Bacon's Rebellion of 1704


There are many versions of Bacon's Rebellion in the history books. Some pit the young Nathaniel Bacon as a hero of the Virginia Commonwealth, others depict Bacon as an immature schemer against his distant cousin by marriage, Governor Sir William Berkeley.

The aged Berkeley, an English Civil War veteran, playwright, and American Indian frontiersman, had faced an uneasy dissent in the Virginia colony he governed. Virginians were unhappy with the economic problems that beset them, such as declining tobacco prices, certain inflationary pricing by mercantilism and competition from surrounding states, compounded by international trade restrictions. Weather wreaked havoc on crops and the colonists' homesteads. With economics and natural disaster plaguing the settlers, tempers flared as they began to look for someone to lead them out of their hardships or at least to blame.

The charismatic young Nathaniel Bacon took advantage of a situation that arose from the strife. The Doeg Indians had recently raided the Thomas Mathews plantation in July 1675 in retaliation for a business deal gone bad. Apparently, Mathews had obtained certain items from the tribe and had not paid as agreed. Several tribesmen were killed in the uprising. When the colonists struck back, they attacked the Susquehanaugs, not the Doegs, by mistake, escalating future Indian raids.

Berkeley tried to contain the violence, but to no avail. Bacon, whom had earlier been appointed to Berkeley's governmental council and then ousted, recruited a small army to extend forays into Indian territory. Bacon considered all Indians to be the enemy, a sentiment Berkeley did not share, which further polarized the two men.

Bacon became more popular, a colonist hero, elected to the House of Burgesses in 1676, a post which he never seated as he was arrested by governmental forces and released. Incensed, he gathered his forces and marched on Jamestown before retreating to Gloucester, his men taking over the home of Arthur Allen for around four months, kicking his family out. His cousin branded him a rebel against the administration. Bacon's Rebellion lasted long enough to murder many Indians, the existing treaties, and prevail in Jamestown, albeit temporarily.

Bacon, ill with dysentery, died later that fall, crushing the rebellion's spirit. They were unable to hold Bacon's army together without his leadership and charismatic countenance. Berkeley catapulted a widespread manhunt for the rebels before being called back to England. The colonists were in a better position to negotiate a new peace treaty with the Indians, but Bacon's Rebellion effected a change in how the plantation owners ran their plantations: gone were indentured servants, in came the slaves.