Bacon's Rebellion

Bacon's Castle was occupied by Bacon's followers during the rebellion

Bacon's Rebellion was an uprising in 1676 in the Virginia Colony, led by Nathaniel Bacon, a wealthy planter. It was the first rebellion in the American colonies in which discontented frontiersmen took part; a similar uprising in Maryland occurred later that year. The uprising was a protest against Native American raids on the frontier; some historians also consider it a power play by Bacon against the Royal Governor of Virginia, William Berkeley, and his policies of favoring his own court. Their alliance disturbed the ruling class, who responded by hardening the racial caste of slavery.[1][2] While the farmers did not succeed in their goal of driving Native Americans from Virginia, the rebellion did result in Berkeley's being recalled to England.


[edit] Background

In 1674 a group of yeomen farmers on the Virginia frontier demanded that American Indians living on treaty-protected lands be driven out or killed. They had frequent conflicts with them. In September 1675, a group of Doeg Indians 'stole' some hogs from planter Thomas Mathews, in retaliation for his failure to pay them for trade goods. Colonists killed several Indians in the raiding party. In another round of retaliation, the Doeg killed Mathews' herdsman Robert Hen.

Two militia captains (both with a history of aggression toward the Indians) went after the Doeg, but with little discrimination, also killed 14 friendly Susquehannock in the process. A series of retaliatory raids ensued. John Washington took a party from Virginia into Maryland, and with Maryland militia surrounded a Susquehannock fort. Although the Susquehannock held out for six weeks, when six chiefs came out to parley, the colonists attacked and killed them.

Seeking to avoid escalation of war with the tribes, Governor Berkeley advocated a policy of containment of the Native American threat. He proposed building several defensive forts along the frontier. Frontier settlers thought the plan both expensive and inadequate. They questioned it as an excuse to raise tax rates.

[edit] The rebellion

When Berkeley refused to go against the Native Americans, farmers gathered around at the report of a new raiding party. Nathaniel Bacon arrived with a quantity of brandy; after it was distributed, he was elected leader. Against Berkeley's orders, the group struck south until they came to the Occaneechi tribe. After getting the Occaneechi to attack the Susquehanock, Bacon and his men followed by killing most of the men, women, and children at the village. Upon their return, they discovered that Berkeley had called for new elections to the Burgesses in order to better facilitate the Indian problem.[3]

The recomposed House of Burgesses enacted a number of sweeping reforms. (Bacon was not serving his duty in the House; rather, he was at his plantation miles away). It limited the powers of the governor and restored suffrage rights to landless freemen.[4]

After passage of these laws, Bacon arrived with 500 followers in Jamestown to demand a commission to lead militia against the Indians. The governor, however, refused to yield to the pressure. When Bacon had his men take aim at Berkley, he responded by "bearing his breast" to Bacon and told Bacon to shoot him himself. Seeing that the Governor would not be moved, Bacon then had his men take aim at the assembled burgesses, who quickly granted Bacon his commission. (It is interesting to note that Bacon had been promised a commission before he retired to his estate if he could only be on "good" behavior for two weeks). While Bacon was at Jamestown with his small army, eight colonists were killed on the frontier in Henrico County (where he marched from) due to a lack of manpower on the frontier.[5]

On July 30, 1676, Bacon and his army issued the "Declaration of the People of Virginia." It demanded the removal or killing of Indians in the area, and an end to the rule of "parasites". The declaration criticized Berkeley's administration in detail. It accused him of levying unfair taxes, appointing friends to high positions, and failing to protect frontier settlers from Indian attack.

Beginning to move against the Indians, Bacon and his men attacked the innocent (and friendly) Pamunkey. The tribe had remained allies of the English throughout other Indian raids. They were supplying warriors to aid the English when Bacon took power.

After months of conflict, Bacon's forces, numbering 300-500 men, moved to Jamestown. They burned the colonial capital to the ground on September 19, 1676. Outnumbered, Berkeley retreated across the river.[6] Before an English naval squadron could arrive to aid Berkeley and his forces, Bacon died from dysentery on October 26, 1676.[7][8] John Ingram took over leadership of the rebellion, but many followers drifted away. Berkeley launched a series of successful amphibious attacks across the Chesapeake Bay and defeated the rebels. His forces defeated the small pockets of insurgents spread across the Tidewater.

The 70-year-old governor Berkeley returned to the burned capital and a looted home at the end of January 1677.[9] His wife described Green Spring in a letter to her cousin:

"It looked like one of those the boys pull down at Shrovetide, & was almost as much to repair as if it had been new to build, and no sign that ever there had been a fence around it..."[10]

[edit] Effects

Governor Berkeley returned to power. He seized the property of several rebels for the colony and executed 23 men by hanging.[11] After an investigative committee returned its report to King Charles II, Berkeley was relieved of the governorship, and recalled to England.

Charles II was reported to have commented, "That old fool has put to death more people in that naked country than I did here for the murder of my father."[12] No record of the king's comments have been found; the origin of the story appears to have been colonial myth that arose at least 30 years after the events.[13]

Indentured servants both black and white joined the frontier rebellion. Seeing them united in a cause alarmed the ruling class. Historians believe the rebellion hastened the hardening of racial lines associated with slavery, as a way for planters and the colony to control some of the poor.[14]

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ "Bacon's Rebellion", Africans in America, Part 1, PBS, accessed 25 Mar 2009
  2. ^ "Green Spring Plantation". Historic Jamestowne, National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-25-30. 
  3. ^ John Berry, Francis Moryson, and Herbert Jefferys, "A True Narrative of the Rise, Progress and Cessation of the Late Rebellion in Virginia, Most Humbly an Impartially Recorded by His Majesties Commissioners, Appointed to inquire into the Affairs of the Said Colony", Ed. by Charles Andrews, in Narrative of the Insurrections 1675 to 1690, New York: Charles Scribner–s Sons, 1915), pp. 111-113.
  4. ^ The literatures of colonial America. Blackwell Publishing. 2001. pp. 225. ISBN 9780631211259. 
  5. ^ John Berry, Francis Moryson, and Herbert Jefferys, –A True Narrative of the Rise, Progress and Cessation of the Late Rebellion in Virginia, Most Humbly an Impartially Recorded by His Majesties Commissioners, Appointed to inquire into the Affairs of the Said Colony.– Ed. by Charles Andrews, in Narrative of the Insurrections 1675 to 1690, (Charles Scribner–s Sons: New York, 1915), 116.
  6. ^ A history of the United States. Macmillan. 1908. pp. 88. 
  7. ^ Bragdon Kathleen J., The Columbia Guide to American Indians of the Northeast, Columbia University Press, 2005, p. 112.
  8. ^ Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675-1690, ed. Charles McLean Andrews, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1915, p. 139.
  9. ^ "Green Spring Plantation". Historic Jamestowne. Retrieved 2008-25-30. 
  10. ^ Waldrup, Carole Chandler, Colonial Women: 23 Europeans Who Helped Build a Nation, McFarland, 1999, p. 86.
  11. ^ Geiter, Mary K., William Arthur Speck, Colonial America: From Jamestown to Yorktown, Macmillan, 2002, p. 63
  12. ^ Fiske, John, Old Virginia and Her Neighbours, Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1902, p. 110,
  13. ^ Washburn, The Governor and the Rebel, p. 139
  14. ^ Cooper, William J, Liberty and Slavery: Southern Politics to 1860, Univ of South Carolina Press, 2001, p. 9.

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