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Bacon’s rebellion is considered to be one of the most dramatic confrontations to have happened in Virginia in the 17th century. It was an event that greatly contributed to the county’s move from using white indentured servants in favor of African slaves. The rebellion was sparked by the corruption and nepotism of Governor William Berkeley. He ruled Virginia for over 30 years and chose to surround himself with wealthy tobacco planters, who supported his regime. In return, the government introduced laws, rules, and regulations that lobbied the interests of his inner circle. Nathaniel Bacon, who was also a wealthy planter, led the rebellion. However, he held Berkeley’s circle in disdain, not having managed to become a part of it. The rebellion sparked in 1676 and was suppressed only when the Empire sent its troops from the continent to quell the uprising. Although the rebellion was defeated, many of the demands made by the rebels were complied with soon after, in order to pacify the population and improve the public image of Virginia’s ruling elite.
Bacon’s declaration of 1676 was the centerpiece document of the entire rebellion. It outlined the demands of the rebels, as well as the causes that sparked the uprising. The message was written in a very accusatory and concise manner, outlining the government’s crimes in 8 points. These crimes were as followed:
- Introducing unjust taxes
- Favoritism and corruption of the justice system
- Monopoly over the beaver trade
- Protectionism over Indians
- Sabotaging the English army’s efforts to dispose of said Indians
- Framing an army
- Tyranny and appointment of a public official without the public’s consent
- Failure to protect the people of Virginia
The remainder of the declaration provided a warning for any of those who were to aid Berkeley and his allies by either defending them, giving them supplies, money, food, or shelter. Those found guilty of such actions were to be declared “confederates and traitors of the people,” with their property and belongings confiscated. Throughout the declaration, it was mentioned several times that the rebellion was not aimed against the English crown. The rebels stated that their goals were to protect the people of Virginia and purge the corruption that harmed not only their interests but also the interests of the Empire.
The rebels burned Jamestown, which was the colonial capital of Virginia. Nathaniel Bacon died the same year the rebellion started, from a disease. After his death, the rebellion dissipated. Governor Berkeley returned to power, but only for a short period of time – he was recalled to England shortly after. The colonial officials were in fear of sparking another rebellion. Shortly after the uprising, the colonists were allowed to lay claims to frontier territories, pushing the Indians back. Property qualifications for voting were restored, and taxes were cut. This event sped up the conversion from using white indentured servants to African slaves. They were less dangerous and prone to rebellion, as unlike indentured servants, they were never allowed to become free.
The document and the event have a great historical significance for Virginia. The laws and policies introduced by the government after Bacon’s rebellion broadened the freedoms for the white population and promoted African slavery among the planters. In addition, the document justified violent actions against the Indians and helped to force them out of their native territory.