Colonization, 1562-1753

Author: John Twine  | Date: 1619

The First Representative Assembly

REPORT of the manner of proceedings in the General assembly convened at James City in Virginia, July 30, 1619, consisting of the Governor, the Council of Estate and two Burgesses elected out of each incorporation and plantation, and being dissolved the 4th of August next ensuing.

First. Sir George Yeardley, Knight Governor and captain general of Virginia, sent his summons all over the country, as well to invite those of the Council of Estate that were absent as also for the election of Burgesses….

The most convenient place we could find to sit in was the quire of the church where Sir George Yeardley, the Governor, being set down in his accustomed place, those of the Council of Estate sat next 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 Pierse, the Sergeant, standing at the bar, to be ready for any service the Assembly should command him. But forasmuch 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. Bucke, the minister, that it would please God to guide and sanctify all our proceedings to his own glory and the good of this plantation. Prayer being ended, to the intent that as we had begun at God Almighty, so we might proceed with awful and due respect towards the Lieutenant, our most gracious and dread Sovereign, all the Burgesses were entreated to retire themselves into the body of the church, which being done, before they were fully admitted, they were called in order and by name, and so every man (none staggering at it) took the oath of supremacy, and then entered the Assembly….

These obstacles removed, the Speaker, who a long time had been extreme sickly and therefore not able to pass through 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 and the general Assembly, wherein their duties were described to the life.

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; and so they were referred to the perusal of two committees, which did reciprocally consider of either, and accordingly brought in their opinions. But some men may here object to what end we should presume to refer that to the examination of the 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 to correct or control anything therein contained, but only in case we should find ought not perfectly squaring with the state of this 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….

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 had propounded four several objects for the Assembly to consider: First, the great charter of orders, laws, and privileges; Secondly, which of the instructions given by the Council in England to my lord Delaware, Captain Argall or Sir George Yeardley, 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 sake to have the second object of the four to be examined and prepared by himself and the non-committees. Wherein after having spent some three hours’ conference, the two committees brought in their opinions concerning the two former books, (the second of 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.,) which the whole Assembly, because it was late, deferred to treat of till the next morning….

There remaining no farther scruple in the minds of the Assembly, touching the said great charter of laws, orders and privileges, the Speaker put the same to the question, and so it had both the general assent and the applause of the whole assembly, who, as they professed themselves in the first place most submissively thankful to Almighty God, therefore so they commanded the Speaker to return (as now he does) their due and humble thanks to the Treasurer, Council and company for so many privileges and favors as well in their own names as in the names of the whole colony whom they represented.

This being dispatched we fell once more debating of such instructions given by the Council in England to several Governors as might be converted into laws, the last whereof was the establishment of the price of tobacco, namely, of the best at 3d and the second at 18d the pound, . . .

Monday, Aug. 2.

. . ., the Committees appointed to consider what instructions are fit to be converted into laws, brought in their opinions, and first of some of the general instructions.

Here begin the laws drawn out of the instructions given by his Majesty’s Council of Virginia in England….

By this present General Assembly be it enacted, that no injury or oppression be wrought by the English against the Indians whereby the present peace might be disturbed and ancient quarrels might be revived. And farther be it ordained that the Chicohomin are not to be excepted out of this law; until either that such order come out of England, or that they do provoke us by some new injury.

Against idleness, gaming, drunkenness and excess in apparel the Assembly has enacted as follows:

First, in detestation of idleness be it enacted, that if any men be found to live as an idler or renegade, though a freedman, it shall be lawful for that incorporation or plantation to which he belongs to appoint him a master to serve for wages, till he show apparent signs of amendment.

Against gaming at dice and cards be it ordained by this present assembly that the winner or winners shall lose all his or their winnings and both winners and loosers shall forfeit ten shillings a man, one ten shillings whereof to go to the discoverer, and the rest to charitable and pious uses in the incorporation where the fault is committed.

Against drunkenness be it also decreed that if any private person be found culpable thereof, for the first time he is to be reproved privately by the minister, the second time publicly, the third time to lie in bolts 12 hours in the house of the Provost Marshal and to pay his fee, and if he still continue in that vice, to undergo such severe punishment as the Governor and Council of Estate shall think fit to be inflicted on him. But if any officer offend in this crime, the first time he shall receive a reproof from the Governor, the second time he shall openly be reproved in the church by the minister, and the third time he shall first be committed and then degraded. Provided it be understood that the Governor has always power to restore him when he shall, in his discretion think fit.

Against excess in apparel that every man be assessed in the church for all public contributions, if he be unmarried according to his own apparel, if he be married according to his own and his wife’s, or either of their apparel….

Be it enacted by this present assembly that for laying a surer foundation of the conversion of the Indians to Christian religion, each town, city, borough, and particular plantation do obtain unto themselves by just means a certain number of the natives children to be educated by them in the true religion and civil course of life of which children the most towardly boys in wit and graces of nature to be brought up by them in the first elements of literature, so to be fitted for the college intended for them that from thence they may be sent to that work of conversion.

As touching the business of planting corn this present Assembly does ordain that year by year all and every householder and householders have in store for every servant he or they shall keep, and also for his or their own persons, whether they have any servants or no, one spare barrel of corn, to be delivered out yearly, either upon sale or exchange as need shall require. For the neglect of which duty he shall be subject to the censure of the Governor and Council of Estate. Provided always that the first year of every new man this law shall not be of force.

About the plantation of mulberry trees, be it enacted that every man as he is seated upon his division, do for seven years together, every year plant and maintain in growth six mulberry trees at the least, and as many more as he shall think convenient and as his virtue and industry shall move him to plant, and that all such persons as shall neglect the yearly planting and maintaining of that small proportion shall be subject to the censure of the Governor and the Council of Estate.

Be it farther enacted as concerning silk-flax, that those men that are upon their division or settled habitation do this next year plant and dress 100 plants, which being found a commodity, may farther be increased. And whosoever do fail in the performance of this shall be subject to this punishment of the Governor and Council of Estate.

For hemp also both English and Indian, and for English flax and anniseeds, we do require and enjoin all householders of this colony that have any of those seeds to make trial thereof the next season.

Moreover be it enacted by this present Assembly, that every householder do yearly plant and maintain ten vines until they have attained to the art and experience of dressing a vineyard either by their own industry or by the instruction of some vigneron. And that upon what penalty soever the Governor and Council of Estate shall think fit to impose upon the neglecters of this act.

Be it also enacted that all necessary tradesmen, or so many as need shall require, such as are come over since the departure of Sir Thomas Dale, or that shall hereafter come, shall work at their trades for any other man, each one being paid according to the quality of his trade and work, to be estimated, if he shall not be contented, by the Governor and officers of the place where he works.

Be it further ordained by this General Assembly, and we do by these presents enact, that all contracts made in England between the owners of land and their tenants and servants which they shall send hither, may be caused to be duly performed, and that the offenders be punished as the Governor and Council of Estate shall think just and convenient.

Be it established also by this present Assembly that no crafty or advantageous means be suffered to put in practice for the enticing away the tenants or servants of any particular plantation from the place where they are seated. And that it shall be the duty of the Governor and Council of Estate most severely to punish both the seducers and the seduced, and to return these latter into their former places….

Tuesday, Aug. 3, 1619.

…. Captain William Powell presented a petition to the general Assembly against one Thomas Garnett, a servant of his, not only for extreme neglect of his business to the great loss and prejudice of the said Captain, and for openly and impudently abusing his house,. . . but also for falsely accusing him to the Governor both of drunkenness and theft, and besides for bringing all his fellow-servants to testify on his side, wherein they justly failed him. It was thought fit by the general assembly (the Governor himself giving sentence), that he should stand four days with his ears nailed to the pillory, viz: Wednesday, Aug. 4th, and so likewise Thursday, Friday and Saturday next following, and every of those four days should be publicly whipped. Now, as touching the neglect of his work, what satisfaction ought to be made to his master for that is referred to the Governor and Council of Estate.

The same morning the laws above written, drawn out of the instructions, were read, and one by one thoroughly examined, and then passed once again the general consent of the whole Assembly….

Wednesday Aug. 4th.

This day (by reason of extreme heat, both past and likely to ensue, and by that means of the alteration of the healths of diverse of the general Assembly) the Governor, who himself also was not well, resolved should be the last of this first session; so in the morning the Speaker (as he was required by the Assembly) read over all the laws and orders that had formerly passed the house, to give the same yet one review more, and to see whether there were anything to be amended or that might be excepted against. This being done, the third sort of laws which I am now coming to set down, were read over thoroughly discussed, which together with the former, did now pass the last and final consent of the General Assembly.

A third sort of laws, such as may issue out of every man’s private conceit.

…. All ministers in the colony shall once a year, namely, in the month of March, bring to the Secretary of Estate a true account of all christenings, burials and marriages, upon pain, if they fail, to be censured for their negligence by the Governor and Council of Estate; likewise, where there be no ministers, that the commanders of the place do supply the same duty….

All ministers shall duly read divine service, and exercise their ministerial function according to the ecclesiastical laws and orders of the church of England, and every Sunday in the afternoon shall catechize such as are not yet ripe to come to the communion. And whosoever of them shall be found negligent or faulty in this kind shall be subject to the censure of the Governor and Council of Estate….

All persons whatsoever upon the Sabbath day shall frequent divine service and sermons both forenoon and afternoon, and all such as bear arms shall bring their pieces, swords, powder and shot. And every one that shall transgress this law shall forfeit three shillings a time to the use of the church, all lawful and necessary impediments excepted. But if a servant in this case shall willfully neglect his master’s command he shall suffer bodily punishment.

No maid or woman servant, either now resident in the colony or hereafter to come, shall contract herself in marriage without either the consent of her parents, or of her master or mistress, or of the magistrate and minister of the place both together. And whatsoever minister shall marry or contract any such persons without some of the foresaid consents shall be subject to the severe censure of the Governor and Council of Estate….

In sum Sir George Yeardley, the Governor prorogued the said General Assembly till the first of March, which is to fall out this present year of 1619, and in the mean season dissolved the same.


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Chicago: John Twine, "The First Representative Assembly," Colonization, 1562-1753 in America, Vol.2, Pp.90-100 Original Sources, accessed February 9, 2023,

MLA: Twine, John. "The First Representative Assembly." Colonization, 1562-1753, in America, Vol.2, Pp.90-100, Original Sources. 9 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: Twine, J, 'The First Representative Assembly' in Colonization, 1562-1753. cited in , America, Vol.2, Pp.90-100. Original Sources, retrieved 9 February 2023, from