Bacon’s Rebellion

The Constitution for Kids (Grades 4...
The Constitution for Kids (Grades 4-7)

Bacon’s Rebellion happened due to a series of events of the time and is thought to be one of the most interesting yet confusing situations in the history of Jamestown. Due to the circumstances, it’s believed that the situations that happened was actually the spark that truly started the American Revolution. It is also the story of two stubborn men.

It’s important to know that there were a number of conditions that had happened in the 1670’s that led to Bacon’s Rebellion. The first is in the decline of the economy in Virginia, where tobacco prices were plummeting and there was now commercial rivalry with neighboring states of the Carolinas and Maryland.

While prices were being increased from Britain, profit on the home front was shrinking. Add to this the fact that a series of bad weather, including dry spells, floods, hailstorms, and hurricanes had caused damage and loss. These situations created a formula for those that already had growing anger against the British rule.

  • The first main player in this unusual drama is Governor Sir William Berkeley. A well-respected governor and a favorite of the King, his reputation was one that people looked up to. Berkeley was also a scholar and a playwright.
  • The second player is Berkeley’s cousin by marriage, Nathanial Bacon, Jr. He was smart and eloquent, but was a known trouble maker. Hoping that he would learn, grow, and mature, Bacon’s father sent him to Virginia where Berkeley befriended him and set him up with a decent land grant, as well as in 1675 giving him a seat on the council.
  • The economic downturn caused a lot of friction and tension and the colonists were looking for someone to blame. It didn’t take long before they found the situation that they sought. A rather dumb problem happened in July of 1675 when the Doeg Indians raided a local plantation due to lack of payment by the plantation owner, Thomas Mathews. Quite a few of the Doeg Indians were killed, yet the colonists decided to retaliate in an attack.
  • The problem is, the colonists attacked the Susquehanaug tribe instead of the Doeg tribe and this created many Indians raids to start.
  • Governor Berkeley required an investigation and he then set up a meeting between all involved. The meeting was a disaster, with quite a few tribal chiefs being murdered. Berkeley was trying to convince the colonists to be calm, but some refused to listen, including Bacon.
  • Bacon went against Berkeley and seized some of the friendly Appomattox Indians under the accusation that they stole some corn. Berkeley then reprimanded Bacon and this was what caused the strain between Bacon and Berkeley.

  • Berkeley tried to encourage a policy of peace and was trying to find common ground where a compromise could be reached to make all parties content. The colonists wanted to make sure that the Indians couldn’t be a threat so Berkeley took their ammunition and gun powder.
  • Berkeley called a “Long Assembly” meeting in 1676 to try to settle things down. Unfortunately the assembly was angry and made the decision to declare war on all “bad Indians,” and they built a defensive area around Virginia as well as established a chain of command.
  • The Indian tribes were required to pay taxes to the army and this led to a series of Indian wars.
  • Favored traders were established to trade with the Indians and these also happened to be friends of Berkeley’s. Other traders that had been trading with the Indians for years were no longer allowed to trade on an individual basis. Commissions were established to make sure the Indians weren’t getting any arms.
  • Bacon was one of the traders that was now on the outside and he was angry about the corrupt decisions made. He decided to create a local militia and named himself as General of the group, mainly because he said he would pay for the cost.
  • Bacon first attacked and drove the Pamunkey Indians away from their homes. Berkeley rode to Bacon’s headquarters with around 300 armed men. At the sight of the men, Bacon and his 200 men escaped into the forest.
  • Berkeley made two petitions that declared Bacon to be a rebel and yet offering a pardon to his men if they just left him and went home without incident. Instead of complying with Berkeley’s orders he attacked more friendly Indians, this time the Occaneechee, stealing all of their beaver pelts.
  • Trying to stop the situation Berkeley stated that he would forgo the petition against Bacon if he turned himself in where he would be sent to King Charles II in England for trial. Political moves by others required that Bacon ask forgiveness of the governor.
  • Those supporting Bacon ended up electing him to counsel and he was accidentally given credit for reforms that had been in the works before voted to the Assembly. The reforms were popular with many. However, upon arrival Bacon was captured and taken to Berkeley.
  • Berkeley gave Bacon a pardon but no one knew what kind of support Bacon had. Bacon returned to the Assembly with all of his men and had the statehouse surrounded. Berkeley told Bacon to shoot him and Bacon refused. Instead, Bacon demanded to be General of all of their forces and Berkeley refused that.
  • After a lot of threats, Berkeley gave in to Bacon’s demands. Conflicts and intrigue continued between Bacon and Berkeley’s men, with Berkeley continuing to try to take power back. Berkeley finally overtook Bacon and had troops to take back Jamestown. Bacon tried to retaliate, but his attempts failed. Berkeley eventually took control back and many were tried and convicted for their participation in a very unusual situation in American history.

Q&A:

Who were the two main players in Bacon’s Rebellion?
Governor Sir William Berkeley and Nathan Bacon, Jr

Why were the colonists angry during this time?
Loss of profits

What dumb move did the colonists make against the Indians to retaliate?
Attacked the wrong tribe

What title did Bacon take in his demand for control?
General

What was Berkeley’s goal during this time of unrest?
To maintain peace/get people to agree on compromises

What did Berkeley do as a first step to ensure the Indians couldn’t attack them?
Remove ammunition and guns