Bacon's Rebellion

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What was the cause and effect of Bacon's Rebellion?

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Bacon's Rebellion was part of a political power struggle that took place in colonial Virginia in 1676. At that time, the colonists were experiencing all kinds of problems, from crop failures to disease to a sharp increase in the cost of imported goods. As is often the case in such...

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Bacon's Rebellion was part of a political power struggle that took place in colonial Virginia in 1676. At that time, the colonists were experiencing all kinds of problems, from crop failures to disease to a sharp increase in the cost of imported goods. As is often the case in such situations, people started casting round for scapegoats to blame. And a number of Virginian colonists, led by a man called Nathaniel Bacon., Jr., found a convenient scapegoat in the form of local Native American tribes, whom he and his followers attacked, which inevitably invited retaliation.

In the midst of this growing conflict, the Governor of Virginia, Sir William Berkeley, attempted to work out a compromise to prevent further bloodshed and disorder. He tried, but failed, to ensure the friendship of the Indian tribes while at the same time assuring the colonists that they represented no threat to them and their livelihoods. He did this mainly by setting up a commission which ruled that only certain select individuals would in the future be allowed to trade with the natives. This was supposed to make sure that arms and ammunition wouldn't fall into Indian hands.

Yet Bacon was furious at Governor Berkeley's policy. He openly accused Berkeley—his cousin by marriage—of favoritism, reserving lucrative trade deals for his cronies. Denied the opportunity to serve in the local militia, Bacon formed his own band of fighters, with himself as their self-styled general. As well as leading regular sorties against native tribes, Bacon and his men openly challenged Berkeley's authority as governor.

At first, Berkeley tried to buy Bacon off with concessions, but Bacon wouldn't play ball and he and his militiamen issued a Declaration of the People, which some historians have interpreted as a forerunner of the Declaration of Independence exactly one hundred years later. Whether this is true or not, a full-scale rebellion had broken out, with Bacon and his men ranged against the legally constituted authority of Governor Berkeley. In the ensuing conflict, the respective fortunes of the two sides ebbed and flowed. At first, Bacon gained the upper hand, taking Jamestown and burning it to the ground. But after Berkeley's men managed to infiltrate Bacon's forces and capture his fleet of ships, the tide began to turn.

Not long after Bacon and his men destroyed Jamestown, Bacon suddenly fell ill and died. This was the opportunity for Berkeley to assert his authority, which he did by having all the rebellion's ringleaders hanged. But the damage to Berkeley's authority had been done, not to mention relations between the Virginia colonists and the Native-American population. And after a government investigation, Berkeley was relieved of his position and recalled to England, where he died just one year after Bacon's Rebellion.

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