Bacon's Rebellion

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How long did Bacon's Rebellion last?

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Bacon’s Rebellion was a short-lived revolution against the colonial governor of Virginia, William Berkeley. In the late seventeenth century, colonial Virginia was still mostly wild. Native American tribes still controlled a considerable portion of the land, particularly in the western ends of the state. Colonists, eager to push west and claim land, wished to get governmental permission to retaliate against Native American raids and push forward and seize their land. When Berkeley refused, colonists protested in the capital, Jamestown.

The leader of the protests was Nathaniel Bacon, who convinced his fellow colonists to attack Native Americans against the governor’s orders. Upon returning to Jamestown, he asked the governor for a commission to create a militia to lead against the Native Americans which the governor, yet again, refused. The constant back-and-forth between Bacon and Berkeley finally reached a boiling point on July 30, 1676, when Bacon’s militia issued a declaration (the "Declaration of the People of Virginia") that accused Berkeley of corruption, high taxation, and being pro-Native American. The rebellion had been officially put into writing.

Bacon’s rebel army (several hundred men, perhaps as many as 500) traveled back to Jamestown and seized the city, burning the capital to the ground on September 19, 1676, causing Berkeley to flee the city. However, this was about as much as the rebellion would ever achieve. Bacon died of dysentery about a month later, on October 26, 1676. Once their leader was gone, the rebellion quickly collapsed, and with the help of some ship captains, Berkeley was able to re-take the city. The rebellion lasted around three months from the initial declaration to Bacon’s death and the splintering of the militia.

While the rebellion itself was short-lived, it is worth noting that the effects of Bacon’s rebellion lasted for centuries. Bacon was an influence on some of the founding fathers, like Thomas Jefferson, in encouraging them that revolution was a patriotic duty. However, another important note was that the rebellion contained both white and black indentured servants working together. This set off warning bells among the ruling class, who were terrified of a potential united lower-class revolt. In response to the rebellion, the ruling class began to harden the racial lines around slavery to separate white and black poor in order to prevent them from uniting in future rebellion. The effects of that racial caste system can still be felt today.

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