It is July of 1619 in Jamestown. The first General Assembly is preparing to meet. A council appointed by the Virginia Company, Governor George Yeardley and a new group composed of two male representatives from each of the 11 major settlements in the colony are in attendance. The purpose? To pass laws and improve management of the colony.
It was the first time there was representation in legislation. It was the first time the people had been granted a voice.
The year 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of Virginia’s significance in the progression of the United States. Signature events that happened on our soil not only shaped the democratic process, but also spearheaded cultural diversity, entrepreneurial spirit and historical tradition. To commemorate the occasion, there is a yearlong campaign entitled American Evolutions set to launch a series of statewide educational programs, events and legacy projects. The goal is to build awareness of Virginia’s role in the creation of the country.
The campaign, headquartered in Richmond, is partnering with local communities throughout the Commonwealth in order to recognize and highlight historical narratives that were written in our very own backyards. There are more than 200 partners statewide on the Virginia History Trails app planning events and programs. The Wilderness Road Regional Museum in Dublin is one of them.
In early 1619, the Virginia Company granted four investors 8,000 acres of land along the James River to be called Berkeley Hundred. Captain John Woodlief was appointed the plantation’s commander and when he set sail for Virginia was given instructions to mark the day of arrival as a day to be “yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving.” While no record exists that a thanksgiving celebration actually took place upon landing, it nonetheless marked the first officially sanctioned act of thanksgiving intended to establish tradition.
To honor America’s first Thanksgiving, Pulaski County, a key American Evolutions partner, will manufacture and distribute candles to be placed on every table in the county for the 2019 holiday. The candle will represent the spirit of togetherness and will invoke communal thankfulness to live in this country and county.
“We have certainly been impressed with Pulaski County’s involvement in the commemoration. The candle project is a great way to unite the people of Pulaski County,” states Amy Ritchie, associate director of Partner Programs.
Carol Smith, chair of the Pulaski County American Evolutions 2019 Committee, says: “I hope that rural southwest Virginia will be seen for the rich history it has. That’s why we want to participate in this. We feel like Pulaski County has a lot to offer through this commemoration we can showcase that.” Ultimately the committee hopes to inspire, encourage, educate, unify and motivate residents to become more involved, thereby making the county and even greater place to live, work, play and call home.
In addition to the first legislative government, 1619 also marked the arrival of the first documented Africans to the New World. Pulaski County will showcase local black history, including efforts to restore the Calfee Training School, erected in 1939 to educate African Americans, and the T.J. Howard Community Center.
When England initiated settlement of the New World, they sent men to explore and harness natural resources for profit. After some time, it became clear that in order to sustain a foothold with a viable government and society they needed to promote and establish a family structure. In November of 1619, England officially commissioned the first group of women be sent to Virginia in an effort to establish family life and ensure permanence to the settlement.
In commemoration, Pulaski County will call for nominations to recognize “Pulaski County Women in History.” The nominee must be deceased, have lived in Pulaski County at some point and made a significant impact on the community or residents of the county. “The committee is excited to honor and bring to the forefront Pulaski County women of the past who have helped make our county what it is today,” Smith offers.
In April, Pulaski plans to host a Native American Heritage Festival. The event will feature Kevin Locke, an award-winning Native American flute player, performer, public speaker, cultural ambassador, storyteller and educator. He is well known for his demonstrations of the Sioux hoop dance using 28 wooden hoops.
On the American Evolutions website you can search events by theme, region and date. Pulaski County will launch a Facebook page to detail specific events and exhibitions. American Evolutions aims to highlight Virginia as a pivotal influencer in the trajectory of our country, with communities like Pulaski County forging the way. The efforts of the movement no doubt helped land Virginia spots on Frommer’s Best Places to Go in 2019 list and Forbes’ 14 Best Places to Travel in the U.S. in 2019, further cementing the Commonwealth as a preeminent destination for heritage tourism. Lucky for us, we’re already here.
Text by Nancy S. Moseley
Photos by Always and Forever Photography
Nancy S. Moseley is a freelance writer who, having lived in Atlanta and New York City respectively, is glad to once again call Virginia home.
Virginia History Trails App: