Bacon’s Rebellion: The brutal attack that spurred systematic racism in America
Ah, the colonial South. Abundant with racism, prejudice, and ignorance, the original colonists were a force of destruction for the American Indians and the lands that they thoughtlessly trampled over. No matter how many villages they pillaged and Native American land that they stole, many of the colonists, particularly those having issues with money, weren’t satisfied with the limited land the leaders of the colonies had allowed them to take. So, what did they do? Well, in 1676, a fed-up man named Nathaniel Bacon teamed up with hundreds of P.O.ed colonists… and they burned down Jamestown.
No, we’re not killing any more Indians
In the late 1600s, most early American colonists/invaders had two thoughts on their minds: making money and stealing land. For the rich settlers, life in early Virginia, the location of the first American colony, was splendid. Those who were rich were loaded enough to build their own plantations and make a hefty fortune off of selling tobacco, allowing them to live concern-free high lives. However, poor people weren’t so fortunate. Not only were they unable to pay taxes, vote, or claim their own land; they were also struggling to produce adequate crops and having difficulties keeping their farms afloat. As a result, they decided that an essential change must be made in order to support their futures: an expansion to the Western areas of America. Why did they want more lands to grow crummy crops on? Who knows. However, their push for new lands was loud and constant. The governmental figures of Virginia weren’t on board with their plans to ruin the lives of more Native Americans, and they repeatedly shut the dreams of poor Virginians down. However, the governor of colonial Virginia, William Berkeley, didn’t know that he would receive far more than he bargained for by telling his people no.
A rivalry ending in bloodshed
Governor William Berkeley may have been the motivation for a terrifying attack on Jamestown, yet the governor wasn’t looking for violence. In fact, Berkeley was motivated by firm yet nearly neutral politics, particularly when it came to keeping the peace between the colonists and the Native Americans surrounding Virginia. That being said, Berkeley was no Saint. He was fiscally selfish and put laws into place that benefited the wealthy in Virginia above the poor. Guess who this pissed off? Every poor guy in the city, and a handful of well-off social justice advocates. One wealthy man who was furious with Berkeley’s actions (and lack of action) regarding pillaging new lands was Nathaniel Bacon. Although Bacon was richer than many in Virginia, he thought that Berkeley was vile for creating benefits for the rich and ignoring the wishes of the working class colonists who kept the area afloat. Berkeley became Bacon’s enemy, and Bacon began to hatch a plan to trick Berkeley into allowing colonists to thieve new lands from the Native Americans. He accused a tribe near the Virginia border of robbing Virginian crops and harming the colonists, despite no evidence of these attacks ever being prevented. Fortunately, Berkeley didn’t find Bacon’s word to be enough. He refused to sign off on a military attack against the Native Americans who were trying to survive in peace. Sadly, this didn’t stop Bacon and a handful of buddies from murdering a massive amount of Native Americans belonging to two tribes, the Susquehannocks and the Occaneechi. As could be expected, Berkeley was super, super pissed.
Burning Jamestown to the ground
All across the colonies, Bacon’s reputation was in shreds. He was condemned by Berkeley on both a social and a political scale, knocking his pride down several pegs. Still, he didn’t let this slow him down for long. Letting his rage fuel him onward through several shameful encounters with Berkeley, Bacon vowed to make any future attacks on Berkeley stick. Bacon began to gather hundreds of men for his own personal militia, continuing to petition for the government to allow him and his pals to expand into the West. As Berkeley continued to resist, Bacon only had more time to expand on his growing troops, both recruiting new members for his cause and continuing to murder random Indian tribes along his route. In his pursuit of new followers, he told grand fibs and exaggerations regarding Berkeley, painting him as a villain in the eyes of the colonists. After Berkely heard the lies that Bacon spread about him, Bacon received hate mail from Berkeley, who condemned Bacon’s behavior and was insistent that Bacon gave up on the expansion of land that he so desperately wanted. Despite Berkeley’s request to give it a rest, Bacon wasn’t backing down. In a display that would supposedly make Berkeley recognize the importance of their requests, Bacon and his supporters did the unthinkable in September of 1676: they burned Jamestown to the ground. Driving out the governor and traumatizing the residents of Jamestown for life, Bacon and his roadies were hopeful that crumbling the original colony would encourage more freedom of decision when it came to expansion. Not so surprisingly, Bacon’s supporters were jailed and hung for their vicious crimes, and Bacon, ironically, died shortly after the rebellion from dysentery. Still, Bacon’s (short-lived) Rebellion was one of the most significantly racist and cruel events towards Native Americans in the history of the country, opening up the doors for systematic racism, slavery, and segregation for years to come.