Robert Beverley on Bacon’s Rebellion (1704)


Bacon’s Rebellion was one of several colonial uprisings in the century preceding the American Revolution. Led by Nathaniel Bacon, the Virginian rebels moved against the colonial assembly in Jamestown and the governor, Sir William Berkeley. In this document Robert Beverley summarises their grievances: high taxes, falling tobacco prices, weak government and an inadequate response to raids by Native Americans:


“Four things may be reckoned to have been the main ingredients towards this internal commotion. First: the extreme low price of tobacco and the ill usage of the planters in the exchange of goods for it… Secondly, the splitting of the colony into proprieties, contrary to the original charters and the extravagant taxes they were forced to undergo… Thirdly, the heavy restraints and burdens laid upon their trade by an act of Parliament in England… These were the afflictions that country laboured under when the fourth accident happened: the disturbance offered by the Indians to the frontiers…

This addition of mischief to minds already full of discontent, made people ready to vent all their resentment against the poor Indians. There was nothing to be got by tobacco; neither could they turn any other manufacture; so most of the poorer sort were willing to quit their unprofitable employments and go volunteer [for raids] against the Indians.

At first they flocked together tumultuously, running in troops from one plantation to another without a head, till at last the seditious humour of Colonel Nathaniel Bacon led him to be of the party… He aggravated [exaggerated] the Indian mischiefs, complaining that they were caused by the lack of due regulation of their trade. He recounted particularly the other grievances and pressures they lay under, and pretended that he accepted of their command with no other intention but to do them and the country service… He farther assured them he would never lay down his arms till he had revenged their sufferings upon the Indians, and redressed all their other grievances…

When this storm occasioned by Bacon was blown over and all things were quiet again, Sir William Berkeley called an assembly, for settling the affairs of the country, and for making reparation to such as had been oppressed After which a regiment of soldiers arrived from England, which were sent to suppress the insurrection; but they, coming after the business was over, had no occasion to exercise their courage…”

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