Sunday, September 19, 2010

September 19, 1676 – Bacon Refuses to Torch Jamestown

The past two years in the Colony of Virginia had been troubling. Indians were attacking settlements on the western frontier after seizing property promised as payment from a farmer. The English retaliated with violence, and the raiding parties on both sides escalated. Governor William Berkeley had proposed a system of forts to placate the Indians under gradual removal, but farmers felt the plan would be as costly as it was ineffectual. Berkeley, who had long favored his own inner circle in government affairs, decided finally to recall the House of Burgesses to deal with the matter.

While the Burgesses gave great reforms, they did not directly address the issue, so wealthy planter Nathaniel Bacon marched to Jamestown with 500 followers and demanded to be commissioned as leader of a militia to destroy the Indian menace. He challenged Berkeley to give him a commission at gunpoint from his men, but the governor merely bared his breast and challenged Bacon to fire himself. Bacon repeated the action with the Burgesses, and they quickly gave him the commission.

After publishing the "Declaration of the People of Virginia" criticizing Berkeley's faulty government, Bacon and his men, some of whom were rebelling slaves and indentured servants, spent months fighting Indians, many of whom were peaceful and, in fact, allies of the English. Upon their return to Jamestown, many called for a revolution to remove Berkeley (who had fled across the river), but Bacon stopped them. His thirst for blood had been quenched, and he decided that his place was to ensure that the wrongs in the Declaration were made right. Working with the Burgesses, Bacon put forth the bill that the governor would now be elected by the colony as well as an ambassador to communicate with Parliament and the Company in London. Though Bacon would die of dysentery in October, his ideas would follow after him. Berkeley returned, intending on putting down a rebellion, but instead only finding landowners and freedmen looking for political change.

Berkeley was returned to London along with John Ingram, who would serve as representative from the colony. While Parliament disagreed with self-representation of the colony, the Virginia Company saw great potential in men striving for success (fighting Indians themselves, for example, instead of using English dividends to pay soldiers), and, after much debate and back-room deals, the agreement was made.

Virginia continued to expand and profit over the next century. Though Parliament enacted several laws over trade issues, political matters were largely reviewed by the colonists, who were given a requested amount of taxes by their representative and left to themselves to produce it. Other North American colonies followed in self-representation such as Maryland, Massachusetts, Bermuda, and Pennsylvania. The experiment was considered proven in the 1770s when the colonies were asked to aid in Britain's tremendous national debt from the Seven Years' War, which they did (though some colonists, such as the fiery Samuel Adams were arrested on suspicions of treason). Ideals of self-representation also came to Europe in several waves of revolt. They did not translate well in the bloody and ultimately pointless French Revolution, though many tyrants became controlled by constitutions.

While the colonies and Britain would often disagree with the violent treatment of natives, it would be another matter that would eventually drive them apart: slavery. Parliament ended slavery in the British Empire in 1833, and many American colonies saw it as a stomping of colonies' rights. Many of the Upper Canadian and New England colonies remained loyal, but the South and West rose up under General Andrew Jackson who had established himself as an Indian Fighter. Other rebellions went up in the Caribbean, and were quickly put down by the Navy before beginning the blockade that would choke out the rebel colonies. After six bloody years and the death of Jackson at New Orleans, the rebellion would come to an end in 1840.

America would continue to be an important part of the British Empire, serving with distinction in its wars against Mexico and Spain. Independence would creep up routinely in the collective mind of the Americans, which gained Dominion status in 1868 after being broken into New England, Dixieland, and the Western United Provinces of America. After the Second World War, these lands would gain independence but remain in the powerful bloc of the British Commonwealth.

In reality, Bacon burned Jamestown as a display of dissatisfaction with Berkeley. The action would prove too much, and, after Bacon's death, his rebellion would disintegrate as Berkeley returned with Naval firepower. After retaking his post, Berkeley seized property, executed twenty men, and created strict lines between the races that would haunt the South to this day.


  1. How odd. I'm writing an essay on this.

  2. this is some good imformation me too

  3. That's not the rebellion's Nathaniel Bacon in the painting. That's Sir Nathaniel Bacon, an artist who died almost 50 years before the Rebellion.


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