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Bacon's Rebellion

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Bacon's Rebellion was an armed uprising in British Colonial Virginia in 1676.[1][2] It is named after Nathanial Bacon, a man who moved from England to Virginia. He fought against his cousin, William Berkeley, who was governor of Virginia at the time. Bacon wanted to fight against all the Native Americans in Virginia and make them leave. Berkeley only wanted to attack Native Americans who attacked white settlers first.[2]

Portrait of Sir William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia. Image ca. 1917 of a painting at Library of Virginia, after an original painting circa 1663.
Bacon's rebellion

The white people living in Virginia had problems in the 1670s. They grew tobacco to sell, but the prices had gone down. Also, manufactured goods from England cost more and because of mercantilism, the colonists were not allowed to make their own things.[1] This made them want someone to blame. Many of them blamed American Indians who also lived in Virginia.

First, the Doeg Indians attacked a plantation belonging to Thomas Matthews. Matthews owed them money and had not paid. The colonists attacked the Indians back. But they attacked the wrong group. They attacked Susquehanaug Indians, not Doeg Indians. Then many groups of American Indians began to attack the colonists.[1]

William Berkeley tried to make peace. He invited Indian chiefs to a meeting, but they were murdered. Colonists kept attacking Native Americans no matter what Berkeley said. Then Berkeley started a meeting called the Long Assembly. He took gunpowder away from peaceful Native Americans and promised the colonists he would send the army to attack Native Americans who were not peaceful (according to him). However, he raised taxes to pay the army. The colonists did not like this. At the Long Assembly, Berkeley also made rules for trading with Native Americans so no one could give them guns or other war supplies. But he gave favors to his friends. The colonists did not like this either.[1]

Bacon and his friends kept attacking different groups of American Indians. Berkeley came with "well-armed gentlemen" to find Bacon. Bacon and 200 men ran away into the woods. Berkeley declared Bacon a rebel. Bacon kept attacking American Indians.[1]

Berkeley offered to pardon Bacon if he would stop, turn himself in, and go to England for trial. But the Virginia government, the House of Burgesses, said Bacon had to come and beg forgiveness. Other Virginians liked Bacon's actions so much that they voted for him to be in the House of Burgesses.[1]

When Bacon showed up to the June Assembly, Berkeley caught him. But instead of putting him in prison, he pardoned him. Bacon took his seat in the Assembly.[1]

At the Assembly, Bacon got into a fight about what to do about Native Americans. He walked out and came back with armed men. Bacon told Berkeley to name him General and let him keep fighting American Indians. Berkeley said no and told Bacon to shoot him instead. But eventually, Berkeley changed his mind and told Bacon to keep fighting Indians. After that, Bacon had more control over Jamestown than Berkeley did. Berkeley even left the town for a while.[1]

Bacon and Berkeley fought with armies over who would control Jamestown. They both tried to get white indentured servants and black slaves to join their side. More of these servants and slaves wanted to join Bacon because they knew that they could get more land if there were no American Indians living nearby. At one point, Bacon's fighters set Jamestown on fire. They kept fighting until Bacon died of disease in October 1676.[1][2]

Berkeley retook Jamestown and hanged 23 people who had helped Bacon. He also took property away Bacon's supporters without a trial. King Charles II told Berkeley he could not be governor of Virginia any more. Berkeley went back to England and died there in 1677.[1]

Historians' view

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Some people say Bacon was one of the people who pushed for reform at the Assembly of June 1676, but he wasn't. The Assembly did decide to let freed slaves vote and other good things, but those laws had already been started before Bacon's rebellion.[1]

Before and during the 20th century, historians thought of Bacon's Rebellion as the first time Americans fought against unjust government. They said it was like the American Revolutionary War, but sooner. The Revolution started exactly one hundred years later in 1776.[1]

21st century historians disagreed. They said it was about two selfish leaders instead: Berkeley and Bacon.[1]

Historians note that white and black people fought together on the same side, both poor free whites, poor free blacks, indentured white servants and enslaved blacks.[2]


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  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 "Bacon's Rebellion". National Park Service. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "People & Events: Bacon's Rebellion". PBS.