Bacon's Rebellion

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Describe Bacon's Rebellion. What are the causes, outcomes, and overall significance of the rebellion?

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Bacon's Rebellion (1676) was the result of numerous factors. First, the two adversaries—Nathaniel Bacon and Sir William Berkeley—loathed each other even though they were cousins by marriage. Second, there was instability on the western frontier of Virginia, as freed indentured servants and other poor whites pushed westward in spite of Indian resistance. Third, Bacon and his supporters paid high taxes, and they resented Berkeley's obviously favorable treatment of the landed aristocracy. And finally, Bacon and Berkeley disagreed on how the Indians should be treated.

Armed conflict erupted between the two groups. Bacon's rebels had the upper hand in the beginning; they burned Jamestown as the governor fled. Then the charismatic and capable Bacon suddenly died, and the leaderless rebel movement disintegrated. Berkeley sought revenge, and about two dozen rebels were executed.

London did not approve of Berkeley's handling of the conflict, and he was recalled to England, where he died soon after his arrival. More planters turned to the use of slaves as a labor force after 1676. Freed indentured servants on the frontier were a source of instability, but enslaved Africans were in bondage for life. In addition, the Virginia aristocracy began to treat poor farmers with more respect.

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Bacon's rebellion resulted from the perceived indifference of the town leaders of the Jamestown settlement to deal with Indian problems in areas some distance from the settlement. Former indentured servants were entitled to fifty acres of land after their indenture was completed; however their lands were often on the outskirts of the settlement where Indians were more prevalent. Nathaniel Bacon, who had only been in the colony for two years, organized his own militia which attacked a number of Indian settlements, some of whom had been friendly to the settlers. When the Jamestown Assembly refused to help, Bacon led the militia against Jamestown itself.  Bacon claimed his grievances were because of actions of the Assembly, namely:

For having protected, favored, and emboldened the Indians against his Majesty’s loyal subjects, never contriving, requiring, or appointing any due or proper means of satisfaction for their many invasions, robberies, and murders committed upon us.

 For having, when the army of English was just upon the track of those Indians, who now in all places burn, spoil, murder and when we might with ease have destroyed them who then were in open hostility, for then having expressly countermanded and sent back our army by passing his word for the peaceable demeanor of the said Indians, who immediately prosecuted their evil intentions, committing horrid murders and robberies in all places, being protected by the said engagement and word past of him the said Sir William Berkeley, having ruined and laid desolate a great part of his Majesty’s country, and have now drawn themselves into such obscure and remote places and are by their success so emboldened and confirmed by their confederacy so strengthened that the cries of blood are in all places, and the terror and consternation of the people so great, are now become not only difficult but a very formidable enemy who might at first with ease have been destroyed.

The rebellion failed because Bacon himself died from "bloody flux" shortly after it commenced.

The primary result of Bacon's Rebellion, other than its significance as the first rebellion against authority in British America, is that planters lost confidence in Indentured Servants as a source of labor and increasingly turned to the use of African slaves.

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