Bacon's Rebellion

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Define Bacon's Rebellion.

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Bacon's Rebellion arose out of a bitter personal and political clash between Nathaniel Bacon and the Governor of Virginia, William Berkeley. Berkeley wanted to keep the peace between the European settlers and local Native Americans. One of the ways he attempted to do this was by restricting trade with indigenous tribes to a select few colonists. The thinking behind the policy was that less trade with the Native Americans would involve less exploitation of their resources, thus minimizing any potential conflict.

This proved to be a very unpopular measure, with Berkeley's opponents accusing him of favoritism. Like many other settlers, Bacon found that his livelihood was threatened by the new trade restrictions, especially those restrictions on the lucrative fur trade. There was also widespread anger at the unwillingness of the Governor to protect settlers against regular attacks by local tribes and his prohibitions against further westward expansion.

The ensuing rebellion by Bacon and his men erupted into a full-scale conflict with the colonial authorities. Initially, the rebels had the upper hand, and during the fighting they burned Jamestown to the ground, sending Berkeley and the colony's administrators packing. But not before they presented the colonial government with a Declaration of the People of Virginia, which a later generation of Americans would see as a forerunner of the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, regarded Bacon as a true patriot whose rebellion was a prelude to the American revolt against the British almost exactly a century later.

Despite initial setbacks, Berkeley and his men regrouped, and after Bacon suddenly passed away, they began to gain control of the situation. In the wake of Bacon's death, many of his supporters and financial backers melted away and so Governor Berkeley was finally able to reestablish order. As a stern warning to anyone else who might be thinking of staging a similar uprising in future, Berkeley had the ringleaders of the rebellion hanged. Back in England, it is said that King Charles II criticized Berkeley for his heavy-handedness in dealing with the rebellion. Whether this is a true story or not, it is an indisputable fact that Berkeley was recalled to London, where he died less than a year later.

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