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Definition: Bacon's Rebellion from Chambers Dictionary of World History

A rising against the royal governor in the American colony of Virginia, rooted in a conflict between small frontier farmers and the indigenous peoples. The rebellion reflected the rift between the western farmers and the eastern aristocracy represented by the colonial government. When Governor William Berkeley, perhaps protecting trading interests with the Native Americans, failed to respond to a Native American attack against western settlers, Nathaniel Bacon led a misguided reprisal against innocent Native Americans. In 1676 Berkeley sought to bring the farmers to trial, but the opposition escalated, resulting in the burning of Jamestown. After Bacon's death, the rebellion collapsed.

Summary Article: Bacon's Rebellion
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

popular revolt in colonial Virginia in 1676, led by Nathaniel Bacon. High taxes, low prices for tobacco, and resentment against special privileges given those close to the governor, Sir William Berkeley, provided the background for the uprising, which was precipitated by Berkeley's failure to defend the frontier against attacks by Native Americans. Bacon commanded two unauthorized but successful expeditions against the tribes and was then elected to the new house of burgesses, which Berkeley had been forced to convene. When he attempted to take his seat, Berkeley had him arrested. Soon released, Bacon gathered his supporters, marched on Jamestown, and coerced Berkeley into granting him a commission to continue his campaigns against Native Americans. A circumspect assembly then passed several reform measures. The governor, having failed to raise a force against Bacon, fled to the Eastern Shore. He gathered enough strength to return to Jamestown, where he proclaimed Bacon and his men rebels and traitors. After a sharp skirmish Bacon recaptured the capital (Berkeley again took flight) but, fearing that he could not hold it against attack, set fire to the town. Bacon now controlled the colony, but he died suddenly (Oct., 1676), and without his leadership the rebellion collapsed. After a few months Berkeley returned to wreak a bloody vengeance before he was forced to return to England. Berkeley's removal and the end of attacks by Native Americans were the only benefits the yeomen had won in the rebellion, and the tidewater aristocracy long maintained its power.

  • See Wertenbaker, T. J., Torchbearer of the Revolution (1940, repr. 1965) and Bacon's Rebellion, 1676 (1957);.
  • W. E. Washburn, The Governor and the Rebel (1957, repr. 1967);.
  • Rice, J. D., Tales from a Revolution (2012).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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