October 26, 2018
Nathaniel Bacon stepped onto the shores of the New World with money in his pocket and resolve to make a fresh start. His father wanted a clean slate for him in the Americas following allegations from a neighbor that Bacon was trying to steal his inheritance. William Berkeley, Virginia’s governor and Bacon's cousin by marriage, already prepared a land grant and arranged a seat for Bacon on the Governor's Council.
Within three years, Berkeley would be daring Bacon to shoot him.
When Bacon arrived in 1673, colonists despised their governor. Upon his election in 1660, the tyrant living deep in his soul was unleashed. The ascension of Charles II to the throne in May of the same year, reestablishing the monarchy in England, only emboldened Berkeley. Calling for a new assembly, he managed to expunge the House of Burgesses of those sympathetic to the colonists, replacing them with men loyal only to the crown. The laws that soon followed devastated the settlers.
Voting rights were restricted to landowners only, greatly reducing the power of the people over the government. Eventually, with a solid and loyal House of Burgesses established, Berkeley abolished elections for the assembly, permanently fixing his corrupt associates in their seats.
Oppressive and heavy tax burdens crippled the struggling and poor colonists while the wealthy were exempt. Trade restrictions favorable to England nearly bankrupted the poor settlers as merchants in Britain received benefits that crushed their colonial counterparts. The heaviest burdens were placed on tobacco, the cash crop of Virginia. The people appealed to their new king, yet their complaints fell on deaf ears. Instead, the king rewarded their hardships with more tribulations. The king flippantly awarded pieces of land, some of which was owned and cultivated by a settler for a quarter of a century, to those in his court.
Then Virginia experienced a year of floods, droughts, hailstorms, and hurricanes that leveled crops. This only added to the desperation of the colonists. They needed somewhere to focus their frustration. A scapegoat soon entered the frontier.
While several Native American tribes recognized the benefits of being friendly with the colonists, other tribes wanted them gone. Indian raids and massacres in towns and villages terrorized the settlers, resulting in the colonists seeing them as the cause of all their troubles. As settlers were slaughtered, they begged the governor for help. Wanting to keep the peace, Berkeley sided with the Indians, giving the colonists one more reason to resist him. Since Berkeley refused to address the Indians tormenting them, the settlers turned on all Native Americans, demanding all of them be expelled from Virginia or exterminated.
The conflict reached a pivot point in September of 1675. To obtain compensation for unpaid goods, a group of Doeg Indians snuck onto Thomas Mathews’ farm and stole several pigs. This set off a series of retaliatory killings between the settlers and the natives. Two militia captains known for their hostility towards Indians, mistakenly attacked a peaceful tribe of Susquehannocks, killing 14 and escalating the crisis. More settlers and natives were slaughtered while John Washington, great-grandfather of George Washington, led a group into Maryland as support for a Maryland militia. (see and ) Following a six-week standoff, five chiefs emerged from their fort to negotiate only to be murdered, which led to more raids and death.
Bacon, now a small plantation owner on the James River in Henrico County, took matters into his own hands. Experiencing firsthand the ransacking, looting, and killing by the natives against the frontiersmen, Bacon demanded a commission for a militia to fight against the Indians. Despite being denied a militia by Berkeley, Bacon mustered a volunteer group to protect the settlers. Berkeley took another approach, disarming the natives, relieving them of their ammunition and gunpowder in efforts to convince the settlers they were in no harm. The result was two sides that split further apart. The elite, corrupt aristocrats backed Berkeley. The poor farmers, frontiersmen, indentured servants, and slaves joined Bacon. (see )
The General Assembly finally stepped in, declaring war on the “bad” tribes. They proposed building fortifications and restricting trade to friendly tribes. Colonists protested, believing their dishonest officials aimed only to raise their taxes while constructing trade rules to benefit themselves, squeezing out the settlers. It was a lose-lose situation for the settlers. Finally, Berkeley passed a law granting rights to the natives to live within Virginia. He aimed to make the Indians feel secure with their own land, removing their motivation to attack settlers. It didn’t work.
Bacon continued his own onslaughts, resulting in Berkeley declaring him a rebel and an outlaw. Unfazed by Berkeley’s actions and threats, Bacon pushed forward, doing what he believed was the governor’s responsibility. Yet in his zealousness, he conducted an extremely unethical raid. He convinced a friendly tribe of Occaneechi Indians to attack and capture a group of Susquehannocks. They were successful, but Bacon overstepped the line of civility upon their return with their captives. His militia first killed the Susquehannocks, then turned and slaughtered the Occaneechi, including their women and children.
Quickly loosing control, Berkeley called for a new Assembly. Settlers in Henrico County, viewing Bacon as a hero, electing him as their burgess. The new, more colonist-friendly Assembly pushed through several reforms that upended Berkeley’s previous laws. Often referred to as Bacon’s Laws, though he wasn’t there at the time, they greatly restricted the government’s powers and returned voting rights to non-landowners.
Feeling confident, Bacon gathered 500 men and headed to Jamestown, once again demanding a commission from Berkeley to command a militia against the natives. Arriving on June 23, 1676, Bacon confronted his cousin who flatly denied his request once again. Furious, Bacon ordered his men to take aim at Berkeley as several burgesses watched on from the statehouse windows. Calling Bacon’s bluff, Berkeley bore his chest and dared Bacon to shoot him himself. Frightened for the governor’s life, one burgess waved a white flag agreeing to grant Bacon his commission. When Bacon and his men returned home, they discovered eight more settlers in Henrico County were murdered while they were gone due to lack of protection.
As with the almost exactly 100 years later with King George III, the colonists put their grievances to paper. Bacon recorded in detail their complaints and examples of injustice with Governor Berkeley, including high taxes, government corruption, abuse of power, and failure to protect the settlers. Bacon issued their "Declaration of the People of Virginia” which he signed “Generall, by the consent of the People,” on July 30, 1676.
The family feud continued for months as Bacon's popularity grew and Berkeley's control dwindled. Jealously, revenge, and arrogance turned the personal squabble into a civil war with both men tracking the other throughout the area. As they played their own game of cat and mouse, settlers' support of Bacon increased. Bacon’s bold actions led to freedom from Indian raids throughout Virginia. Once Bacon discovered Berkeley returned to Jamestown, he and his men set out to overtake the colonial capital in mid-September. (see ) With Bacon's militia on the outskirts of town, Berkeley fled Jamestown during the night. The following morning, September 19, Bacon and his men entered the town. Knowing they could not hold the city, and not willing to let it fall back into Berkeley’s hands, the rebels burned the town to the ground. Disappearing again into the woods, they continued their attacks on Natives Americans while plundering the homes of loyalists.
Then suddenly, Bacon died on October 26 of dysentery. His rebellion died soon after. Supporters secretly buried his body to prevent loyalists from desecrating it. John Ingram assumed control of the rebellion, yet his militia slowly dwindled as colonists left the movement to return home. A few months after Bacon's death, Berkeley’s naval commander, Thomas Grantham, tricked the remaining rebels into being captured. Promising pardons to everyone who boarded his ship, Grantham placed the rebels in the hold. Once secured, Grantham held them at gunpoint and disarmed them. Bacon's Rebellion was over.
Berkeley returned to power determined to have his revenge, hanging twenty-three rebels and confiscating the property of several more. Berkeley outlawed the printing press, deterred education and in some cases outright forbid it, and passed harsh libel laws for written or spoken words against the administration, or support in any form of Bacon’s Rebellion. (see & ) A third offense was declared treason and punishable with death.
King Charles II ordered an investigation of these actions, which resulted in Berkeley being relieved of his governorship and summoned back to England to answer for his behavior. Charges included excessive punishment against the rebels, seizure of property without due process, and abuse of power. Berkeley died July 9, 1677, before having the opportunity to defend himself to the king or answer for his crimes.
Bacon's Rebellion was the colonists' first revolution against a tyrannical monarchy. Those in the lower status of society united and presented a powerful front against the aristocracy. This included poor citizens, indentured servants both black and white, and slaves. This motley crew completely terrified the elites. Historians believe this became a turning point for promoting and increasing African slavery. By increasing slavery, the powerful elite could drive a wedge between the races and prevent another unified uprising. Slavery in the colonies began in 1654 when Anthony Johnson, a negro and former indentured servant, sued one of his own servants and won, becoming the first official slave owner. (see ) But the success of Bacon’s Rebellion caused British aristocrats to push the African slave trade on the colonies to purposely destroy race relations between poor blacks and whites.
While progressives denounce and deem America’s past as full of bigots and racists, they administer the same techniques in hopes to achieve the same results. For the past decade, Americans have been divided and categorized into every imaginable group possible. Black Lives Matter vs. the Alt-Right, (see ) blacks vs. whites, left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, gay vs. straight, fluid gender vs. cisgender, pro-abortion vs. pro-life, and on and on ad infinitum. Those in power know that if we were to stop fighting with each other and instead listen to one other, we would realize we have so much more in common than not. If Americans started putting down their guard, they would realize, just as Bacon and his supporters did, that the real problem lies within the boundaries of the people in power.
Liberty, with as much chaos as America is experiencing right now, I still believe that in the heart of the majority of Americans lives compassion, understanding, and a desire for true freedom. We have lost a generation to the propaganda of progressive socialism and post-modernism but the Tea Party woke up to the liberal agenda. (see ) Children like you are learning the true history of America and the liberty our Forefathers fought so hard to obtain. Just as Tea Partiers began cleaning out their Republican Party, many on the left are starting to wake up to the deceptions of the Democratic Party and they too are walking away. Power hungry elites in Washington are petrified as America inches closer and closer to the citizens putting down their guard and uniting as one against their bureaucratic oppressors.
One can only wonder, if Bacon had survived and succeeded in overthrowing Berkeley, would America have won her independence 100 years earlier than she did. More importantly, would she have terminated slavery and its disastrous repercussions. Bacon’s mistake was his relentless and merciless attacks on the natives. As long as the majority of people refused to go over the cliff with the violent radicals of today, the brutality and insanity we are experiencing from the extremists will be their downfall. I pray that this is God’s plan.
That’s my 2 cents.
AMERICA'S FORGOTTEN REBELLION