Early in the 17th century Virginia was a small, insecure enclave of European civilization amid a “howling wilderness.” But in just a few decades, by the late 17th century, Virginia had become a settled, prosperous colony. Nevertheless, it experienced unusual political and economic stresses characteristic of an unstable, rapidly expanding society.
The colony nearly collapsed in the first few years after its founding in 1607, but by the 1620s, the development of a prosperous economy that revolved around tobacco cultivation and export saved the Virginia enterprise. But in the second half of the 17th century, Virginia tobacco farmers faced several difficult problems. The Navigation Acts passed by the English Parliament in the 1660s placed restrictions on American tobacco exports, and prices for tobacco fell as European demand for it leveled off. The price decline was a particularly difficult problem for those farmers who had barely been able to survive when prices were higher. Furthermore, tobacco cultivation rapidly depleted the soil of nutrients, and because Virginia planters chose not to rotate crops to sustain soil fertility, they frequently exhausted their land after just a few years, then moved on to new land on the frontier in western Virginia. But that land belonged (at least legally) to the King, Charles II, far away in England; he often granted huge tracts to his associates and allies in London or to the friends of his Royal Governor in Jamestown, Virginia's capital. Many of these wealthy people, however, were exempt from land taxes, which annoyed (and sometimes infuriated) poorer American farmers who were not exempt from taxation.
At the same time, the problem of soil exhaustion led to nearly constant westward expansion by the colony, which, in turn, led to frequent violent confrontations between white settlers on the frontier and Indians attempting to protect their lands from European encroachment. Some Indians became desperate and angry, raiding and stealing from neighboring white farmers just to survive. And white farmers frequently retaliated blindly against any Indians they could find while demanding from the colonial governor in Jamestown military offensives against the Indians.
Class conflict was also becoming an increasing irritant it Virginia society and politics. The lower classes in the Virginia colony increasingly criticized the colonial government that, like the English government in England, often arbitrarily favored the interests of wealthy, privileged individuals. Virginia’s poor whites especially resented the great landlords in the eastern, settled Virginia counties alongside Chesapeake Bay. Consequently, by the early 1670s, Virgnia’s poor whites, and a number of other more prominent colonists, particularly those who lived in the Western, frontier counties, generally disliked the Royal Governor, William Berkeley (pronounced Barkley), because they thought he ignored their concerns.
These colonists’ loss of faith in their officials stemmed from a number of sources. First, ambitious young Virginians wanted to obtain money, political power and social standing, but felt that the “eastern establishment arbitrarily confined them. Second, many settlers thought that Berkeley and his friends profited too much from their government positions and resented it. Third, many settlers believed that Berkeley too frequently arbitrarily overruled the decisions of local judges and sheriffs. At the same time, the poorer farmers were growing impatient with the domination of their local governments by a few wealthy families. But, above all, colonists in the western counties increasingly believed that the colonial government was betraying them in their nearly constant conflicts with Indians.
Throughout the early 1670s, the settlers in the western counties, hungry for new land, repeatedly asked the colonial government in Jamestown to organize an offensive to drive Indians from the lands that white settlers coveted. In early 1675, they more forcefully demanded that the colonial government remove the Indians, but the Jamestown authorities hesitated. Many of them, especially the governor, Berkeley, profited by trade with some of the friendlier Indian tribes. This hesitation and resistance by the colonial government on the matter of the Indians antagonized Virginia frontiersmen.
In July 1675, a dispute between a group of Doeg Indians and a frontier settler, Thomas Mathew, erupted into violence. The Doegs believed Mathew had squatted on a part of their land and had obtained some of their possessions without proper payment. A Doeg raid on the Mathew plantation led to a retaliatory raid by settlers. In September a larger group of settlers capriciously attacked another tribe, the Susquehannocks, even though the Susquehannocks hadn’t been involved in the Doeg-Mathew dispute the previous July. The Susquehannocks then launched a series of retaliatory raids against white settlers that killed hundreds by the beginning of winter. By the end of 1675, a full-blown Indian war raged on the Virginia frontier.
The western frontiersmen now simply assumed that the colonial government would launch, at last, a full-scale offensive against all Indians. But Berkeley, the governor, astonished them. Instead of mobilizing the colony’s resources to crush the Indians, as they assumed, he tried to negotiate a peace before the situation escalated into a wider war.
Difficult economic changes had produced a volatile social and political mixture in the Virginia colony in the 1670s. Now, in 1675, an external catalyst – conflict with Indians – threatened to ignite an explosive rebellion that might tear the colony apart.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE ASSIGNMENT -- PAY CAREFUL ATTENTION!!!!! Prepare for writing the paper by reading (and then rereading) the documents until you have a knowledgeable command of them. You should also consult the textbook for insight into the causes and consequences of Bacon's Rebellion.
In an essay of approximately 4 typed pages, double spaced, 1" margins, write an interpretive account of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 based on your analysis and interpretation of the documents in this collection. USE ONLY THE FOLLOWING DOCUMENTS AS SOURCES TO WRITE YOUR ACCOUNT (You may consult other sources to help you understand the context, but you may quote only the introduction to this document collection, the textbook, and the supplemental text, Contending Voices - no other sources are allowed). Since there are many more issues and facts in these documents than you can possibly include in a four page paper, do not attempt to discuss all of them. Concentrate on writing a coherent interpretation of the major events, supporting your conclusions with relevant facts and examples drawn primarily from these documents.
Begin by reading through the documents several times. After you begin to get the feeling that you have a good general command of the documents, you might make an annotated timeline of the events to help you keep track of the major sequence of events. Then consider how to reconstruct the crucial sequence of events in a way that makes sense of the diversity of sources and in a way that makes chronological sense. Above all, your paper should demonstrate a clear understanding of the major sequence of events leading to and from Bacon's Rebellion.
Consider the documents in this packet as kind of puzzle. In the broadest sense, your task in this paper assignment is to arrange the pieces of the puzzle so that they make sense - that is, so that they help you explain WHAT happened, WHY it happened, WHO were the important figures in this event, WHERE the events took places, and WHEN the most significant events occurred. Above all, be sure to make the SEQUENCE OF MAJOR EVENTS in this incident clear!
Your essay should include numerous examples and evidence drawn directly from documents provided in this package. ESSAYS MUST CONTAIN EVIDENCE DRAWN FROM THE DOCUMENTS, THOUGHTFULLY COMPOSED AND ORGANIZED, IN ORDER TO SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETE THIS ASSIGNMENT!
In short, construct an account that makes the most sense to you based on the available evidence.
Rules of Composition Each essay should also possess an introductoryparagraph, a body, and a conclusion.
The introduction should provide just that - an introduction to the topic you're going to examine. A good introduction provides a thesis statement (a sentence or sentences that decisively state an argument or position that you will develop and demonstrate in your essay) and a brief statement of the main points you intend to develop in your essay.
The body should be composed of several paragraphs that support your thesis and main points of your essay. Above all, the body provides the EVIDENCE that proves your thesis. More than any other single criteria, your work will be judged on the quantity and quality of the evidence you provide and your analysis of it. So you should devote most of your time to assembling and intelligently examining evidence.
Good essays will provide numerous pieces of evidence from the documents to support the argument. Poor essays will provide little or no evidence drawn from the documents.
For the purposes of the essays you will be writing, the term "evidence" includes examples and major ideas drawn from the documents. Thus your essays should contain numerous quotations drawn specifically from the documents.
The conclusion can be constructed in a variety of ways: it may be a brief summary of the main points of your essay; it may also be a restatement of your thesis; but the best conclusion is one that demonstrates the historical significance of the issue at hand and your analysis of it.
Papers will be evaluated according to the following criteria:
2. Content (quantity and quality of evidence, level of analysis, level of command of subject matter).
3. Grammar, syntax, spelling.
A Warning on Sources These documents should be the only source upon which you base your paper. Do not write a paper based on sources other than those that are provided for you here! There are numerous other accounts on Bacon's Rebellion available in the library and on the web. But they are based on other - or additional evidence, and they would be more likely to confuse you than to help you in working with this specific, limited set of documents. In any case, your grade on this assignment will depend on how well you analyze and interpret the documents in this collection! A Warning on Plagiarism Plagiarism is literary thievery. It is the use of somebody else’s material (as if it were your own) in a paper or an essay without giving credit to the author.
Plagiarism is a serious offense (and I treat it seriously). It can lead to dismissal from the college and severe long-term consequences for completing a college or university education in the United States.
The questions below may assist you in making sense of the documents.
1. What were some causes of Bacon's rebellion that are not mentioned by Robert Beverly in DOCUMENT #1?
2. What were the differences, if any, between Bacon's and Berkeley's responses to the Indian attacks? Were the Indian attacks serious enough to deserve Bacon's actions? Would Berkeley's policy have been effective if given time? How did Bacon justify his actions and the "Indian policy" of his followers?
3. What attitudes toward the Indians are shown by the documents? What do these attitudes reflect about English ideas regarding their own culture? What was the role of violence in their perceptions?
4. What would many of the Indians have said about Bacon? About Berkeley?
5. To what degree are Bacon's and Berkeley's actions due to personal self-interest (the desire for money, power, prestige) or to principles and ideals? To what "higher authority" or principles of morality and justice did each man appeal in order to justify his actions?
6. How important is the length of Bacon's residence in Virginia?
7. What did the Rebellion accomplish? Did Berkeley and his followers appear to learn a lesson from the uprising? For example, did they propose any reforms?
8. How was this historical episode illustrative of a conflict between white people about how to treat Indians?
The questions above are intended only as a general guide to help you understand important historical issues; they are not commands to which you must conform.
Your main concern should be to construct an eloquent, fluid narrative and interpretation. Do not interrupt the narrative at inappropriate points merely to answer one of the questions above. Your account should be as flawlessly and gracefully written as you can make it.
DOCUMENT #1 Robert Beverly, The History and Present State of Virginia, 1705, excerpt, (Robert Beverly, ca. 1673-1722, son of the Robert Beverly referred to in some of these documents – the Beverly family was an influential family in Virginia in the early eighteenth century).
The occasion of the Rebellion is not easy to be discovered. But 'tis certain that there were many things that concurred towards it. For it cannot be imagined, that upon the Instigation of Two or Three Traitors, as some pretend to say, the whole Country would have fallen into so much distraction; in which People did not only hazard their Necks by Rebellion: But endeavored to ruin a Governour, whom they all entirely loved and had unanimously chosen; a Gentleman who had devoted his whole Life and Estate to the Service of his Country; and against whom in Thirty Five Years Experience there had never been one single Complaint... So that in all Probability there was something else in the Wind, without which the Body of the Country (would have) never been engaged in that Insurrection.
Four things may be reckoned to have been the main Ingredients towards this intestine Commotion. First, the extreme low Price of Tobacco, and the ill usage of the Planters in the Exchange of Goods for it, which the Country, with all their earnest Endeavours, could not remedy. Secondly, the Splintering [of] the Colony into [numerous] Proprieties, contrary to the original Charters; and the extravagant taxes [many colonists] were forced to undergo, to relieve themselves from those Grants. Thirdly, the heavy restraints and Burdens laid upon their Trade by Act of Parliament in England. Fourthly, the Disturbance given by the Indians. . . .
DOCUMENT #2 A True Narrative of the Late Rebellion in Virginia,By the Royal Commissioners, 1677, excerpt.
[Editor's Note: In September 1676 news of Bacon's uprising reached England. The Crown immediately dispatched a force of soldiers to suppress the rebellion and a royal commission to investigate it. The King also ordered that Gov. Berkeley be removed from office and recalled him to London. In February 1677 the commissioners, their assistants, and several hundred royal troops arrived in Virginia. The commissioners received petitions of grievances, sworn testimony from private citizens, and reports from local officials. The final report entitled, A True Narrative of the Late Rebellion in Virginia, By the Royal Commissioners 1677, was presented to the King's Privy Council in October 1677.]
…in July, 1675, certain Doegs and Susquahanok Indians on the Mary-land side, stealing some Hoggs from the English at Potomakeon, on the Virginia shore (as the River divides the same), were pursued by the English in a Boate, beaten or kill’d and the hoggs retaken from them; whereupon the Indians repairing to their Towne, report it to their Superiors, and how that one Mathewes (whose hoggs they had taken) had before abused and cheated them, in not paying them for such Indian trucke as he had formerly bought of them, and that they took his hogs for Satisfaction. Upon this (to be Reveng’d on Mathews) an Indian warr Captain, with some Indians, came over to Potomake and killed two of Mathewes servants, and came also a second time and kill’d his sonne.
DOCUMENT #3 Thomas Mathews, The Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon's Rebellion, 1675-1676 (written, 1705)
[In August 1675, Col. George Mason and Capt. George Brent went searching for the Doegs who attacked the Mathew plantation. Upon finding a group of Indians across the Potomac river in Maryland, Capt. Brent] speaking the Indian Tongue, Called to have a Matchacomicha Weeship (i. e., a Councill)… Such being the usuall manner with Indians. The King came Trembling forth, and wou'd have fled, when Capt. Brent, Catching hold of his twisted Lock (which was all the Hair he wore) told him he was come for the Murderer of [Virginians on the Mathew plantation], the King pleaded Ignorance and Slipt loos, whom Brent shot Dead with his Pistoll. The Indians Shot Two or Three Guns out at the Door and fled, The English Shot as many as they cou'd, so that they Kill'd Ten, as Capt. Brent told me, and brought away the Kings Son of about 8 Year old, Concerning whom is an Observable Passage, at the End of this Expedition; the Noise of this Shooting awaken'd th' Indians in the Cabin which Col. Mason had Encompassed, who likewise Rush'd out and fled, of whom his Company (supposing from what Noise of Shooting Brent's party to be Engaged) shott (as the Col. Inform'd me) Fourteen before [a friendly] Indian Came, who with both hands Shook him (friendly) by on Arm Saying Susquehanougs Neoughs [i.e. these are Susquehannaugh, our friends], and fled, Whereupon [the Col.] ran amongst his Men, Crying out, "For the Lords sake Shoot no more, these are our friends the Susque-hanoughs."
DOCUMENT #4 A True Narrative of the Late Rebellion in Virginia, By the Royal Commissioners, 1677, excerpt
[In September 1675, Col. Mason and a thousand Virginians trapped the Susquehannocks in an Indian fortress across the Potomac river in Maryland and laid siege to it.] … the Indians sent out 5 greate men to Treate of Peace, who were not Permitted to return to the Fort, but being kept Prisoners Some tyme were at last murdered by the English…
At length (whether through negligence or cowardize) the Indians made theire escape through the English, with all their wives, children and goods of value, wounding and kill-ing some at their sally and going off…
But about the beginning of January, 1675 – 6, a Party of those abused Susquahanocks in Revenge of the Maryland businesse came suddainly down upon the weak Plantations at the head of Rappahanock and Potomaque and killed at one time 36 persons and then immediately (as their Custome is) ran off into the woods.
Noe sooner was this Intelligence brought to the Governour [William Berkeley] but he immediately called a court and ordered a competent force of horse and foot to pursue the Murderers under the
Comand of Sir Henry Chicheley and some other Gentlemen of the County of Rappahanock, giving them full Power by Comission to make Peace or Warr. But the men being ready to march out upon this Service the Governor on a suddaine recalls this comission, Causes the men to be disbanded, and without any effectual course being taken for present Preservation, referrs all to the next assembly; in the meantime leaving the Poore Inhabitants under continual and deadly feares and terrors of their Lives.
DOCUMENT #5 Unknown author, The History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion, 1676 (exact date of authorship unknown), excerpts.
[Editor’s note: The author of The History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion is unknown, but he was certainly a Virginia resident at the time of the rebellion and was familiar with the course of the rebellion from first hand observations. The manuscript is probably contemporary with the events described, and it was discovered in the 18th century.]
For in a very short time [in January 1676, the Susquehannahs] had, in a most inhumane maner, murthered no less then 60 innocent people, no ways guilty of any actuall injury don to these ill disarning, brutish heathen…
[Then] these Indians draw in others (formerly in subjection to the Verginians) to there aides: which being conjoyned (in seperate and united parties) they dayly commited abundance of ungarded and unrevenged murthers, upon the English; which they perpretated in a most barberous and horid maner. By which meanes abundance of the Fronteare Plantations became eather depopulated by the Indians cruletys, or de-sarted by the Planters feares, who were compelled to forsake there abodes, to finde security for there lives; which they were not to part with, in the hands of the Indiands, but under the worst of torments. For these brutish and inhumane brutes, least their cruilties might not be thought cruill enough, they de-vised a hundred ways to torter and torment those poore soules with, whose reched fate it was to fall in to there unmercyfull hands. For som, before that they would deprive them of there lives, they would take a grate deale of time to deprive them first of there skins, and if that life had not, through [the ang]uish of there paine, forsaken there tormented bodyes, they [with] there teeth (or som instrument,) teare the nailes of [their fingers and their] toes, which put the poore sufferer to a wo[ful condition.
DOCUMENT #6 Unknown author, The History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion, 1676 (exact date of authorship unknown), excerpts.
At last it was concluded [in March 1676], as a good expedient for to put the countrey in to som degree of safety, for to plant Forts upon the Fronteres,1 thinkeing there by to put a stop unto the Indians excurssions: which after the expence of a grate deale of time and charge, being finished, came short of the designed ends.
For the Indians quickly found out where about these Mouse traps were sett, and for what purpose, and so resalved to keepe out of there danger; which they might easely ennough do, with out any detriment to there designes. For though here by they were compeld (tis posible) to goe a litle about, yet they never thought; much of there labour, so long as they were not debar’d from doing of Mischeife; which was not in the power of these forts to prevent: For if that the English did, at any time, know that there was more ways in to the wood then one, to kill Deare, the Indians found more then a thousand out of the wood, to kill Men, and not com neare the danger of the forts neather.
DOCUMENT #7 Royal Commissioners Narrative, 1677, excerpt: Petition of grievances from the citizens of Isle of Wight County (on the frontier) to the Royal Commissioners, dated March 5, 1677.
. . .Also we desire that there may be a continual war with the Indians that we may have once done with them.
Also we desire that every man may be taxed according to the tracks of land they hold [thus, the rich would pay taxes, just as the poor did, and the rich would also pay a higher share than the poor].
We desire you to call our Burgesses to account and examine the collectors for the collecting of the 2 [shilling] and 2 [pence] a hogshead, which hath been this many years received but to what use it is put we the poor, ignorant inhabitants knows [not].
We desire to know for what we do pay our Levies every year and that it may no more be laid in private but that we may have free liberty to hear and see every particular for what it is raised, and that there may be no more [allotments] be given to no particular persons whatsoever neither in public or private.
Whereas there are some great persons both in honor rich in Estate and have several ways of gains and profit [that] are exempted from paying Levies and the poorest inhabitants being compelled to pay the great taxes which we are burdened with.