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Bacon's Rebellion
Howard Pyle - The Burning of Jamestown.jpg
The Burning of Jamestown by Howard Pyle, c. 1905
Date 1676
Goals Change in Virginia's Indian-Frontier policy
Methods Demonstrations, vigilantes
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures

Nathaniel Bacon and

John Ingram
Deaths: 23 hanged

Bacon's Rebellion was an armed rebellion that took place 1676-1677 by Virginia settlers led by Nathaniel Bacon against the rule of Governor William Berkeley. His grievances against the governor stemmed from Berkeley's dismissive policy to the political challenges of its western frontier, particularly leaving Bacon out of his inner circle and refusing to allow Bacon to take part in fur trading with Native Americans, and Berkeley refusing Bacon a military commission that would allow him to fight and attack Native Americans at his own discretion. Attacks by the Doeg people are credited with inciting the popular uprising against Berkeley for failing to address the demands of the colonists regarding the safety of the frontier. The Doeg people had both traded and made war on the Virginia frontier.

Starting in the 1650s, as English colonists began to settle the Northern Neck frontier, then known as Chicacoan (Secocowon), some Doeg, Patawomeck and Rappahannock began moving into the region as well and joined local tribes in disputing the settlers' claims to land and resources. In July 1666, the colonists declared war on them. By 1669, colonists had patented the land on the west of the Potomac as far north as My Lord's Island. By 1670, they had driven most of the Doeg out of the Virginia colony and into Maryland—apart from those living beside the Nanzatico/Portobago in Caroline County, Virginia.

The English continued to harass the Doeg on the Northern Neck and in July 1675, a Doeg raiding party crossed the Potomac and stole hogs from Thomas Mathew, in retaliation for him not paying them for traded goods. Mathew and other colonists pursued them to Maryland and killed a group of Doeg, as well as innocent Susquehannock. A Doeg war party retaliated by killing Mathew's son and two servants on his plantation.

In retaliation, a Virginian militia led by Nathaniel Bacon entered Maryland, attacked the Doeg and besieged the Susquehannock. This precipitated the general reaction against natives by the Virginia Colony that resulted in "Bacon's Rebellion". In 1676 Bacon took his armed force to the Green Dragon Swamp on the upper Pamunkey River where he killed nearly fifty Pamunkey Indians, which lead to the chief Cockacoeske issuing orders to the rest of the tribe to escape. She ordered her tribe to not harm anyone and stay true to their treaty of peace. Thousands of Virginians from all classes (including those in indentured servitude) and races rose up in arms against Berkeley, attacking Native Americans, chasing Berkeley from Jamestown, Virginia, and ultimately torching the capital. The rebellion was first suppressed by a few armed merchant ships from London whose captains sided with Berkeley and the loyalists. Government forces from England arrived soon after and spent several years defeating pockets of resistance and reforming the colonial government to be once more under direct royal control.

It was the first rebellion in the American colonies in which discontented frontiersmen took part (a somewhat similar uprising in Maryland involving John Coode and Josias Fendall took place shortly afterwards). The alliance between European indentured servants and Africans (many enslaved until death or freed), united by their bond-servitude, disturbed the ruling class. The ruling class responded by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705. While the farmers did not succeed in their initial goal of driving the Native Americans from Virginia, the rebellion resulted in Berkeley being recalled to England.

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