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Bacon's Rebellion

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Bacon’s Rebellion was the first rebellion in the American colonies. It takes its name from Nathaniel Bacon, the man who was the leader of this movement. In 1676, he led a rebellion against the government of Sir William Berkley. It is known, that it was a rebellion of slaves, former indentured servants, and middling planters, who were western Virginians, against the citizens of the eastern part of the colony, who were powerful tobacco elite.  However, in addition, to the confrontation between colonists and the colonial governments and the development of slavery in North America, the rebellion also had a great impact on the way of colonies life in the United States.

Analysis of Bacon’s Rebellion impact on American Colonies

Bacon’s Rebellion started as an attempt by a group of Maryland Indians to obtain redress from a Virginia colonist.  In July 1675, a group of Doegs and Susquehannocks crossed the river and took some hogs from one Tomas Mathew, a trader who as they said defrauded them. Indians killed two Mathew’s servants and his son. This incident in combination with the general Indian fear shared by the outbreak of King Philip’s War in New England provided an opportunity for Virginians to stop the violence of Indians. To solve the problem with Indians small farmers decided to start a war of extermination against them. They elected Nathaniel Bacon to lead them. Although, the expedition found only peaceful Indians, they slaughtered them anyhow. Returning to Jamestown in June 1676, Bacon asked for authority to wage war “against all Indians in general”. Firstly, his request was accepted, and all Indians who left their village without permission were declared enemies and their lands were forbidden. However, on the second thought, Governor Berkley did not allow Bacon to attack Indians. Forbidden to attack Indians, Bacon’s forces turned against the government and burned Jamestown.  What had begun as an Indian warfare changed into social rebellion, which gave the chance to become free for servants and slaves owned by Berkley’s supporters. Unfortunately, Bacon died of dysentery in late 1676, and his followers dispersed.

While Indian policy seemed to be the major factor for rebellion, there were many others reasons for it. High taxes, low prices for tobacco, and indentured servitude were all protested by the settlers.

Although, Bacon’s Rebellion failed it had the great impact on the colonies of the United States. Firstly, it introduced new lands, which belonged to the defeated Indians. Secondly, it opened the space in Virginia to new arrivals because after the rebellion Governor Berkley was removed from office. Thirdly, it reduced some sources of social conflict within the colony. The uprising greatly diminished the number of Native Americans in the region, particularly weakening the Susquehannocks. However, there were some negative impacts. As a populist uprising Bacon’s Rebellion was not successful, as Virginia’s government became even less responsive to the concerns of ordinary farmers after the rebellion. In addition, political reforms passed by Bacon were lost.

Bacon’s Rebellion had a great impact on the social life in colonie. It constituted a basis, for the significant transformation of Virginia’s society. The planters began to decrease their reliance on white servants for labor and turned to African slaves. The consequence of this substitution in the long run was to lessen tensions between poor white planters and Virginia’s planter elite. Moreover, Slave labor would alleviate the economic woes of poor whites settlers but at the expense of blacks.  However, it seemed that these changes were independent of Bacon’s Rebellion. In fact, memories of the recent uprising made planters particularly interested African slaves instead of English ones.

Bacon’s Rebellion influenced also the power of unity of colonists. The popular uprising demonstrated to England that the rebellion could bring changes. Colonists ignored government policy, forced new elections and after invading the capital, forced legislation to address grievances. Their example galvanized future government of western expansion and made the government take into consideration the opinion of colonists. A hundred years would pass before another uprising, the American Revolution, echoed the spirit of Bacon’s Rebellion.

In addition, Bacon’s Rebellion inspired many poets. It was described in a poem by John Cotton that Louis Rubin has called “the best poem written in America in the seventeenth century – moreover, the best poem during the colonial era”. It was A History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellions. Moreover, Bacon’s Rebellion was the main event described in many romances. For example, in 1834-1835 William Alexander Caruthers published The Cavaliers of Virginia or the Recluse of Jamestown (two volumes), a historical romance using Bacon’s Rebellion as its backdrop that helped establish the cavalier myth.


To sum up, Bacon’s Rebellion started by the number of reasons. Especially it was inspired by the willing of colonists to stop Indian policy, high taxes, low prices for tobacco, and indentured servitude. Although, it was not successful, it had the great impact on American colonies through the introduction of new lands, social order and power of unity. In addition, Bacon’s Rebellion was described in many literary works that proved its importance.

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