Bacon's Rebellion

Topics: America

In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon rebelled and held a revolt in Colonial Virginia. High taxes, low prices for tobacco, and resentment against special privileges given those close to the governor, Sir William Berkeley, provided the background for the uprising. These factors made the rebellion inevitable. All of the chaos was precipitated by Governor Berkeley’s failure to defend the frontier against attacks by Native Americans. Bacon commanded two unauthorized but successful expeditions against the tribes and was then elected to the new House of Burgesses, which Berkeley had been forced to convene.

Berkeley then sent out a warrant for his arrest and Bacon was put in jail. Bacon soon was released and he immediately gathered his supporters, marched to Jamestown, and convinced the demeaning Berkeley into granting him a commission to continue his campaigns against Native Americans. Bacon took control of the colony, but then died of a sudden death. Nevertheless, Nathaniel Bacon is a legend for his rebellious nature, and the response of the colonists was inevitable.

Bacon’s Rebellion can be interpreted in a variety of other ways, but it all began as a power struggle between two stubborn and selfish leaders. The rebellion was essentially motivated by the oppression of indentured servants, and as a response to the economic recession. The situation was unavoidable, and would have happened eventually, but Bacon’s Rebellion can be attributed to a myriad of causes, all of which led to dissent in the Virginia colony. There were a substantial number of issues within the colony.

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Why Was Nathaniel Bacon Frustrated With Governor Berkeley

During that time, the economy was an immense issue. The main agricultural crop was tobacco. Tobacco prices were declining and competition between the colonies was extreme. Commercial competition was growing between Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas and the English market became increasingly restricted. Rising prices of English manufactured goods caused a great deal of problems for the Virginia Colony. Mercantilism was a huge downfall within the society. There were heavy English losses in the latest series of naval wars with the Dutch.

Moreover, closer to home, there were many problems caused by the crazy weather. The constantly changing weather left the colony and colonists in chaos. Hailstorms, floods, dry spells, and hurricanes rocked the colony during one year and had a damaging effect on the colonists. Inevitably, these difficulties encouraged the colonists to find a scapegoat. They needed to find something to vent their frustrations and place the blame for their misfortunes. With the immense frustration and anger among the colonists, they began to scapegoat the local Indians.

To ward off future attacks and to control the situation, Governor Berkeley instigated the matter. He set up what was to be a disastrous meeting between the parties, which resulted in the murders of several tribal chiefs. In the meantime, Berkeley continually pleaded for restraint from the colonists. Some, including Nathaniel Bacon, refused to listen. Bacon disregarded the Governor’s direct orders by seizing some friendly Appomattox Indians for “stealing” corn. Berkeley scolded him, which caused the disgruntled Virginians to wonder which man had taken the right action.

Significantly, Berkeley could not compromise earning resentment from about 1,000 Virginians. They fiercely resented Governor Berkeley for his policies toward the Indians. When Berkeley refused to retaliate for a series of savage Indians on frontier settlements after monopolization of fur trade, the colonists violently took matters into their own hands. The crowd murderously attacked Indians and chased Berkeley from Jamestown. The crowds ran rampant and torched the capitol. A prominent civil war in Virginia began and carried on.

Ironically, Bacon suddenly died from disease. The governor took advantage of this and crushed the uprising, forcing the death penalty on some twenty rebels. Charles II complained of the penalties dealt by the irresponsible and arrogant governor. Due to the rebellions and tensions that were all started by Bacon, lordly planters looked for other less troublesome and chaotic laborers to work on the tobacco plantations. The unfortunate fact is that colonial slavery became extremely notorious in the Middle and Southern Colonies after this occurred.

Thus, one of the most unusual and complicated chapters in Jamestown’s history ended. Could it have been prevented or was it time for inevitable changes to take place in the colonial governmental structure? The tension and chaos throughout all the colonies eventually led to the First American Revolution. But at that time in Colonial Virginia, the inefficient laws were no longer effective in establishing clear policies to deal with problems or to instill new lifeblood into the colony’s economy. Something along the nature of rebellion could have always occurred.

Simply, the infinite number of problems that were affecting the colony before Bacon’s Rebellion gave rise and character to Nathaniel Bacon. At first glance, the nature of Bacon’s Rebellion does seem to be the beginnings of America’s quest for Independence, but this was just on incident. Closer examination of this period in history illustrates what Jamestown’s situation truly was: a power struggle between two very strong personalities that almost destroyed Jamestown. A class brawl within an Indian conflict, Bacon’s Rebellion revealed the mixed motivations and tangled outcomes of warfare in colonial America.

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Bacon's Rebellion. (2019, Dec 05). Retrieved from

Bacon's Rebellion
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