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Bacon's Rebellion

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

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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