Bacon's Rebellion

Rebellion in the Virginia Colony

Nathaniel Bacon of Bacon's Rebellion
Nathaniel Bacon of Bacon's Rebellion. Public Domain / Library of Congress

Bacon’s Rebellion occurred in the Virginia Colony in 1676. In the 1670’s, escalating violence between Native Americans and farmers was occurring in Virginia due to the increasing pressure of land exploration, settlement, and cultivation. In addition, farmers wanted to expand towards the Western frontier, but were being denied their requests by the royal governor of Virginia, Sir William Berkeley. Already unhappy with this decision, they became incensed when Berkeley refused to act against the Native Americans after several raids on settlements along the frontier.

In response to Berkeley's inaction, farmers led by Nathaniel Bacon organized a militia to attack the Native Americans. Bacon was a Cambridge educated man who had been sent to the Virginia Colony in exile. He bought plantations on the James River and served on the Governor's Council. However, he grew disenchanted with the governor.

Bacon's militia ended up destroying an Occaneechi village including all its inhabitants. Berkeley responded by naming Bacon a traitor. However, many colonists, especially servants, small farmers, and even some slaves, backed Bacon and marched with him to Jamestown, forcing the governor to respond to the Native American threat by granting Bacon a commission to be able to fight against them. The militia led by Bacon continued to raid numerous villages, not discriminating between belligerent and friendly Indian tribes. 

Once Bacon left Jamestown, Berkeley ordered the arrest of Bacon and his followers.

After months of fighting and delivering the "Declaration of the People of Virginia," which criticized Berkeley and the House of Burgesses for their taxes and policies. Bacon turned back and attacked Jamestown. On September 16, 1676, the group were able to completely destroy Jamestown, burning all the buildings.

They then were able to seize control of the government. Berkeley was forced to flee the capital, taking refuge across the Jamestown River.

Bacon did not have control of the government for long, as he died on October 26, 1676 of dysentery. Even though a man named John Ingram arose to take over the leadership of Virginia after Bacon's death, many of the original followers left. In the meantime, an English squadron arrived to help out the besieged Berkeley. He led a successful attack and was able to dispel the remaining rebels. Additional actions by the English were able to remove the remaining armed garrisons. 

Governor Berkeley returned to power in Jamestown in January, 1677. He arrested numerous individuals and had 20 of them hanged. In addition, he was able to seize the property of a number of the rebels. However, when King Charles II heard of Governor Berkeley's harsh measures against the colonists, he removed him from his governorship. Measures were introduced to lower taxes in the colony and deal more aggressively with Native American attacks along the frontier. An additional result of the rebellion was the Treaty of 1677 which made peace with the Native Americans and set up reservations that are still in existence today.