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

How Do We Know What We Know About Representative Government?


Grade Level
Upper Elementary and Middle School

Standards and Skills
Virginia Standards of Learning: Virginia Studies; Civics & Economics
US1; VS.3.a; VS.10.a; CE.2.b; CE.4; US1.4.b; US1.5

Using Information Sources; Questioning and Critical Thinking; Organizing Information; Making Connections; Demonstrate Comprehension; Comparing and Contrasting

Meets National Standards of Learning for Social Studies


In this lesson, students will not only practice their interpretive skills through primary source investigation, but will also gain greater insight into the world of 1619 Virginia, the evolution of the House of Burgesses, and the role of the free press in a representative government.

Essential Questions



Step One
Provide each student with a primary source analysis tool and a transcript of the “Laws Enacted by the General Assembly”. Play the recording of the “Laws Enacted by the General Assembly” while students read along beginning on page 13 of the transcript. Have students highlight or note the laws that they find the most interesting or relevant. Teachers may also provide the background essay if it would be helpful to the students.

Step Two
Class Brainstorm. Ask students to share which laws were the most remarkable to them and why. What do they think the laws meant? What do those laws tell us about life in Jamestown in 1619?

Step Three
Either independently or in small groups, have students use the House History web application and the Virginia House of Delegates homepage to answer the questions on Graphic Organizer: House of Delegates, Who’s Got the Power?

Step Four
Class Discussion. Students should identify that Pory not only created a handwritten report of the first General Assembly, but co-presided, organized the working papers of the Assembly, established and maintained parliamentary procedure, and prepared and distributed copies of the legislation following the session. Have students discuss how the role of Speaker of the House has changed since 1619. Who is responsible for all of Pory’s duties today? What role does the free press play in a representative government? How is this different today than in 1619? When the Pory report of legislation was created in 1619 the number of people who saw it, or even knew of its contents was extremely limited. Any communication about it and the new laws was limited to letter writing or word of mouth. How is news communicated today?


Have students think about how this information would have been shared with today’s technologies. Students should craft either a newspaper headline or a tweet to share the main idea of the proceedings of the first meeting of the General Assembly. Remember:

Students should write a brief (3 sentences) explanation of how they arrived at their headline/tweet.

Adding Perspective: Think about having students craft their headline/tweet from a particular perspective (an audience of VA planters, or a group that wasn’t represented, like people of color or women). How does this change their messaging?