Bacon’s Rebellion (1676)Uprising in the Virginia Colony over the government’s refusal to retaliate against an Indian attack—the rebellion ultimately opened up Western lands for the settlers.
By the 1670s, Virginia society suffered under the strain of new immigration from England, which pushed the frontiers of the colony into land belonging to the Powhatan Confederation and other Native American neighbors. The former indentured servants and new arrivals had little patience with the policies of long-serving royalist governor William Berkeley,who advocated a policy of trade with the tribes, particularly in fur, from which he and his political allies profited. Under the leadership of a young, Cambridge-educated émigré, Nathaniel Bacon, whose plantation overseer had died in a raid by the Doeg tribe (a raid stemming from a series of misunderstandings and attacks by settlers), many discontented Virginia settlers wanted to wage war against the Indians and seize their land.
Berkeley refused, citing cost and the disruption of relations with the natives. Bacon responded by marching his vigilante army on the capitol at Jamestown, capturing it, and driving the governor from his residence into the safety of a sheltered plantation, where he waited for help from England. Meanwhile, Bacon burned Jamestown and led his men on an all-out attack on the Pamunkey Indians, who had nothing to do with the attacks that had provoked Bacon in the first place. The rebels chased the Pamunkey into the Great Dismal Swamp, where Bacon and many of his men caught swamp fever, of which Bacon died shortly thereafter. Berkeley restored order with the help of troops from England and hung 23 of the rebels before being retired by Charles II. Bacon’s rebellion failed, but it opened Virginia politics and land to new arrivals and the recently freed indentured servants, who took much of the land conquered by Bacon from surrounding tribes.
Paranoia like that of Bacon’s toward the natives also broke out in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, manifesting itself in the Salem witch trials, which targeted recently emigrated settlers who were considered outsiders by the Puritan colonists.
Middlekauff, Robert. Bacon’s Rebellion. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964.
Washburn, Wilcomb A. The Governor and the Rebel: A History of Bacon’s Rebellion. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Virginia, 1957.
Web, Stephen Saunders. 1676: The End of American Independence. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
See also: Bacon, Nathaniel.