woman who arrived in Virginia in 1623, was able to obtain her freedom and marry Anthony Johnson, a former servant. The couple started their own tobacco plantation on the Eastern Shore, eventually owning 250 acres of land. Some African women were also held by planters as lifelong slaves, despite the lack of any law guaranteeing their right to do so until the 1660s.

Link to Guardians of Jamestown episode of the arrival of women in Jamestown.

Link to the captioned video on the struggle for women's rights in Virginia.

Link to dramatic reading of Captain John Smith journal detailing his famous encounter with Pocahontas.


Women’s Achieve Summit

Over 1,400 women and men attended the Women’s Achieve Summit, hosted by award-winning actor and musical performer Queen Latifah, to celebrate the achievements of women in Virginia and American history, and to discuss issues women face in the 21st century. U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner joined the Summit as its honorary co-host. The Summit featured a variety show format and a house band to keep energy up throughout the event.

The theme of the conference was “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” and the house band named “The Miss-Behavers” was formed with five female musicians from across Virginia. Speakers represented the diversity of American women and the event format included interviews with women pioneers, panel discussions, and heartfelt storytelling.

Link to PDF transcript of this conference.

Link to video of morning session.

Link to video of afternoon session.

Link to video of "Well-Behaved Women."


Virginia International Tattoo

This event honored the accomplishments of women with an extraordinary cast of more than 1,000 performers from around the world including Switzerland’s Central Army Band, the Army Band of France, the OzScot Australia Highland Dancers, and pipe and drum corps from the United Kingdom and Canada.

The Tattoo is the largest in the United States, drawing an annual audience of over 40,000 people. America’s premier tourism organization, the American Bus Association, named the annual Virginia International Tattoo one of the “Best Top 100 Events in North America.”

Link to video of this event.


1619 Thanksgiving

In the 16th and 17th centuries, European settlers and explorers in America frequently gave thanks to God after experiencing good fortune or completing an arduous journey. Native American peoples marked successful harvests with feasts and communal celebration. While these events are reminiscent of America’s modern Thanksgiving, they were traditionally spontaneous affairs, as opposed to regularly scheduled celebrations.

In February 1619, the Virginia Company granted 8,000 acres of property for the settlement of a plantation along the James River, to be called Berkeley Hundred. These investors recruited 38 men to send to Virginia as tenants and servants aboard the ship Margaret. Captain John Woodlief was also chosen to act as the plantation’s commander. Before leaving England Woodlief was given written instructions from the investors, including instructions which stated:

That the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon (plantation) in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty god.

While no documentation survives to confirm whether or not the settlers of Berkeley Plantation followed the Virginia Company’s instructions after arriving in Virginia on December 4, 1619, it is reasonable to assume that they would have followed such an official order.

Given the lack of any permanent structures at the landing site and the crew’s presumed lack of supplies after traveling across the Atlantic, the first Thanksgiving at Berkeley would not have included a grand feast. Instead, the plantation’s settlers would have held a formal religious observance, thanking God for their safe arrival in Virginia.

Unlike earlier expressions of thanksgiving which took place in the New World, the observance at Berkeley Plantation was unique because it was both the first officially sanctioned Thanksgiving in America as well as the first Thanksgiving designed to become part of an annual tradition.

The history of America’s first Thanksgiving holiday was lost for centuries until Dr. Lyon G. Tyler, son of President John Tyler, discovered the records of Berkeley Plantation investor John Smyth in 1931. A Virginia senator chastised President John F. Kennedy for neglecting to mention Virginia in his annual Thanksgiving Proclamation. He received a response from prominent historian and Special Assistant to the President Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who admitted that Virginia was indeed the site of the first Thanksgiving and that Kennedy’s failure to include Virginia in his annual proclamation was a result of “unconquerable New England bias on the part of the White House staff.” In 1963, President Kennedy appeared to amend for his earlier mistake by crediting “our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts” for their role in the creation of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Link to Guardians of Jamestown episode of the First Thanksgiving.

Link to American Evolution YouTube videos of the 400th Anniversary Commemorative videos.


Economic Innovation

From its beginning in 1607, the entire Virginia enterprise was an expression of corporate entrepreneurialism, a private joint stock trading company. Originally, all land was owned by the Virginia Company and all work was done for the Company, with the idea of turning profits for the Company stockholders. There was no individual private enterprise or encouragement for private entrepreneurs. Technically, this system lasted until the end of the Company in 1624.

Around 1614 the first semi-private land grants were made to colonists, allotting three acres of land upon which settlers could plant tobacco as long as they also planted corn for common use. In 1616 the Company realized they had no profits to pay those who had purchased stock in 1609 under a seven-year term. In order to compensate investors, Company officials began a land distribution system in 1618 to reform the colony politically, economically and socially. The Virginia Company’s goal was to create an orderly government and society and to control who would get land and how. This system rewarded individuals with 100 acres of land in Virginia for every share of stock they had purchased or 50 acres if they paid the transportation costs of themselves or others to the colony. They could send over servants and supplies to establish “particular plantations” upon which most would grow tobacco.

In 1619, Company officials sent instructions indicating the ways they hoped to create profits from pursuits other than tobacco. The colonists should plant and maintain a specified number of mulberry trees (on which silkworms feed, which then produce silk), grow hemp and flax, and plant and maintain vines. They ordered colonists to experiment with different plants in a new environment. The officials allowed tradesmen and artisans to come to Virginia, rent a house and some land, and be paid for their work, upon condition that they continue to perform their trade.

Because of regulation and controls set by the Virginia Company, the spirit of free enterprise was not realized for individuals during the Company period. The Company was the corporate entrepreneur that decided how to diversify the attempts at profit-making. Unfortunately, most of their attempts failed to produce the profits they sought. Even later ventures into ironworks and sawmills did not help produce profits. Tobacco produced the largest profits.

Entrepreneurship began taking root, and Virginia became a pioneer of what has become the free enterprise system in the United States of America.

Link to Guardians of Jamestown episode on the influence of tobacco on the colony.




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