quote: "...Government intended for the benefit of the people and the strength of the Colony" - Instructions to Governor Yeardley, 1618

Currently on view in the Capitol Visitor Center through December 2019, “The Great Charter and the General Assembly: Founding a Legacy in 1619” is an exhibition that commemorates the 400th anniversary of the Virginia General Assembly. In 1619 the Virginia Company of London sent a set of instructions to the Virginia Colony’s newly appointed governor, Sir George Yeardley (1587-1627).

The Great Charter and the General Assembly Exhibit Now in the Capitol Extension
The Great Charter and the General Assembly Exhibit Now in the Capitol Extension

These instructions came to be known as the “Great Charter” and resulted in sweeping reforms in the management of the colony. Among the most significant was the establishment of an elected assembly. This assembly first met at Jamestown, Virginia in the summer of 1619. This pivotal event in American history marks the founding of what is today the Virginia General Assembly, the oldest representative legislative assembly in the New World. Virginia’s General Assembly has been meeting annually ever since that first historic gathering 400 years ago. Virginia’s 400 year tradition of representative government and the institution of elections stand as lasting legacies and the foundation on which American government and democracy have been built.

Original Speaker’s Chair also on Display

Original 1730s House Speaker's Chair on Display in the Old House Chamber
Original 1730s House Speaker’s Chair on Display in the Old House Chamber

On view in the Old Chamber of the Virginia House of Delegates through March 29, 2019, the original Speaker’s Chair, dating to the 1730s and made in Williamsburg at the order of the General Assembly. This Speaker’s Chair survived the destruction of the colonial Capitol in Williamsburg by fire in 1747, served as backdrop to the momentous House debates of the 1760s and 1770s, observed the passing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Commonwealth’s first state constitution in 1776, and survived the American Revolutionary War after removal from Williamsburg to the public buildings in Richmond. In 1786 this chair witnessed the passing of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and in 1788 it was used for the first meeting of the House of Delegates inside the new Jefferson-designed Virginia State Capitol. During the nineteenth century this chair was actively used for House legislative sessions and four state constitutional conventions held in this historic hall. Having survived the American Civil War (1861-1865) and witnessing Virginia’s restoration into the Federal Union in 1870, this Speaker’s Chair was finally retired in 1874 and relocated to the State Library for safekeeping and public display.

More 400th Anniversary Resources:

Visit the AMERICAN EVOLUTION™ website highlining the 400th anniversary of several key historical events that occurred in Virginia in 1619
A History of the Virginia House of Delegates – A website commemorating the first and oldest continuous english-speaking representative legislative assembly in the western hemisphere