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...Or Just a Piece of Chicken?


Could this be Bacon?
Daphne and I are riding along a country road in Virginia. The day is beautiful and everything is in harmony. Yes, everything is going smoothly, except that Daphne and I have two different views about Bacon's Castle. Nathaniel Bacon Jr. was a young man, from a rich family, who from an early age had trouble controlling his behavior. This upset his father, Nathaniel Bacon Sr., so much, that he sent the young man to live with his older cousin, Governor Sir William Berkeley of Virginia in hopes the boy would sort himself out.

I went to Bacon's Castle with the question, "Was Bacon really rebellious or just a piece of chicken?" After touring Bacon's Castle and reading about Nat Jr.'s twenty-seven year life there, it was clear to me that he wanted so badly to become Bacon Sr. (a powerful adult) that he stirred up a whole lot of trouble to make himself seem important. That seemed to me more of a disturbance than a rebellion.

Walking up to the door of this big and ancient house, built in the 1600s by Arthur Allen, I can't believe this was the place of the great fight where Bacon's men took over this house and refused to come out for almost half a year. If I were going to try to take over a city, and be cooped up in a house for four months, this would be the house for it. Down in the basement I was able to see the oldest brick floor in America! There were huge rooms filled with tiny tea sets, nice wooden writing desks, and a huge field to run around in. I started to think that maybe some of Bacon's men might have thrown a couple of parties instead of trying to take over a city.

Yet the lives of the men that made up Bacon's Rebellion were nothing like parties at all. These men were indentured white servants and slaves. The indentured servants were MADE to work for a period of four to seven years. In exchange for their labor, at the end of their time they would receive 50 acres of land. The only problem with this is they would have to pay someone to measure and survey the land before they were allowed to use it, and that cost big bucks that former indentured servants did not have yet. Their lives were no fun at all. Indentured servants usually slept on mattresses stuffed with hay, while the rich slept on beds stuffed with soft horsehair. Slaves were lucky to have any type of bed at all. Slaves and indentured servants were the biggest part of the working class, and there was no help from the rich in any way.

Add to this the fact that Virginia had more than a few problems in the year of 1676. The price/worth of tobacco was dropping quickly and the competition from other states was intensifying. The price of goods dictated by England was rising sharply. Many indentured servants who were not able to obtain their land were forced to move further west. However, various Indian tribes occupied these western lands. Unfortunately disagreements seem to usually lead to violence. Various raids on Indian territory began, but the victimized Indians were ready to put up a fight. A small fire had already been started and Bacon was ready to add some grease. He directly disobeyed his cousin the governor and went on a series of raids to kill Indians, one of which he convinced friendly Indians to go and gather their enemies and later killed the friendly Indians as well as their enemies! Bacon was able to assemble his forces by manipulating their anger against his cousin.

Now...arrgh...hold on someone is knocking at my door. Oh look, it's Governor Berkeley. He thinks that I forgot about him. Not so sir. Governor Berkeley just wants you all to know that he was trying to keep the peace between his people and the Indians. The two groups had good relations due to fur trading and other business deals. Bacon was a young lad who had a bit too much time on his hands and was no stranger to making trouble. In addition, gaining power and influence in his community was certainly on his agenda. He knew that the underclass was extremely dissatisfied with their situation in life, and they would make perfect soldiers in his unofficial war. These men risked having their indenture lengthened, and slaves risked whipping and other forms of torture. Through this poorly equipped, but powerful vehicle of slaves and indentured servants he was able to burn down all of Jamestown, and strike fear into the hearts of authorities. What a guy! It was this that led to his men storming and taking over what is today known as Bacon's Castle.

The dual life of Bacon
Some say that Nathaniel Bacon was the first American Patriot. So I ask, would a true rebel construct an oath requiring those who wanted to fight with him to swear their allegiance and to give all they could including service and equipment when his wealth was enough to supply equipment for an army? Is this the mark of a true revolutionary? Is it not better to swear your allegiance to the truth and positive progress, as opposed to another person who is capable of making mistakes?

In Bacon's Castle there is a stained glass window. Half of the window is said to represent Bacon as a young man of nobility. The other half, in which he holds a sword, represents his rebellious side. It is this that brings me back to my conversation with Daphne. I would like you to judge for yourselves. What were these servants and slaves fighting for? What was Nathaniel Bacon fighting for, and are their reasons alike? Make sure to read Daphne's article on Bacon Jr.. Was Bacon a revolutionary, or a bit of chicken?

You be the judge. Court is in recess.


Please email me at: kevin1@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - Nathaniel Bacon: a rebel with a cause
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