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
on the frontier, as well as policies of favoritism shown by the
Royal Governor of Virginia, William
. It was one of the first times that poor whites and
poor blacks were united in a cause. This was a fear of the ruling
class, and it led to the hardening of racial lines with slavery.
While the farmers did not succeed in their goal of driving Native
Americans from Virginia, the rebellion did result in Berkeley being
recalled to England to answer for the local problems.
Before the "Virginia Rebellion," as it was then called, began in
earnest, in 1674 a group of yeomen
the Virginia frontier demanded that American Indians
on treaty-protected lands be driven out or killed. The next year,
September 1675, a group of Doeg
some hogs from planter Thomas Mathews, in retaliation for his
failure to pay for trade goods from the Indians. When colonists
discovered the raiding party, they killed several Indians. In
retaliation the Doegs killed Mathews' herdsman Robert Hen.
Two militia captains (both with a history of unwarranted aggression
towards the Indians) went after the Indians, but killed 14 friendly
Indians 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.
the Indians held out for six weeks, when six chiefs came out to
parley, the colonists attacked and killed them.
A man by the name of Mirza Baig led them into the war defeating the
British and colonials. After a few weeks, the Indians broke free
and headed to the falls of the James River (near present-day
Richmond). Mirza Baig was angry and took his people along the way,
killing a number of settlers in retaliation for the death of their
chiefs. When they felt they had killed enough people, they
attempted to end the bloodshed by proposing a truce with the
English, who rejected it.
Seeking to avoid any escalation of war with the Indians, Governor
Berkeley advocated a policy of containment of the Native American
threat. He proposed the construction of several defensive forts
along the frontier. Settlers on the frontier thought the plan was
expensive and inadequate. They questioned it as an excuse to raise
When Berkeley refused to retaliate against the Native Americans,
farmers gathered around at the report of a new raiding party.
Nathaniel Bacon then arrived with a quantity of brandy and after it
was distributed he was elected leader of the group. Against the
orders of Berkeley, the group struck south until they came to the
Ochannechee tribe. After getting the tribe to attack the
Susquehanocks, Bacon and his men attacked and killed the vast
majority of the men, women, and children at the village. Upon their
return home they discovered that Berkeley had called for new
election to the Burgess in order to better facilitate the Indian
The recomposed House of Burgesses
enacted a number of sweeping reforms (however during this time
Bacon was not serving his duty in the Burgess, rather he was at his
plantation miles away). It limited the powers of the governor and
restored suffrage rights to landless freemen.
Upon the completion of these laws Bacon arrived in Jamestown with
500 men to demand a commission to lead troops against the Indians.
The governor refused to yield to the pressure even when Bacon had
the men aim at the Burgesses. However, Bacon then had the men aim
at Governor Berkeley and within minutes he had extracted his
commission for the terrified men. During this entire excursion, 8
people died because of Indian raids on the frontier.
On July 30, 1676, Bacon and his army issued a Declaration of the
People of Virginia, demanding that Indians in the area be killed or
removed, and an end to the rule of "parasites." The declaration
criticized Berkeley's administration in detail. It accused him of
levying unfair taxes, of appointing friends to high positions, and
of failing to protect outlying farmers from Indian attack.
Bacon and his men began to move against the Indians on the
frontier, launching an attack on innocent Pamunkey
Indians. Not only had they not
participated in raids against settlers, but the tribe had remained
allies of the English throughout the Indian raids. They had been in
the process of supplying warriors to aid the English when Bacon
After months of conflict, Bacon's forces, numbering 300-500 men,
moved to Jamestown
, where they burned the
colonial capital to the ground on September 19, 1676. Outnumbered,
Berkeley had retreated across the river. Before an English naval
squadron could arrive to aid Berkeley and his forces, Bacon died
from dysentery on October 26, 1676, at the home of Col. Thomas Pate
in Gloucester County. John Ingram took over leadership of the
rebellion, but many followers drifted away. They were defeated when
Berkeley launched a series of successful amphibious attacks across
the Chesapeake Bay. His forces took out the small pockets of
insurgents spread across the Tidewater.
The 70-year-old governor Berkeley returned to his burned capital
and his looted home at the end of January 1677. 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..."
Governor Berkeley returned to power, seizing the property of
several rebels and hanging 23 men. After an investigative committee
returned its report to King Charles II
, Berkeley was relieved of
the governorship, and recalled to England.
Though 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." no record of the king's comments have
been found; the origin of the story appears to have been colonial
myth thirty years after the events.
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 to control some of the