The 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution™, highlights the significance and modern relevance of several important events that occurred in Virginia in 1619. These events strongly influenced the development of the colony and shaped the foundation of the United States.
In 1618, a faction within the Virginia Company pushed through a series of reforms resulting in the “Great Charter,” a set of instructions sent to George Yeardley, who was set to begin a term as governor in 1619. Officials authorized 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.
In August 1619, a privateering vessel 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. This event marked the first documented arrival of Africans in English North America.
After many years of hardship, Virginia Company 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. They viewed the family as the basic building block of society and government, and argued that “The plantation can never flourish till families be planted and the respect of wives and children fix the people on the soil.”
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. Before Europeans arrived in the New World, 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.
From its inception 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.