Nathanial Bacon was a revolutionary who had the urge to fight for liberty. He was intelligent and eloquent, but also knew how to raise voice against the cruelty he observed. One of his contributions to history is “Bacon’s Rebellion”. Bacon’s Rebellion which occurred in 1676 is an important part of the history of Jamestown but its inclination towards the betterment of the society is somewhat critical. It primarily involved two leading personalities: Nathanial Bacon who was part of the council, and Governor Sir William Berkeley of Virginia (Thomas, 2009). In this revolt, Bacon threatened the House of Burgesses and the Governor of Virginia and burned the capital of Jamestown. Although, many historians claim this rebellion to be the starting point of the American Revolution, much has been said against it. The paper will look at how the rebellion broke, what were the reasons behind, how the rebellion took place, what were it consequences, and finally what can be concluded about the significance of the rebellion in the American history (Thomas, 2009).
Reasons behind the Rebellion
Bacon’s rebellion has much to do with trade and tyranny relating to it, whereby the restrictions on mercantilism being the main reason for the rebellious break out. But like every other war or rebellion throughout history, there are always some underlying factors which work indirectly and form the overall break out. Thus, upon analysis, some other reasons can also be associated with the Bacon’s Rebellion. These reasons include trade and economic reasons, the weather problems and the selfishness and stubbornness of the two main leaders.
Trade and Economic Reasons
When the English Civil War ended, as a follow up King Charles II established a trade act called the Navigation Acts of 1660-63. According to this act, the Virginian tobacco producers were restricted from trading with French traders, and vice versa. This act was established with the aim to benefit the mother country the most with its produce rather than benefiting the foreign consumers. This led to the decline in the tobacco prices. The competition between the Maryland and Carolina grew. As a result the overall English market got restricted with risen prices of the goods produced in England. All of these caused problems for the Virginians. Not only this, but when the House of Burgesses formed the official codes to enslave the blacks, the costs of the production of tobacco rose immensely which were not increasing comparatively to their prices in the market (Thomas, 2009).
In the same time period, Virginia was greatly affected with severe weather conditions. Thunderstorms, heavy rainfalls, droughts and hurricanes became common and added to a major frustration factor for the colonists. This damaged the produce and the health and agitation of the people. Upon facing these severe external conditions, the colonists, acted naturally and blamed the government’s actions for these severe and harsh consequences. They used the local Indians as scapegoats to display their frustration (Thomas, 2009).
Selfishness and Stubbornness of two Leaders
As much as the economic and social welfare of the people are put up as the main reasons behind the revolt, much has been argued about the personal factors of the two leading figures in this chapter of history. It is said that the revolt took place and gathered strength and caused consequences because of the selfishness and the stubbornness of Nathaniel Bacon and the Governor William Berkeley. Although, they both were part of the same family, their hatred and ego for the events, soon became very personal and afterwards it was mainly their own personal intentions to overrule the other’s ego that continued the revolt. Where Berkeley claimed Bacon as a rebel right from the start, Bacon believed Berkeley to be indulged in favor among the special traders. Bacon’s anger was provoked when he was denied the wish to obtain the military commission (Thomas, 2009).
So how did it all begin? In July 1675, the plantation of Thomas Mathews on the Potomac River in Virginia was attacked by the Doeg Indians. This attacked killed many of the Doegs themselves but it marked the start of a series of dispute that marked an immense rage over the nonpayment of the goods that Mathews had purchased from the Doegs. The Doegs ended up attacking the wrong target, the Susquehanaugs which were another tribal of Indians. As a result, the entire area saw many attacks at a large scale (Wartenbaker, 2009).
The governor Berkeley took some actions which ended in murders of tribal chiefs of these Indians. Berkeley’s attempts were aimed at brining the state’s order and law under control whilst making use of the Indians in terms of trade. But his actions infuriated Bacon, who rebelled and acted on his own authorization. He was a tradesman and he stood up to suggest a new plan of action against the entire situation. He captured the falsely accused Appomattox Indians. People supported him nonetheless and this put fear into the heart of Berkeley who announced the elections. Bacon was elected who now had the full authority (Virginia Places, 2007).
During this time, the Assembly was labeled as being corrupt and “bad”. But despite of that, it continued its actions towards eliminating the wars that were taking place in Virginia, with Bacon willing to take the war on his hands (Global Security, 2006).
Bacon then created his own group of people and led them to attack the innocent groups of Indians such as Occaneechi, Tutelo and Saponi. He attacked them at Clarksville, Roanoke River, and in the capital. These rebellious attacks provoked and frightened the House of Burgesses enough to take action and accept the proposal suggested by Bacon, which was a military commission (Global Security, 2006).
Once he obtained that, he flew to the plantation of John Custis in Arkington. But Berkeley did not sit quietly and helplessly. He promptly managed to capture Bacon’s ship and brought it back to Jamestown. Berkeley was ordered to withdraw the action but Bacon’s forces were killed and his ship was burned (Global Security, 2006).
Consequences of the Rebellion
Berkeley entered into a direct battle with Bacon and as a result Bacon died even before Berkeley could strike him due to a “Bloody flux”. His well formed and well led forces dissolved soon after. And the assembly which had passed many orders under the threat of Bacon cancelled its laws relating to the revolt (Info Please, 2009).
Berkeley mainly was the one with the most spite. He wanted to punish and execute all of Bacon’s allies and friends with whose support he had gained the power of the assembly of Virginia. Filled with Berkeley’s hatred, the follow up to the rebellion was a huge massacre in Virginia where two dozen men were hanged. Charles II strongly criticized Berkeley’s actions (Info Please, 2009). For this reason, the events of the rebellion on part of Bacon and the consequences on part of Berkeley, made the rebellion all the more personal rather than national or economical, as claimed.
We have discussed the reasons, the events and the consequences of the Bacon’s rebellion and despite how cleverly and bravely led the forces were by Bacon, we can not deny the fact that much of the reasons behind the rebellion had to do with the ego and the stubbornness of Bacon and Berkeley. Bacon seriously was infuriated for being rejected of his suggestions and demands and threatened the government to meet his demands. He made full use of his associations and later his official powers. On the other hand, Berkeley resisted Bacon’s involvement in the elimination of the wars in Virginia, and punished others for the hatred against Bacon himself. While the reasons behind the movement for the revolt may have been noble that is peace and economic stability of the state, the decisions taken by the two leaders put us in doubt regarding their real intentions behind the raids during the revolt. There are questions regarding the entire rebellion that are still unanswered, such as: Why did Bacon attacked the innocent tribes? What was he really trying to do? Were his intentions really for the betterment of the state or his own political betterment? Why is he acclaimed as a hero, when he led to such a huge massacre? Why did Berkeley take such serious actions after Bacon’s death?
Although Bacon begun as a revolutionary his actions later on took up a tyranny filled course of events. Despite of the severe consequences after the Bacon’s rebellion, Bacon is still regarding as a hero by those whom he saved from the Indian attacks.