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

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

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

400th Anniversary of Capitol Police exhibit now on display in the Capitol

400th Anniversary of Capitol Police exhibit now on display in the Capitol

Dorothy P. Seawell, widow of former Capitol Police Chief William Seawell, spoke with Col. Anthony S. Pike, the current chief, at the opening of the new exhibit commemorating the 400th anniversary of the police force.

An exhibit celebrating the 400-year history of the Virginia Division of Capitol Police opened at the Capitol on Aug. 27.

Curated by the Library of Virginia and displayed in the large hall just behind the gift shop inside the Virginia Capitol’s entrance at 10th and Bank streets, the exhibit is to remain until the opening of the 2019 General Assembly session in January.

The exhibit incorporates research undertaken in recent years by academic interns from Virginia Commonwealth University’s History Department, who helped the Capitol Police detail history dating to its formation in 1618 at the first permanent English settlement in Jamestown.

Features from the exhibit include custom uniforms from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries as well as three authentic uniforms from the 19th and 20th centuries, two of which were the actual uniforms of Capt. William A. Seawell, the Capitol Police chief from 1961-70, and Col. Anthony S. Pike, the current chief.

Exhibit Photo Gallery:

Seawell’s uniform was part of an extensive collection of his papers and other memorabilia that was loaned to the division by his widow, Dorothy P. Seawell, who attended the exhibit’s opening.

Seventh in a series of collectible ornaments, the 2018 Official Capitol Square Ornament celebrates The 400th Anniversary of the Capitol Police, a beloved institution on Capitol Square.
Seventh in a series of collectible ornaments, the 2018 Official Capitol Square Ornament celebrates The 400th Anniversary of the Capitol Police, a beloved institution on Capitol Square.

Capitol Police also were able to partner with the Virginia Capitol Foundation and Capitol Square Preservation Council to create a holiday ornament that represents the agency’s 400th anniversary. The ornament is on display alongside a collection of division badges and patches.

More Anniversary Resources:

Download the full press release for the opening of the exhibit.

Read weekly vignettes about the history of Virginia Capitol Police on their website blog.

Learn more about the importance of Virginia Capitol Police with an interactive timeline on their website.

Emancipation Proclamation and Freedom Monument

As part of its commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and abolition of slavery in the United States, the Virginia Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission will construct the Emancipation Proclamation and Freedom Monument on Brown’s Island.

The monument, will feature a 12-foot bronze statue representing newly freed slaves.
The monument, will feature a 12-foot bronze statue representing newly freed slaves.

The monument, designed by Thomas Jay Warren of Oregon, will feature a 12-foot bronze statue representing newly freed slaves. Dedicated to the contributions of African American Virginians in the centuries-long fight for emancipation and freedom, the monument also will highlight notable African American Virginians who have made significant contributions to the emancipation and freedom of formerly enslaved persons or descendants. The base of the monument will feature the names, images, and brief biographical information about eight African American Virginians whose lives were dedicated to Emancipation and freedom — five individuals from the period before Emancipation through 1865, and five who continued to work for freedom from 1866 to 1970.

More About the Monument’s Commission

The base of the monument will feature the names, images, and brief biographical information about eight African American Virginians whose lives were dedicated to Emancipation and freedom.
Another view of the monument showing those profiled on the base.

Many Virginian individuals were selected to reflect the time period before emancipation in 1865 – present day. For a list of these finalists to be honored, full history on the monument project, and the selection process, please visit the Virginia Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission’s Website.

Capitol Square Landscape

Capitol Square Landscape

Capitol Square’s nationally-recognized historic landscape is an essential element of the Capitol experience. The monuments throughout Capitol Square represent specific eras and iconic Virginians associated with them. With the completion of an important restoration of the Capitol and the Executive Mansion in the last decade, restoration of the surrounding park is the next logical step, readying the complex for the 2016 bicentennial celebration of Capitol Square. The plan will rehabilitate one of the oldest enclosed public parks in our nation by reclaiming components of early and mid19th-century landscape designs, including the John Notman picturesque style, which predates New York’s Central Park by more than a decade. The Square’s preservation is fundamental to the Capitol’s integrity as an historic resource.

Capitol Square Map, circa 1876, highlighting the John Notman landscape design
Capitol Square Map, circa 1876, highlighting the John Notman landscape design

The Executive Mansion Kitchen

The Executive Mansion Kitchen

The cottage outside of the Governor's Mansion where the restored kitchen is located
The cottage outside of the Governor’s Mansion where the restored kitchen is located
Virginia’s Executive Mansion is the oldest governor’s residence in the United States which continues to serve its original purpose. Every day, the mansion welcomes groups, ranging from school children to international dignitaries, who explore its historic spaces. The kitchen dependency, constructed in 1813 and adjacent to the Mansion, will be restored and interpreted to tell the stories of the individuals, including enslaved persons, who served Governors and their families in the 19th-century.

Educational Programs and Exhibits

Educational Programs and Exhibits

Educational exhibits on display in the Capitol extension
Educational exhibits on display in the Capitol extension
This campaign will fund the development of programs and interactive experiences aimed at educating current and future generations on the ideals of liberty, representative government, and civic engagement. In addition, the projects will remind visitors of the pivotal role Virginia has played in the founding of America’s form of government. Focus areas will include significant milestones in Virginia history, representative government in action, and the compelling stories of influential, though often less celebrated, individuals.