A Review of Bacon’s Rebellion on Jamestown, Va.

A Review of Bacon’s Rebellion on Jamestown, Va.

HY 1110, American History I

Columbia Southern University

A Review of Bacon’s Rebellion on Jamestown, VA

After reading over Unit II it was very clear what topic would be covered in this essay. Further reading of Bacon’s Rebellion in Indian Country by James D. Rice and “Sundry Murders and Depredations”: A Closer Look at the Chowan River War, 1676-1677 made it clear why that was a good choice. Further understanding of the actions that occurred during that event broadened the knowledge of what horrible actions took place during that time period. The following paragraphs will cover what lead to Bacon’s Rebellion, what happened during the rebellion, and the outcome and aftermath of the rebellion.

Bacon’s Rebellion, why it began

Bacon’s Rebellion started out as a war against Indians and developed into a civil war between cousins, William Berkeley and Nathaniel Bacon. It all began in the summertime of 1675. There was a dispute in trades between the Doeg Indians and a Potomac Valley merchant-planter named Thomas Mathew. The clash between the two parties continued and escalated into a series of back and forth killings. The conflict came to a head when a group of Virginia militia officers accidentally killed 14 Susquehannock Indians mistaking them for the Doeg Indians. That incident developed into a full out war with the Susquehannock Indians.

The civil war started due to a dispute on how to deal with the Susquehannock Indians. William Berkeley, who was the governor of Virginia at the time wanted to keep the peace with all other neighboring Indians while dealing with and continuing to war with the Susquehannock Indians. His cousin, Nathaniel Bacon, a James River planter and member of William Berkeley’s advisory council wanted to deal with all their Indian problems at one time. Nathaniel Bacon requested Berkeley give him a military commission to eradicate the Indians but was denied. Against the strict orders of Berkeley, his cousin went out and raised a private army from local areas in order to attack the Susquehannocks.

What Happened

With a volunteer army at his back Bacon marched to the Roanoke River. At this location, he encountered the Occaneechi Indians and expressed he was searching for the Susquehannock Indians. The Occaneechis responded to Bacon saying “Susquehannas were no friends of theirs that that the English were tired with a long march… there was a nation of these Sesquasahannoch about 20 miles off that they would destroy them for the English sakes and bring in what prisoners they could to be disposed of by the English (ADAMS, L. C. 2013)”. Bacon used the Occaneechis to attack the Susquehannocks then turned on them after the fact and killed multiple men, women, and children.

For his actions William Berkeley declared Bacon as a rebellious activist and denounced him from his council. At this time “The governor warned Bacon that he was in mutiny and ordered him to come to Jamestown (Rice, J. D. 2014)”. Bacon arrived in Jamestown in June of 1676, just in time for elections of a new assembly. He was arrested for his actions but pardoned soon after when he apologized. He was able to escape Jamestown only to return in late June with an army of several hundred men again requesting a military commission. In July Bacon and his rebel army were able to run off Berkeley and his men to the eastern shore. In early September Jamestown was recaptured by Berkeley’s forces only to lose their footing again on September 19, 1676 and be expelled again to the eastern shore. During this takeover of Jamestown and the with the expulsion of Berkeley’s men the city was burned. Nathaniel Bacon died in October of 1676 due to dysentery. Bacon’s rebels continued to fight on until mid-January 1677.

The Outcome.

There were multiple things that happened as a result of Bacon’s Rebellion. Firstly, people thought that Nathaniel Bacon was a patriot who gave his life for his cause, in reality he seemed to be power hungry and blood thirsty. Based on the writings of James Rice and Lars Adams, Nathaniel Bacon wanted to eradicate all Indians and remove anyone that did not share his views. He did seem able to persuade his neighbors into following his cause, this leads one to believe he was more than likely a very inspiring man or at the very least motivational speaker.

Secondly, William Berkeley was removed from all power when the British regulars arrived. He was disgraced by the actions that he had taken and the results of those actions. He was taken back to London and died there in July 1677. From what was read he seemed to want peace mostly but was caught between a rock and a hard place. He did not like to be challenged by someone he considered beneath him in Nathaniel Bacon. His arrogance and poor choices led to his eventual demise.

Thirdly, the rebellion led into Virginia’s involvement in the Indian slave trade. In the 1650s and 1660s there were restrictions placed on Indian enslavement but with the “wartime circumstances” officials legalized the expansion of Indian slavery. English slave markets rose up and by 1715, thirty to fifty thousand slaves had been traded by the British between the Carolinas, Florida, and the Mississippi River. This feed into the epidemic that was cultivating throughout America with other types of slave trading occurring as well. At this time, anyone of color was considered a sub class citizen at best.