Cox a true privilege to be back in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.
And it's a tremendous honor to stand on these historic grounds as the first president to address a joint session of the oldest lawmaking body in all of the Western Hemisphere. The Virginia General Assembly. Congratulations.
On this day 400 years ago here on the shores of the James River, the first representative legislative assembly in the new world convened by the devotion of generations of patriots that has flourished throughout the ages. And now that proud tradition continues with all of you to every Virginian and every legislator with us today. Congratulations on four incredible centuries of history, heritage and commitment to the righteous cause of American self government.
This is truly a momentous occasion. I want to thank the governor of Virginia for inviting me to speak at this very important event. And with us this morning are many distinguished guests and officials from across the Commonwealth, including Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. Speaker Kirk Cox, thank you. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment by. And members of the Post and other federal, state, local and tribal leaders are with us today. Thank you very much.
We're also very thankful as well to have with us secretary Ben Carson. Ben, thank you very much. Wherever you may be. An acting director is a person that you know very well, acting director Ken Cuccinelli. But a lot of time with you folks and has a lot of respect for you and the terrific people at the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. I want to thank you all for being here with us, this great honor.
I also want to recognize everyone at American evolution and the Jamestown settlement. The Jamestown Yorktown Foundation, the Jamestown Rediscovery Project and Preservation Virginia. Thank you very much. What a great job you do. Thank you.
The fact is that each of you is helped to protect and preserve our national treasures here at Jamestown and to great depth. We owe you a great, great debt. Thank you. What a job on this day in 16, 19, just a mile south of where we are gathered now, 22 newly elected members of the House of Burgesses assembled in a small wooden church. They were adventures and explorers, farmers and planters, soldiers, scholars and clergymen. Paul had struggled.
All had suffered and all has sacrificed in pursuit of one wild and very improbable dream. They called that dream, Virginia. It had been only 13 years since three small ships, the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery set sail across a vast ocean. They carried one hundred and four settlers to carve out a home on the edge of this uncharted continent. They came from God and country. They came in search of opportunity and fortune. And they journeyed into the unknown with only meager supplies, long odds and the power of their Christian faith.
Upon reaching Cape Henry at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in 16 0 7 a long time ago, the first men of the Virginia company erected a cross upon the shore. They gave thanks to God and ask his blessing for their great undertaking. In the months and years ahead, they would dearly need it. The dangers were unparalleled. The Jamestown settlers arrived in America amid one of the worst droughts in over seven centuries of one hundred and four original colonies.
Sixty six died by the years and during the third winter, known as the starving time, a population of up to five hundred settlers was reduced to 60 by spring. Those who remained were in search of whatever they could get to survive, and they were in dire trouble. They left Jamestown deserted. They just sailed away, never to come back. But they had not gone far down the James River when they encountered the answer to their prayers. Ships bearing a year's worth of supplies and more than 300 new settlers, as we can see today on this great anniversary.
It would not be the last time that God looked out for Virginia. Together, the settlers forged what would become the timeless traits of the American character. They worked hard. They had courage in abundance and a wealth of self reliance. Faced drive mightily to turn a profit. They experimented with producing silver corn tobacco, and the very first Virginia wines had a prior settlement at Roanoke. There had been no survivors, none at all. But where others had typically perished, the Virginians were determined to succeed.
They endured by the sweat of their labor, the aid of the poet Ton Indians and the leadership of Captain John Smith. As the years passed, ships bearing supplies and settlers from England also brought a culture and a way of life that would define the new world. It all began here in time. Dozens of brave, strong women made the journey and joined the colony. And in 16 eighteen, the great charter and other reforms established a system based on English common law.
For the first time, Virginia allowed private land ownership. It created a basic judicial system. Finally, it gave the colonists a say in their own future. The right to elect representatives by popular vote. With us today in tribute to that English legal inheritance is the former clerk of the British House of Commons, Sir David Mazzola. So, David, we're thrilled to have you with us. Thank you very much for being here. Thank you very much.
At that first American assembly in 16 19, the weather was so hot that one legislator actually died. Mercifully, the session was cut very short. But before adjourning, the assembly passed laws on taxation, agriculture and trade with the Indians with true American optimism. The assembly even endorsed a plan to build a world class university in the still rugged wilderness. It was a vision that would one day be fulfilled just miles from here at one of America's earliest educational institutions.
The esteemed College of William and Mary. Great, great.
As we mark the first representative legislature at Jamestown, our nation also reflects upon an anniversary from that same summer four centuries ago. In August 16 19, the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies arrived in Virginia. It was the beginning of a barbaric trade in human lives. Today, in honor, we remember every sacred soul who suffered the horrors of slavery and the anguish of bondage. More than one hundred and fifty years later, at America's founding, our Declaration of Independence recognized the immortal truth that bald men are created equal.
Yet it would ultimately take a civil war. Eighty five years after that document was signed to abolish the evil of slavery, it would take more than another century for our nation. In the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Junior, to live out the true meaning of its creed and extend the blessings of freedom to all Americans.
In the face of grave oppression and grave injustice, African-Americans have built, strengthened, inspired, uplifted, protected, defended and sustained our nation from its very earliest days. Last year, I was privileged to sign the law establishing a commission to commemorate the arrival of the first Africans to the English colonies and the four hundred years of African-American history that have followed. That was an incredible day. That was an incredible event. Today, we are grateful to be joined by that commission's chairman, Dr.
Joseph Green. Thank you, Dr. Green.
Please. Thank you. Thank you very much, Dr. GREENE. In the decades that followed that first legislative assembly, the Democratic tradition established here laid deep roots all across Virginia. It spread up and down the Atlantic coast. One fact was quickly established for all time in America. We are not ruled from afar. Americans govern ourselves and so help us God. We always will. Right here in Virginia, your predecessors. Righthere energy predecessors came to Williamsburg from places you all know very well.
They were names such as George Washington from Fairfax County, Thomas Jefferson from Albemarle County, James Madison from Orange County, James Monroe from Spotsylvania County, Patrick Henry from Louisa County, George Mason from Fairfax County. George with W I T H. It's a great name from Williamsburg and Richard Henry Lee from Westmoreland County. Incredible names, credible names. Self-Government in Virginia did not just give us a state we love in a very true sense. It gave us the country we love, the United States of America.
So true. Thank you very much. When Madison drafted the First Amendment to our Constitution, he drew inspiration from Virginia's Statute for Religious Freedom. As John Adams wrote in Philadelphia just before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, we all look up to Virginia for examples. And when Patrick Henry rose to speak his famous words at St. John's Church in Richmond, give me liberty or give me death. He spoke in defense of a tradition that began more than 150 years before at Jamestown right here.
It was a heritage those patriots would fight a long war of independence to defend. And it is a heritage that countless Americans have fought and died for to secure in all of those centuries, since in our time, we must vigorously defend those cherished democratic traditions that have made our beloved republic the envy of the entire world. And it still is as much as ever before, and maybe more. Our hard won culture of self-government must be nourished, protected and constantly preserved.
That is why we must speak out strongly against anyone who would take power away from citizens, individuals and state governments such as yours. In America, the people will forever rule, that people will forever reign and the people will forever be sovereign.
From the first legislative assembly down to today, America has been the story of citizens who take ownership of their future and their control of their destiny. That is what self-rule is all about. Every day, Americans coming together to take action, to build, to create, to seize opportunities, to pursue the common good and to never stop striving for greatness.
For centuries ago, one early voyage to Jamestown captured the spirit of confidence and daring that has always powered our great experiment in self-government. He wrote We hope to plant a nation where none before have stood. That was something in that hope. The men and women of Jamestown achieved success beyond anything they could possibly have imagined. They started the nation that settled the wilderness, won our independence, tamed the Wild West, ended slavery, secured civil rights, invented the aeroplane, vanquished the Nazis, brought communism to its knees, and placed our great American flag on the face of the moon.
And in a program that's just started someday, very soon, American astronauts will plant our beautiful stars and stripes on the surface of Mars. But among all of America's towering achievements, none exceeds the triumph that we are here to celebrate today, our nation's priceless culture of freedom, independence, equality, justice and self-determination under God.
That culture is the source of who we are. It is our prized inheritance. It is our proudest legacy. It is among the greatest human accomplishments in the history of the world. What you have done is the greatest accomplishment in the history of the world. And I congratulate you. It started right here.
Now we must go bravely into the future, just as those bold explorers first ventured into this majestic land. We must call upon the same scale of imagination, the same thirst for knowledge, the same love of adventure, the same unrelenting courage and the same total determination to prevail. Above all, we must be proud of our heritage. United in our purpose and filled with confidence in our shared great, great, great American destiny.
4 in America, no challenge is too great. No journey is too tough, no task is too large. No dream is beyond our reach. When we set our sights on the summit, nothing can stand in our way. America always gets the job done. America always wins. That is why after 400 years of glorious American democracy, we have returned here to this place to declare to all the world that the United States of America and the great Commonwealth of Virginia are just getting started.
Our future is bigger, bolder, better and brighter than ever before.
It's been a great honor for me to be with you this morning. I'd like to thank you. God bless you. God bless Virginia and God bless America. Thank you very much, everybody.