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What's So Important About 1619 Anyway?

July 26, 2017

NCSL staffer Megan McClure sat down with Yuri Milligan, associate director for marketing and communications at American Evolution, which is teaming up with NCSL to present a session at Summit titled "Roots of American Legislatures: Virginia in 1619."

What is American Evolution?

American Evolution commemorates the 400th anniversary of key historical events that occurred in Virginia in 1619 that continue to influence America today. Featured events, programs, and legacy projects inspire local, national, and international engagement in the themes of democracy, diversity, and opportunity.

Why is 1619 such an important year for American representative democracy?

In the summer of 1619, 22 legislators made history. Their gathering marked the first representative legislative assembly in the New World, which became the model for other English colonies and eventually the basis for the democratic government of the United States.

The year 1619 was pivotal in the establishment of the first permanent English Colony in North America. Along with the the first representative legislative assembly in the New World, 1619 also marked the arrival of the first recorded Africans to English North America, the recruitment of English women in significant numbers, the first official English Thanksgiving in North America, and the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of the Virginia Colony.

The first “General Assembly,” composed of men from each of Virginia’s eleven major settlements, met for the first time at Jamestown from July 30-Aug. 4, 1619. Members of the General Assembly were formed into several committees, tasked with reviewing aspects of the Great Charter sent from the Virginia Company in England, as well as working on new laws based on concerns brought by the burgesses to the Assembly. This first meeting planted the seeds for representative democracy in America.

What upcoming events about the unique democratic history of Virginia in 1619 does American Evolution have planned in 2019?

In 2019, American Evolution will host two events that will examine democracies and democratic leadership. Please save the date for these events. The Global Emerging Leaders Summit, March 6-13, 2019 in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Williamsburg, Virginia. Young political, governmental, civic leaders and students will reflect on the challenges of leadership, governance, and civic engagement in 21st-century democracies. The International Forum on Representative Democracy, July 31-August 1, 2019 in Richmond and Williamsburg, Virginia will feature heads of state and representatives from democracies around the world in a forum to highlight the historic impact of democracy on our nation and the world.

Along with the session you are sponsoring at the 2017 Legislative Summit do you have any other activities planned in Boston during the meeting?

We will have a video booth in the Exhibit Hall where conference attendees can record a video about the evolution of democracy and share it on social media. Attendees will also have the opportunity to have their picture taken with a character interpreter dressed as a burgess from 1619.

For more information and a full list of events, visit Join the conversation about the evolution of democracy, diversity and opportunity in American, follow us @Commemorate2019.

Megan McClure is a senior staff assistant with NCSL's Legislative Staff Services program.

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