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Bacon's Rebellion 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 Marylandmarker occurred later that year. The uprising was a protest against Native American raids on the frontier, as well as policies of favoritism shown by the Royal Governor of Virginia, William Berkeley. 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 farmers on the Virginia frontier demanded that American Indians living on treaty-protected lands be driven out or killed. The next year, September 1675, a group of Doeg Indians 'stole' 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 Susquehannock Indians in the process. A series of retaliatory raids ensued. John Washington took a party from Virginia into Marylandmarker, and with Maryland militia surrounded a Susquehannock fort. Although 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 tax rates.

The rebellion

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 problem.

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 took power.

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 poor.

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