Essay on Bacon

This essay has a total of 3180 words and 13 pages.


Sometimes there comes an event in American History in which no one knows exactly why it
happened. What the motives of the event were are left to the interpretation of the
historian doing the research. Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 was on such event. Wilcomb E.
Washburn’s view is precise when he states, “ Bacon’s Rebellion. . .was an event on which
observers could agree on the facts, but divide on the interpretation.” Historians have
been picking into peoples’ accounts and versions of the legend for over 3 centuries, but
never coming to a common conclusion. One fact is for sure and that is that the
rebellion, known as Bacon’s, was what was going to pave the way towards Revolution of
British Authority.

In this paper I will look at one aspect that I feel was the motivation behind one
individual's defiance to authority and the need to take matters regarding Indian relations
into his own hands. Bacon was the kind of person to take what he thought was right into
his own hands, even if it meant that he was breaking the law. In his eyes he was doing
right and if he did not have the official support, he was going to do it anyway. On the
other side was the feeble and zealous Governor of Virginia, Sir William Berkeley. The
Rebellion was also called, “ the first protest against royal authority in America.”

Sir William Berkeley was the second cousin of Bacon. Not wanting for the relations with
the Indians to deteriorate, Berkeley did not thirst for an all out war in order to control
the growing Indian crisis. He believed that the Indians should be punished for killing
the settlers and wreaking havoc on their lives, however, not in the magnitude that Bacon
had in mind.

Berkeley spent a large amount of money on building a system of forts that would keep the
Indians under control, but not go all out and destroy them completely. The Governor said
in his original request, in 1676, to build forts that, “ ‘…500 men should be speedily
raised out of the inland Counties, and that fforts of howes of defence should be built att
the heads of the Rivers for the resort of the soldiers, and the security of Ammunition.’”
Nowhere does the governor say anything about an offensive position to seek revenge.

The Indians found out where the forts were and then they were able to go around them.
Peter Force said in his book, “The Indian Proceedings”, that the Indians, “found out where
the mouse traps [forts] were sett and for what purpose and so resolved to keep out of the
way of their danger.” For this the people of Virginia asked that the Governor step down
and allow the people to deal with the Indians themselves.

The money for these forts came from the Governor initiating a tobacco tax. As we shall
later see, this was also to have a profound impact on the colonists and another reason for
the rebellion. The planters would have rather planted more tobacco in order to finance
the intended forts; instead they were forced to pay the tax. Some of the colonists also
thought that they should take Indian matters into their own hands by the, “…charge and
hazard of their own lives and fortunes.”

In 1676 when the rebellion began, Bacon had only been a resident of Virginia for 2 years.
The son of a wealthy aristocrat, Bacon came to the new world and settled along the York
River on 1,230 acres. Berkeley aided young Bacon on the transition from England and gave
him a commission to trade with the Indians upon his arrival. It was not uncommon for a
relative to help a family member in their transition to the New World. Berkeley, being in
the position that he was in enabled him to make life easier for young Bacon.

Indian relations at this point were excellent since the colonists defeated the Indians in
1646. The indigenous chief, Opechancanough, signed a treaty that gave their power over to
the King of England, Charles II. This was a time when the Indians were completely
powerless over the colonists. Also, with this defeat the colonists were not as scared of
the Indians as they were before. This enabled them to venture out farther into the
wilderness and on Indian lands. This secure feeling was not to last for very long, soon
the relations will begin to dwindle and violence erupts.

In July 1675 a colonist named Thomas Mathew traded with some Doeg Indians and did not make
good on their deal. The Doegs in turn stole a few pigs for due retribution of the unjust
trade. The colonists killed some Indians under the direction of militia Captains George
Mason and George Brent for the theft of the pigs. When they came upon the Doeg tribe they
attacked and killed the chief. When the other Indians heard the shots they came running
out of their huts looking for cover and the militia killed fourteen more Indians, fourteen
friendly Susquehanoughs.

With tensions high between the two parties the last thing the passive Berkeley wanted was
another confrontation to escalate matters. Nathaniel Bacon apprehended another friendly
Indian tribe, the Appomattox, because he thought that they had stolen some corn. Berkeley
called Bacon’s actions impulsive and not very thought provoking. This put even more edge
on the colonial relations with the Indians.

The reason for these actions is put forth in Bacon’s Declaration in the name of the
People. One hundred years after this Declaration there was another one with similar
character. Bacons Declaration consists of eight complaints that he has against the
Governor and his relations with the Indians. This declaration would put into words all of
the tribulations that Bacon had against the Indians and Berkeley’s relationship with them.

Bacon argues to the King that Berkeley has sold the land and loyal subjects of the King to
the Natives. He went on to say that the Indians could have been wiped out before but the
Governor was avoiding conflict, and the result is that they now have, “… a very formidable
enimy, who might att first with ease have beene destroyed.” This declaration is big
words for Bacon to be saying about one of the appointed governors. Bacon called that the
Governor surrender in four days and if he did not, and refused to give him the Commission
that he wanted, he would be considered a traitor and that the common people of Virginia
would take up arms against him.

Two months prior to this letter, Berkeley sent a letter to the settlers of Virginia
informing them of the rebel Bacon. This letter was to be read at every courthouse in
Virginia to condemn Bacon and his disloyalty to the Governor and the King himself. If
these acts were committed in England against the King, whether the rebellion won or not,
there would be a treason charge brought up. This is because the rebel was not given a
commission to execute the actions that were carried out.

In his Manifesto, Bacon does not see himself as a rebel rather a man of the people. He
states that he was no, in fact, trying to undermine Berkeley or the government. The
Manifesto states that Bacon does not, “find one single spott of Rebellion or Treason or
that we have in any manner aimed at the subverting ye setled Government.”

Berkeley said in this letter, dated 19 May 1676, which he has, “… granted Mr. Bacon three
pardons, which he hath scornfully rejected." This is to show that he has given Bacon
several opportunities to renounce his insurgence and submit to the Governor. Berkeley
also says that he is willing to die for the King and to uphold his laws. We will see
later that this is true when the Governor bears his chest and challenges Bacon to
exterminate him.

Bacon knows that what he is doing is not right, he must get a commission in order to out
and defeat the Indians and bring a sense of security back to the people of Virginia. As
Bacon tries to get his commission, the Governor either resists or takes the commission
back. This aggravated the frail relationship that already existed between Bacon and
Berkley. Bacon saw no reason why he should not get a commission for a case that he
thought was right for all of the people of Virginia. When the legal means of obtaining a
commission disappeared Bacon took matters into his own hands. He assumed that he was the,
General by Consent of the People, as he called himself.

Berkeley’s version of this was written in his letter to the King entitled, A History of
our Miseries. In this letter he explains to the king that the first time Bacon came to
the Assembly to obtain his commission Berkeley had the chance to kill Bacon but did not.
Bacon told the council that he had 2,000 men on their way to get him if he ran into any
trouble. So all that he did was to make Bacon confess his faults and sent him on his way.
Then he returned with what Berkeley called them the, “six hundred of the meanest of
people, came into the court. . . with their guns ready to fire”, so that their leader
should get his commission.

Bacon was to lead a mass of men against the Indians as well as the government of Virginia.
During his rebellion he would send the Governor out of Jamestown, his own home, and,
Continues for 7 more pages >>