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Identifying the importance of the General Assembly (1619) as the first representative legislative body in English America.



  • Explain to students that as Jamestown grew, the system of government evolved. In 1619, the governor of Virginia called a meeting of the Virginia Assembly. The Assembly included two citizen representatives (called “burgesses”) from each of the divisions of Virginia, the Governor’s council, and the governors. (At that time, only adult men were considered citizens.)

  • Ask students what would happen if there were no rules in school. Have them draw a picture to represent possible situations that could occur without rules. Discuss the reason and importance of rules in everyday life (e.g., safety, protection of rights).

  • Relate the information gathered in the discussion about life without rules to the early colonists forming the settlement without rules, and write on a chart some possible situations. Remind students of John Smith’s statement, “Those who will not work, will not eat.” Reinforce the idea that this was an early form of government necessary for survival and advancement of the colony.

  • Lead a classroom discussion about how the colonists began to want more voice in the rules of the colony and asked for permission from the British king. The king allowed the colonists to form the House of Burgesses. Explain that a burgess was a representative for a large group of people, such as those in the settlements surrounding Jamestown. Two citizen representatives were elected from each of the divisions of Virginia. At that time, only adult English men were considered citizens and could be elected as burgesses.

  • Divide the class into groups of four or five, and have the students elect one student as a representative for the group in making classroom group decisions. Allow the elected representatives the opportunity to make simple decisions for their group during class period. Additional information is available about governing the colony of Virginia at the following Web site: http://www.virginiaplaces.org/government/govcolony.html.

  • Relate the need for rules today with the need for rules in the early Jamestown colony.

  • Divide the students into groups, and have them write rules that they think would help the Jamestown settlement. Review the Web site, “The First Legislative Assembly at Jamestown, Virginia” at http://www.nps.gov/jame/historyculture/the-first-legislative-assembly.htm.

  • Explain that in the 1640s the burgesses became a separate legislative body called the Virginia House of Burgesses. Tell students that it was the first elected legislative body in America giving settlers the opportunity to control their own government. Later this body became the General Assembly of Virginia, which continues today.

  • Create a classroom General Assembly of council members. Students nominate potential Burgesses and then vote them in office.

  • Hold a classroom discussion about a topic of interest that the students would like to give their input. Use the classroom General Assembly of council members to make the decisions that would impact the entire class.


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Updated on August 11, 2008.