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Nathaniel Bacon ( 1645 - 1676 )  Category ( Historical_Figures ) [suggest a correction]
 

Nathaniel Bacon is known to history as the leader of what became referred to as "Bacon's Rebellion" in Virginia during the seventeenth century. Little; however, is known of his early life. According to some historians, he was a relation of Lady Frances Berkeley, who was then married to the Governor of Virginia, William Berkeley. Bacon may also have been a relative of Sir Francis Bacon.

Some scholars suggest that Nathaniel Bacon arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in the early 1670s, and was immediately appointed to the council of the Governor. This act in itself suggests Bacon had some sort of strong connection to the governor and/or his wife. Bacon arrived in Virginia at a critical time. As the seventeenth century progressed, more and more settlers arrived. Free immigrants sought cheap or free land, which was promised by the crown. However, certain lands had been set aside for Indian settlement. This was accomplished through extensive negotiation and treaties with tribes.

Some white settlers who did not have the money to purchase land, known as "freeholders" (which effectively translated to "squatters"), sought to drive out or kill the Indians who were settled on what was then the Virginia frontier. Raids took place during 1674, which resulted in the deaths of Indians and the destruction of villages. The Indian tribes affected retaliated and killed white settlers. Governor Berkeley erred on the side of caution and sought to maintain a containment policy. Settlers on the frontier suspected the government would begin to levy taxes to support the expense of containment. While all of the above was happening, Bacon was busily engaged in what amounted to rabble-rousing. He emerged as a rebel leader and was keen to point to numerous corruptions in Virginia government.

He was particularly critical of the governor. He demanded the governor grant him an officer's commission to attack other Indian tribes. Berkeley refused, removed Bacon from the council and had him arrested. Bacon's supporters swiftly secured his release. The rebels, led by Bacon, demanded and eventually forced Berkeley to hold new elections. Naturally, many of the rebels assumed positions in the House of Burgesses, where they enacted sweeping reforms, including severely limiting the powers of the governor and restoring voting rights to landless freemen.

Under Bacon's leadership, the rebel army released a Declaration of the People of Virginia, which demanded that the Indians in the area be removed or killed, and an end to the rule of "parasites." Shortly following the release of the declaration, Bacon's men burned Jamestown to the ground. In the meantime, Berkeley had sent his wife, who was truly a force to be reckoned with in her own right, to England to seek and secure military assistance. But before they could arrive, Bacon was dead, from dysentery. The rebellion collapsed and Berkeley was returned to power.


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