Sunday, 16 December 2012

Bacon's Rebellion

During the 1650s and 60s, the English population increased dramatically in Virginia. Economic situations and the addition of new arrivals caused conflicts with the Native people. Raiding from both sides resulted, and the colonists were either confused or didn't care as to which tribes were friendly. Governor Berkeley gathered a force to deal with the situation, but the colonists murdered five chiefs who had requested peace. The governor pleaded for restraint from the colonists.

Nathaniel Bacon, an owner of Indian and African slaves, captured some friendly Appamattuck Indians for "allegedly" stealing corn. This set the seeds for the rebellion, at a time when the colonists wondered which man was taking the right action.

As a result, the governor feared a complete Indian rebellion. In March 1676, the English declared war on the Indians with their Acts of Assembly, and laws were enacted to build forts for protection from the Indians. Farmers requested a force to suppress the Indians, but when they were ignored, they took matters into their own hands with Bacon as their leader.

Berkeley labeled them as rebels and attempted to control the situation by riding to Bacon's headquarters with 300 armed men. Bacon fled into the forest.

The governor issued pardons for Bacon's men if they went home peacefully. Instead, Bacon marched on the friendly Occaneechi tribe. He convinced them to attack the Susquehanock. When the Occaneechi returned with captives, Bacon and his men killed the captives. They then turned their fire on the Occaneechi, killing most of the people of the town.

In order to try and keep the peace, Berkeley agreed to pardon Bacon if he turned himself in. Ironically, Bacon was elected to the House of Burgesses due to sympathy from his Indian attacks. When he appeared in Jamestown for the June Assembly, he was captured. Tensions flared between Berkeley and Bacon, but in the end, Bacon became the commander-in-chief to fight the Indians. He lead a revolt and drove the friendly Pamunkey from their lands, killing and capturing many of them in doing so.

Soon after, the governor declared Bacon's commission void. Bacon returned to Jamestown, and Berkeley immediately fled. Each of the men tried to gain support, promising freedom to the slaves that would join in their cause. In September, Bacon set fire to Jamestown.

The rebellion ended when a royal force arrested many of the rebels, and it failed completely soon after Bacon died from dysentery in October 1676.

Kim Murphy