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Bacon's Rebellion

BACON'S REBELLION

BACON'S REBELLION was a revolt in Virginia in 1676 led by Nathaniel Bacon Jr., a young planter, against the aged royal governor, Sir William Berkeley. The revolt has usually been interpreted as an attempt at political re-form directed against the allegedly oppressive rule of the governor. Bacon's Rebellion, so the argument goes, was prologue to the American Revolution. Late-twentieth-century scholarship, however, has questioned this thesis and emphasized controversy over Indian policy and class divisions within the colony as fundamental causes of the rebellion. The ensuing civil war exposed deep social rifts between the poor whites and the Anglo-American elites of the Chesapeake region.

When Indian attacks occurred on the northern and western frontiers late in 1675 and early in 1676, Bacon demanded the right to lead volunteers in retaliation against all Indians, even those living peacefully within the colony. Berkeley, fearing unjust dispossession and slaughter of the friendly Native American tribes, refused. Bacon ignored the governor's restriction and in May 1676 led volunteers to the southern frontier, where he slaughtered


and plundered the friendly Occaneechee Indians. When the governor attempted to call him to account, Bacon marched to Jamestown and, at gunpoint, forced the House of Burgesses of June 1676 to grant him formal authority to fight the Indian war. The burgesses and the governor, powerless before the occupying army and eager to be rid of it, quickly acquiesced. Bacon then marched against another nonhostile tribe, the Pamunkey.

When Berkeley attempted to raise forces to reestablish his own authority, Bacon turned on the governor with his volunteers. Civil war ensued. Berkeley was driven to the eastern shore of Virginia. Jamestown, the capital, was burned. For a few months Bacon's word was law on the mainland. Bacon's rebels retained the loyalty of many indentured servants and small landholders. The colony depended heavily on supplies from England, however, and the sea captains and sailors sided with Berkeley.

The rebellion, already flagging, came to an abrupt end when Bacon died in October 1676. Berkeley, having recruited forces on the Eastern Shore, returned to the mainland, defeated the remaining rebels, and by January 1677 had reestablished his authority. Soon thereafter, eleven hundred troops, sent by Charles II to suppress the rebellion, arrived, accompanied by commissioners to investigate its causes. Berkeley's strict policy toward the defeated rebels was severely censured by the commissioners, who attempted to remove him from the governorship. Berkeley returned to England in May 1677 to justify himself, but died on 9 July before seeing the king. Charles II installed Colonel Herbert Jeffreys as governor and promised a plan of internal reform. These reforms erased much of the political autonomy built during Berkeley's regime and reasserted imperial control over Virginia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Frantz, John B., ed. Bacon's Rebellion: Prologue to the Revolution? Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1969.

Webb, Stephen Saunders. 1676, The End of American Independence. New York: Knopf, 1984.

Wilcomb E.Washburn/a. r.

See alsoColonial Policy, British ; Indian Policy, Colonial ; Insurrections, Domestic .

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Bacon's Rebellion

Bacon's Rebellion (1676). Nathaniel Bacon arrived in Virginia in 1674 with money for land and impeccable connections to the colony's elite. Two years later he died of swamp fever, the leader of a rebel army made up of former indentured servants. Bacon's transformation from gentleman planter to rebel ringleader united two potent animosities in colonial Virginia: the colonists' hatred of Indians and small freeholders' hatred of land‐monopolizing gentry.

Smallholders on Virginia's frontier had long‐running disputes with the Susquehannocks north of the James River and with the colony's elite. The sources of the free men's anger converged in 1676 when Governor William Berkeley, fearing the outbreak of Indian war, discountenanced Bacon's plans to lead a frontier army against the Indians and refused him a commission. Bacon planned to exterminate the Indians in the colony, and attack those beyond its border; Berkeley reasonably insisted on distinguishing between friendly and hostile Indians. In June, Bacon and five hundred men traveled to Jamestown to confront Berkeley. The governor eventually granted the commission and authorized Bacon to raise an army; Berkeley then fled Jamestown and sent to England for troops.

While Bacon's followers sought out Indians to enslave or massacre, Berkeley and Bacon waged a recruiting war, vying for the loyalty of servants and small landowners. In October, Bacon died and his rebellion fizzled. British troops arriving in 1677 confronted a puny rebel force: eighty slaves and twenty servants.

A class brawl within an Indian conflict, Bacon's Rebellion revealed the mixed motivations and tangled outcomes of warfare in colonial America. The revolt changed little within the colony; gentlemen continued to monopolize the best land, the highest offices, and the most slaves. The Indians suffered the most. Those within the colony lost population and land; the Susquehannocks to the north were decimated by Iroquois warriors, who seized the opportunity to attack. By the 1680s, the Susquehannocks existed only as Iroquois dependents, and the Iroquois were free to sell their lands to colonial planters.
[See also Colonial Rebellions and Armed Civil Unrest; Native American Wars: Wars Between Native Americans and Europeans and Euro‐Americans.]

Bibliography

Wilcomb E. Washburn , The Governor and the Rebel, 1957.
Edmund S. Morgan , American Slavery, American Freedom, 1975.

Jon T. Coleman

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Fall, Albert Bacon

Albert Bacon Fall, 1861–1944, American cabinet official, b. Frankfort, Ky. He became a rancher in New Mexico and a political leader in that state. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1912, he served there until President Harding made him Secretary of the Interior in 1921. Fall was one of the chief figures in the scandal concerning oil lands that rocked the Republican administration (see Teapot Dome). He resigned in 1923 and was later tried and found guilty (1931) of conspiracy to defraud the government.

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