logo Click BACK to return to basecamp
Lost Teachers
Search Info
White beveled edge

Meet Daphne

Daphne Archive

Cool Links
For more information on Bacon and his rebellion check out this site



A Rebellious Piece of Bacon...

We picked this dispatch as today's "Best."
Click here to have future picks e-mailed to you!


What are we supposed to do under the tobacco leaves?
Kevin and I are driving through Virginia. We've got Bacon on our minds. Not the pancake and eggs kind. I mean Bacon, the man. Who was Nathaniel Bacon - was he one of the good guys or bad guys? And what about that rebellion that he led? Kevin says his piece and I say mine. Read them both then let us know what you think!

Yeah, yeah…so he was an egotistical young man with too much time in his hands. He owned land. He was rich. He was spoiled. And, according to some people, he was also the First American Patriot.

One hundred years before the American Revolution, Nathaniel Bacon led a rebellion against the British that earned him this lofty title. He rallied the poor, the indentured servants, the slaves-all of whom were frustrated and angry at their situations-and gave them leadership and a chance to fight for a better life. His personal goals weren't exactly selfless - he wanted to kill Indians more than emancipate slaves. But so what? At least he shook up the system.

Wait - I'm getting ahead of myself. What was going on before Bacon's Rebellion? What was life in colonial Virginia like? Well, it was wonderful…that is, if you were a rich man who owned lots of land. Your servants grew tobacco, which you sold to the British in exchange for finished goods from England. You hung out with other rich white men who also owned lots of land and together, you talked about how many more acres you would buy with the money you made from tobacco sales. America for you was a land of opportunity-a place where, if you were rich, you could only get richer.

Indentured servants dressed and lived just like this woman
One of these men was named Arthur Allen. He came to Virginia from England and brought with him four indentured servants (so-called because they had to bite down on a piece of waxed paper and leave their denture imprints as a sign that they were "owned" by a master until they paid off their debts). With each servant, Arthur was given 50 acres of land by the British governor, which meant he was awarded 200 acres right off the boat. Arthur expanded his holdings and became quite wealthy. In 1665, he decided to build himself a mansion much like the typical manor homes of England, and by the time he died in 1669, he left to his son a very grand-looking house made out of brick (the only one of its kind in the area) and 2,000 acres of land! I'm sure he thought coming to America was one of the best decisions of his life.

Arthur's servants would probably beg to differ. Coming to America as an indentured servant was no walk in the park. You were considered someone's property (just like a slave) until you paid off your debts, and even then, there was no guarantee that you'd be set free. Indentured servants were poor people (mainly white) who wanted the same thing everyone else did-land. But life in Europe was hard and there were hardly any jobs available, so people sold themselves off to come to America. Because they couldn't pay for the passage over, they became indebted (or indentured) to the person who paid for them. Paying off debts could take up to seven years, and some people never managed to do so.

Ships like this one brought indentured servants to America
Indentured servants had very little rights, if any. In 1666, for instance, a New England court accused a couple of the death of a servant after the mistress had cut off the servant's toes, but the jury sided with the couple and let them go free! Masters not only cut toes, but prohibited their servants from marrying, having children and moving as they pleased.

Indentured servants, like free blacks and slaves, were not living the American Dream.

No wonder, then, that Nathaniel Bacon's call for an end to unjust taxes and the corrupt practices of the elite sounded good to the poor. He was a charismatic speaker and politician who would probably kiss babies and pose for photos if he were running for office today. He would be saying, "I feel your pain! Vote for me!" And in fact, people did. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1676, but was arrested by the Governor when he tried to set up army detachments to fight Indians. The Indians were only protecting their land from invasions by the white colonists, but Bacon thought that was reason enough to kill them all!

So in 1676, when "Bacon's Rebellion" occurred, Indians were being attacked for defending their land, the poor (white and black) were resentful of the rich for monopolizing the land and power, and the rich were doing their best to control their own interests. Things got ugly. Bacon's followers, by now in the thousands, burned down Jamestown, the capital of Virginia at the time, and then took over Arthur Allen's brick home. They barricaded themselves in his house for four months and were defeated only when British reinforcements arrived.

While all this was happening, Bacon died (he was only 29!). Without its leader, the rebellion fizzled out. The British pardoned all of those who turned themselves in, but ended up hanging 23 rebel leaders anyway. They retook power and doubled their efforts to keep the poor in check. Arthur Allen's son got his house back and managed to increase his wealth to 8,500 acres.

Kevin tries to be rebellious but fails miserably!
Some would argue that nothing changed. By many accounts, things only got worse. And by other accounts, Bacon stirred up sentiments that surfaced one hundred years later, in the form of the American Revolution. He fought for the same rights that Sam Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson claimed were inalienable and indisputable.

Perhaps. It's impossible to say for sure why Bacon did what he did. He may have wanted to go fight Indians and appease his ego, but he could have also felt sorry for the poor and angry at the unfair taxes levied on them. Regardless, Bacon's Rebellion showed the wealthy that poor people would fight for the right to economic advancement and better opportunities. They just needed a leader.


Please email me at: daphne@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Kevin - Another slab of Bacon: a rebel without a clue
Stephanie - You go, colonial girl wonder!
Teddy - Witchy woman's gonna put a spell on you!
Becky - Rock the vote the colonial way
Irene - Burning down the house: land riots in early America
Neda - The Regulators take on the big, bad tax men
MAD - The indentured servant trade: still rearing its ugly head