Using Primary Sources: John Pory's Proceedings from the 1619 General Assembly

What Can We Learn About People from the Laws They Pass?


Grade Level
High School

Standards and Skills
Virginia Standards of Learning: Virginia and US History; Virginia and US Government
VUS.2; VUS.3; GOVT.2.d; GOVT.3

Using Information Sources; Questioning and Critical Thinking; Organizing Information; Making Connections; Demonstrate Comprehension; Comparing and Contrasting; Determining Cause and Effect; Exercising Civic Responsibility

Meets National Standards of Learning for Social Studies


In this lesson, students will practice their interpretive skills through primary source investigation and gain greater insight into the world of 1619 Virginia, and the evolution of the American lawmaking process.

Essential Questions



Step One
Divide students into eight groups and assign each a law (Labor, Gambling/Vice, Drinking, Economy, Trade, Crime, Worship, Marriage). Have students work as a group to examine the law that they have been assigned. Provide each student with a primary source analysis tool and a transcript of the “Laws Enacted by the General Assembly”. Students may also have access to the recording of the “Laws Enacted by the General Assembly” and read along beginning on page 13 of the transcript.

Step Two
Using the transcript and secondary sources for additional context, students should determine the following:

Step Three
Have the class share and brainstorm with each group reporting their findings. Ask students to share which laws were the most remarkable to them and why. Ask students if they think that American government is proactive or reactive. Can they think of any examples?

Step Four
Remaining with their groups, students should research a law either proposed or passed in the same broad category as their 1619 law (eg, the Drinking group might use the 18th amendment). Groups will create a poster for a class gallery walk that addresses the following information:

Students should use to find specific legislation, sponsors, etc. Additional information surrounding the legislation can be found through the Library of Congress Newspaper digitization project – Chronicling America.

NOTE: This project can also be completed on a statewide level. Most state legislatures have a database of legislation that can be searched, and contextual materials can come from many sources.

Step Five
Conduct a class gallery walk. Have students fill out the Gallery Walk Evaluation Graphic Organizer.


Through a speech, video, essay, or letter, students should address the following question after completing their research and conducting the classroom gallery walk: