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American Evolution™ 1619-2019


Virginia is commemorating 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™ will feature 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™.

Look for a one hour documentary “Evolution of America: 1619 to Today" on your local PBS stations. The program explores 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.


September 25-28, 2019, Norfolk State University, Norfolk

1619: Making of America Summit

This cross-cultural event will explore 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. Scholars, thought leaders, artists, film makers, and students will participate in keynote addresses, interactive conversations, and panel discussions both live and online.

Link to more information about this event.


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.


January 25, 2019-December 31, 2019, Virginia State Capitol Visitor Center, Richmond

The Great Charter and the General Assembly: Founding a Legacy in 1619

The content highlights the historical origins of the Virginia General Assembly in the Great Charter of 1618, which abolished martial law, allowed property to shift to private ownership, and authorized the governor to summon a General Assembly to act on legislation. The exhibition includes the legacy of representative government, which became the model adopted for the establishment of the government of the United States.

Link to information about this exhibition.

Link to accessibility information on the Virginia State Capitol Visitor Center.

Beginning April 15, 2019, Historic Jamestowne, Williamsburg

Historic Jamestowne: Democracy & Diversity

One exhibit, replicating the floorplan of the 1617 church, will explore the events and legacies of the first General Assembly. New exhibits in  The Voorhees Archaearium Archaeology Museum will challenge long-held perceptions of democracy, diversity, and race in early English America. They will explore 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.

“Fort to Port” will examine Jamestown’s evolution in twelve years from a small triangular fort to a major port in the Atlantic Seaboard. “A Foundation for Success” will build on decades of excavation in and around James Fort and will detail the architectural chronology from the first structures to substantial brick buildings.

Link to information about the exhibition.

Link to access information on Historic Jamestowne.


July 30, 2019, Historic Jamestown, Williambsurg

Commemorative Ceremony of the First Representative Legislative Assembly

Members of the Virginia General Assembly, Congress and state legislatures nationwide convene for this special commemorative event. In addition to ceremonies, public programs will take place at both Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement.

Link to information about 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.


June 8, 2019-November 17, 2019, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

Cosmologies from the Tree of Life: Art from the African American South

This special exhibition celebrates the extraordinary contributions that African American artists have made to art and culture since 1619. The exhibition will include paintings, sculptures, installations, drawings and quilts and will feature recent acquisitions of works by contemporary African American artists from the Southern U.S.

Working with little or no formal training, and often employing cast-off objects and unconventional materials, artists created visually compelling works that address some of the most profound and persistent issues in American society, including race, class, gender, and religion.

Link to information about this exhibit.

Link to accessibility information about the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

June 19, 2019-March 1, 2020, Virginia Museum of History & Culture, Richmond

Determined: The 400-year Struggle for Black Equality

This exhibition explores the African American experience from 1619 to the present day and charts their advances and setbacks, triumphs and trials in the long struggle for full equality and against persistent discrimination. Told through the stories of individual Virginians whose determination and actions helped move American society closer to our ideal of universal equality, the exhibits include historical objects, archival images and video, and interactive features, along educational programs to encourage diverse audiences to engage with this richly complex history.

Link to information on this exhibit.

Link to accessibility information about the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.


March 19, 2019, Virginia Union University, Richmond

Faith Journeys in the Black Experience, 1619-2019

The Virginia Council of Churches and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University will convene a scholarly conference open to the general public on the religious context of Virginia 1619, its impact on people of color, and the evolution of a religious and culturally diverse United States in the 21st century.

Link to more information of this conference.

May 3-5, 2019, Chrysler Hall, Norfolk, VA

Dance Theatre of Harlem, World Premiere of a new ballet based on the themes of the arrival of the first of the first women and the first Africans in Virginia expressed in in abstract the fortitude of the human spirit, celebrating the unvanquished spark within that must prevail.

Link to more information about this event.

August 23, 2019, Fort Monroe, Hampton

African Arrival Commemoration and Fort Monroe Visitor & Education Center Dedication

Fort Monroe Authority and the National Park Service are opening the former Coast Artillery School Library at Fort Monroe and the addition of two wings. The galleries will tell the profound stories of Captain John Smith, the arrival of the first enslaved Africans and the culmination of 242 years of slavery as the first contrabands came to Fort Monroe to receive their emancipation.

Link to more information about this event.

September 14, 2019, Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg

Dance Theatre of Harlem, World Premiere of a new ballet based on the themes of the arrival of the first of the first women and the first Africans in Virginia expressed in in abstract the fortitude of the human spirit, celebrating the unvanquished spark within that must prevail.

Link to information about the 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.


January 1, 2019- January 5, 2020, Jamestown Settlement, Williamsburg

TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia

This special yearlong exhibition explores captivating and little-known personal stories and contributions of women in Jamestown and the Virginia colony and their tenacious spirit and impact on a fledgling society. Discover the struggles that the the first English women in Virginia, the Powhatan Indian women they encountered, and the African women slaves faced in the New World. From women’s roles to women’s rights, connect issues of the 17th century and how they are relevant today.

The special exhibition will feature more than 60 artifacts on loan from 22 international and national institutions, including the Victorian Albert Museum, Museum of London, Master and Fellows of Magdalene College Cambridge, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, National Archives, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.  A series of special programs, from public lectures to performances, will complement the special exhibition.

Link to information about this exhibit.

Link to accessibility information on Jamestown Settlement.


April 25-28, 2019, Scope Arena, Norfolk

Virginia International Tattoo: Celebrating Women in Service to the Nation

With more than more 1,000 performers including fife and drum corps, bagpipers, military bands, precision drill teams, and performing ensembles ranging from step dancers to motorcycle stunt drivers, the 2019 event will include 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.

Link to more information about this event.

October 14, 2019, Capitol Square Richmond, VA

"Voices from the Garden” Women’s Monument Dedication Event

The first-in-the-nation monument dedicated to women on state capitol grounds will be in Virginia. The dedication ceremony honor 12 historic Virginia women enshrined by the monument. The dedication ceremony will open to the public.

Link to information about the event.

October 14-15, 2019, Richmond, VA

Women’s Achieve Summit will be a multi-faceted, interactive event to honor women 400 years ago, today, and in the future. The focus of each day will be unique; on the first day, Women’s Legacy in America and the second day, A Vision of the Future of Women in America.

Link to information about this conference.

November 21-24, 2019, Byrd Theater, Richmond

Pocahontas Reframed Storytellers Film Festival

The Pocahontas Reframed Storytellers Film Festival brings together artists, authors, filmmakers, and actors willing to share, teach, and explain their creativity and history. The Festival includes Native American-affiliated classic and recently released films that have been official selections of world-renowned festivals including the Sundance Film Festival, the South by Southwest Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival.

Link to information on the festival.


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.


November 3, 2019, Berkeley Plantation, Charles City

Virginia Thanksgiving Festival

Every year on the first Sunday of November, Berkeley Plantation hosts the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival. This annual tradition dates back to 1619. The Virginia Thanksgiving Festival event showcases cultural performances and a reenactment of the first official English Thanksgiving in North America.

Link to more information about this festival.


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.


January 19, 2019 - April 28, 2019, Virginia Living Museum, Newport News

American Adventure

Do you have what it takes to survive? Take a step back into history to find. In 1607, settlers landed on the shores of Virginia, creating the first permanent European settlement, little did they know that less than half of them would survive the year in this new wilderness.

Minotaur Mazes’ American Adventure takes visitors on an immersive, educational role-play adventure that asks people to conquer one great challenge: survive the year as one of the original Jamestown colonists. Sound easy? Think again. Only 38 of the 104 settlers survived. But don’t worry – you’re not tied to their destiny. You can beat the odds and determine your fate – it all depends on the choices you make…and a bit of luck.

The American Adventure experience quickly reveals the reality of what Jamestown’s settlers faced, but also how everyday decisions and interactions with the environment can be a matter of life and death. Even if you don’t survive, try again! There’s a new adventure every time you enter the exhibit.

Link to information about this exhibition.

Link to accessibility information on the Virginia Living Museum.



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