Magna Carta has had a great influence both on the United States Constitution and on the constitutions of the various states. Sharing in Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary, the Library of Congress celebrated with an exhibition and a year-long program of events. On a recent trip southeast, I stopped at Jamestown in the Colonial National Historical Park area and found a Magna Carta connection!
Historic Jamestown was rich with legal historical places that set the foundation for our current legal system. The church was the site of the meeting of the earliest elective legislature in the New World, Virginia’s General Assembly. There they might have discussed Dale’s Code of 1611, “the first code of law ever produced for Englishmen in the Americas.” Inside the current construction of Memorial Church is a plaque with the connection to Magna Carta:
The plaque says:
The Common Law
Here the common law of England was established on this continent with the arrival of the first settlers on May 13, 1607. The first charter granted by James I to the Virginia Company in 1606 declared that the inhabitants of the colony “…shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchises and immunities as if they had been abiding and borne within this realme of Englande…”. Since Magna Carta the common law has been the cornerstone of individual liberties, even as against the crown. Summarized later in the Bill of Rights its principles have inspired the development of our system of freedom under law, which is at once our dearest possession and proudest achievement.
Presented by the Virginia State Bar May 17, 1959
I found a second connection with a tree dedicated to the 750th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta.
The plaque says:
This live oak dedicated on June 15, 1965 commemorates the 750th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. Out of these roots have sprung great liberties of man, great principles of law.
The Magna Carta Commission of Virginia
Also on the grounds was the “original foundation of the first purpose-built statehouse of Jamestown.” This was used from 1632 through 1656 as the meeting place for the Council and the House of Burgesses.
Finally, I found statues of Captain John Smith, who implemented regulations such as “he that will not work shall not eat“, while governor of Virginia in 1608 and Pocahontas, the symbol of peace between the Englishmen and Virginia native peoples.
The National Park Service area includes Historic Jamestown, the Yorktown Battlefield, and Cape Henry Memorial, all along the Colonial Parkway. It is also part of “America’s Historic Triangle” that also includes Colonial Williamsburg and a great place to visit!