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BACON'S REBELLION-HOSTILE DESIGNS OF THE FRENCH.
Indifference to change in England.-Navigation Act.-Convicts. Conspiracy detected.
- Discontents.-Cessation from tobacco planting for one year.-Royal grant8.Virginia's remonstrance.-Success of deputies.—Indian hostilities.- Army raised and disbanded by governor.-People petition for an army-elect Bacon commander
-ke marches without commission and defeats Indians-pursued by governor, who retreats on hearing of rising at Jamestown.-Governor makes concessions.—Bacon prisoner—is pardoned.-People force commission from governor.-Bacon marches to meet Indians-hears he is declared a rebel by Berkeley—marches to meet him—he flees to Accomac.-Convention called and free government established.-Bacon de. feats the Indians.-Berkeley obtains possession of the shipping, and occupies Jamestown—is besieged by Bacon, and driven out.-Jamestown burnt. - Death of Baconcharacter of his enterprise.-Predatory warfare-treaty between governor and his opponents.--Cruelty of Berkeley.-King's commissioners.--Departure of Berkeley, and his death.--Acts of Assembly passed during Bacon's influence.--Conduct of king's commissioners.--Culpeper governor.-Discontents.-Conduct of Beverly. Howard governor.-General conduct of Virginia and progress of affairs.--Plan of Callier for dividing the British colonies.
As Virginia had provided for herself a government substantially free, the political changes in England could have little effect upon her repose, provided no attempt was made to interfere with the freedom of her trade, or her local government. She seemed content to be under the protection, rather than control, of whatever power the people of England thought proper to place at the head of affairs, provided that power did not seek to extend the conceded authority. In this mood she had adhered to Charles I. until the Parliament, by its commissioners, promised a preservation of all her privileges; she acknowledged Cromwell upon a similar promise, and his son Richard under the same idea ; upon his resignation she held herself aloof, thus proving how perfect and how independent was her own local government, until the voice of England should declare who should rule ; and upon the accession of Charles II. she gave in her allegiance to him. As in all these British changes she remained unconcerned and unmoved, so the last caused neither extraordinary joy nor regret. The colonists, thus free from external sources of uneasiness, proceeded to legislate upon internal matters; providing rewards for the encouragement of silk and other staples ; negotiating with Carolina and Maryland for the adoption of uniform measures for the improvement of tobacco, and diminishing its quantity; and providing for the erection of public buildings, the improvement of Jamestown, and other subjects of general utility.
While the colonists were proceeding in this useful occupation, 1663.
they were alarmed by the intelligence of the re-enaction
of the navigation act, odious with new prohibitions, and armed with new penalties. The Virginians had long enjoyed a very beneficial trade with other countries besides England, and had early perceived its advantages, often urging the propriety of
its continuance, and contending that “ freedom of trade was the life of a commonwealth.” But the object of the navigation act was to confine its trade exclusively to England, for the encouragement of English shipping, and the emolument of English merchants, as well as the promotion of the king's revenue ; without regard to the gross injury done to the colony by depriving her of the benefit of competition in her harbors. The colony remonstrated in vain, and continued boldly her trade with all such foreigners as would venture to encounter the risk of being taken by the English cruisers, and encountering the penalties of the act.
It appears to have been for some time the practice to send felons and other obnoxious persons to the colony, to expiate their offences by serving the planters for a term of years. At the restoration many of the veteran soldiers of Cromwell, to whom it was anticipated the return of the ancien régime would not be particularly palatable, were shipped to Virginia to work off their spleen in the cultivation of tobacco. It appears that this new business was not as agreeable to them as they had found the psalm-singing and plundering of the royalists, under the command of their devout leader; and they accordingly quickly organized an insurrection, by the operation of which they were to change places with such of their masters as were left alive by the process. But this outbreaking, which seems to have been well planned and extensively organized, was prevented by the compunction of one of their associates, who disclosed the whole affair to the governor the evening before it was to have gone into effect; and adequate means were Feb. 13.
taken to prevent the design. Four of the conspirators
were executed. But this evil of importing jail-birds, as they were called, increased to such an extent that it was prohibited by the General Court, in 1670, under severe penalties.
The increase in the amount of tobacco raised by the increase of June 5, 1666.
the colony and the settlement of Maryland and
Carolina, far outstripped the increase of taste for it, rapid as that was, and caused such a glut of the commodity that its price fell to an amount utterly ruinous to the planter. In this the exclusive privilege of purchase which England enjoyed, notwithstanding the extensive contraband trade, no doubt largely contributed; but this the planters could not prevent, and their only remaining resource was in diminishing the amount of tobacco raised. To effect this various schemes had been devised, but they were all liable to be evaded, and were, if successful, too partial in their operation to effect the object desired. Nothing could be efficient, short of a total cessation from planting for one year, and this was at last accomplished after long negotiations with Maryland and Carolina.
Many other staples had been recommended from time to time to the planters, and even encouraged by bounties and rewards, and this year, it was thought, would give them more leisure to attend to the subject. But it is not probable that many engaged in the
occupations proposed, which required the investment of capital, the acquisition of skill, and the aid of time to render them profitable; and the year's leisure only served to increase the growing discontent, especially as towards its end Maryland began to be suspected of bad faith.
There were other causes of discontent which probably prevailed between different classes of society. Loud complaint was made of the manner in which taxes were levied, entirely on persons without regard to property, which, as there must have been a very large class of poor free persons now existing, from the frequent emancipation, and expiration of the terms of those who came over as servants, besides those who were free but poor when they came to the country, must have created considerable excitement. An effort was made to remedy this evil by laying a tax on property, but ineffectually; the only result being a small export duty on tobacco, in aid of the general revenue.
While the taxes bore thus hard upon the poorer portion of the community, they also had just reason to complain of exclusion from the right of suffrage by an act of 1670, and from the Legislature, to which none but freeholders could be chosen ; as well as of the enormous pay which the Burgesses appropriated to themselves, of one hundred and fifty pounds of tobacco per diem, and one hundred for their horses and servants. The forts were also complained of as a source of heavy expenditure, without any benefit ; their chief use, indeed, being rather injurious, as they kept off traders who violated the navigation acts.
But these evils in domestic legislation were trivial, compared with those produced by the criminal prodigality of Charles, who wantonly made exorbitant grants to his favorites of large tracts of lands, without a knowledge of localities, and consequently without regard to the claims or even the settlements of others. To cap the climax of royal munificence, the gay monarch, in, perhaps, a merry mood, granted to Lords Culpeper and Arlington the whole colony of Virginia, for thirty-one years, with privileges effectually royal as far as the colony was concerned, only reserving some mark of homage to himself. This might be considered at court, perhaps, as a small bounty to a favorite, but was taken in a very serious light by the forty thousand people thus unceremoniously transferred. The Assembly, in its extravagance, only took from them a great proportion of their profits; but the king was filching their capital, their lands, and their homes, which they had inherited from their fathers, or laboriously acquired by their own strenuous exertion.
The Legislature sent three deputies to England, to remonstrate with the king against these intolerable grants, to endeavor to procure his assent to some charter which might secure them against such impositions for the future ; and if they should fail in the first of these objects, to endeavor to buy out the rights of the patentees. To bear the expense of these three deputies, Mr. Ludwell, Mr. Morryson, and Mr. Smith, the enormous annual tax of fifty pounds of tobacco was laid upon every titheable person for two years, which, though it was for a popular object, was considered as of itself an intolerable grievance, at which we cannot wonder when we reflect that many who had to pay this tax did not own a foot of land. The amount can only be accounted for, by supposing much of it was to be used as secret service money, with such of his majesty's minions as could only see justice through a golden medium.
These deputies exerted themselves with remarkable success, and procured from the king an order for a charter, precisely in conformity to the petition which they presented, and providing against the grievances of which they complained; especially grants from the crown without information from the governor and council in Virginia that such grants would be of no injury; dependence immediately upon the crown of England, and not on any subfeudatory; and exemption from taxation without consent of the Grand Assembly. His majesty ordered the solicitor-general and attorney-general to prepare a bill embodying these and the other matters embraced in their petition, in due legal form, for his signature ; but the matter, notwithstanding the most assiduous attention of the deputies, was so long delayed in going through the official forms that it was finally stopped, before its completion, in the Hanaper office, by the news of Bacon's Rebellion.
Soon after the deputies left Virginia, the difficulties of the colony had been increased by the addition of an Indian war, which, although not now, as formerly, a matter causing danger of destruction to the whole colony, and requiring all its strength to repel it, was yet a subject of great terror and annoyance to the frontier.
A standing army of five hundred men, one-fourth of which was Mar. 7, 1675. to consist of cavalry, was raised by the Legislature,
and every provision made for their support and regulation ; but after it was raised, and in a complete state of preparation to march against the Indians, it was suddenly disbanded by the governor without any apparent cause. This was followed by earnest petitions to the governor from various quarters of the country, to grant a commission to some person to chastise the Indians, the petitioners offering to serve in the expedition at their own expense. This reasonable request was refused, and the people, seeing their country left defenceless to the inroads of a savage foe, assembled of themselves in their primary capacity, in virtue of their right of self-defence, to march against the enemy. They chose for their leader Nathaniel Bacon, junior, a young gentleman of highly respectable family and education, who, although he had returned to Virginia but three years before, from the completion of his studies in England, had already received the honor of a colonel's rank in the militia, and a seat in the Legislature for Henrico, in which county his estate lay,--exposed by its situation to the fury of the Indians. He stood high in the colony, and was
possessed of courage, talent, and address, which fitted him well for such an enterprise. After Bacon had been selected by this volunteer army as their leader, his first step was to apply to the governor for a commission, in order, if possible, to have the sanction of the legitimate authorities for his conduct. The governor evaded this rational and respectful request, by saying that he could not decide upon so important a matter without his council, which he summoned to consult, at the same time artfully hinting to Bacon the injury which he might probably do himself by persevering in his course. Bacon dispatched messengers to Jamestown to receive the commission, which he did not doubt would be ultimately granted ; and as public impatience would not abide the dilatory proceedings of the governor, and he was probably nettled at the insinuations addressed to his selfishness, in the governor's communication,-he proceeded on his expedition, authorized only by the will of the people, the danger of the country, and the anxious wish of those who trusted their lives to his control.
Sir William Berkeley, (whose conduct, notwithstanding the high encomiums bestowed upon him, seems to have been marked in ordinary times only by a haughty condescension, which in his excellency was called suavity of manners, and in those times of difficulty, by vacillating imbecility,) after temporizing in the most conciliating manner with Bacon until his departure, now denounced him and his followers as mutineers and traitors, for daring to defend their country after his excellency had refused them a commission; and gathering together such forces as he could collect, consisting principally of the wealthy aristocrats in the settled country, who probably liked the mode of taxation which was least injurious to them, and who suffered little from Indian incursions upon the frontier, he marched to put down the rebellious troops. He had not proceeded further than the falls of James River, when he received intelligence of a rising in the neighborhood of Jamestown of a more formidable nature than Bacon's, which compelled him to retreat and take care of affairs at home. This new ebullition of feeling was headed by Ingram and Walklate, and was probably produced by the indignation of the common people at the absurd conduct of the governor in first refusing a commission to Bacon, and then marching to destroy him, while engaged in so useful an occupation. Be this as it may, we find them insisting upon dismantling the forts, which were intolerably oppressive, without producing any good effect against an enemy whose progress was by stealth, whose onset was sudden and furious, and whose retreat was immediate. Against such an enemy active operations in the field were required, and the vigorous prosecution of the war in his own country. The forts, probably, were regarded by the poor as instruments of power in the hands of the rich ; which they kept up by oppressive acts, while they took measures to put down Bacon's operations, which constituted