Nathaniel was born in 1647 in England to an aristocratic family. In the early 1670s, he was charged with some phony land dealings and fled to Virginia. Fortunately, he had a few distant cousins already living there. One was the hero of the Culpepper Saga, John Culpepper. The other was Sir William Berkeley, the governor of Virginia, who was married to John’s niece. One big happy family. Berkeley assisted Bacon in obtaining land grants, and being family and all, Berkeley gave Bacon a seat on the Virginia Council in 1675. And all is well.
In the 1670s, the colonists of Virginia fought continuously with the local Indians. The Indians were barbaric and destroyed colonists’ homes and crops and killed their families. The colonists needed some sort of militia to keep their families and property safe, but there were only 6,000 free men in the colony. These were mostly aristocratic men with a combined total of 2,000 indentured servants and 6,000 slaves. Do you really think they were the kind to go do the dirty work of fighting off the Indians? And they certainly didn’t want to arm disgruntled servants and slaves. In typical politician fashion, Berkeley’s only idea was to raise more taxes in hopes that something would work. One of the taxes was the Fort Tax, which was supposed to be used to build forts and to man them to keep a look-out for Indians. The “forts” ended up being nothing more than mud huts and of course were never manned. Berkeley’s colonists were not happy. He had a mess on his hands.
Along comes Bacon who would be happy to take care of the Indian problem. He doesn’t speak with the governor about his plans, but after serving copious amounts of brandy at his estate, he was unanimously elected the leader of the new militia. This illegal militia was not approved by Governor Berkeley and could certainly be construed as usurping the governor’s prerogative. Not something one should do in the times.
THE CRAZY GOVERNOR
First, when he heard about Bacon’s militia, he named Bacon a rebel and took away his seat on the council.
Then he forgave him and gave him his seat back. He told Bacon if he stayed out of trouble for a fortnight, he would grant him the commission to raise a legal militia.
After Bacon went home, Berkeley named Bacon a traitor and sent his men to arrest him. Bacon fled and the two played cat-and-mouse for a few months. Berkeley was being threatened by the militia, bombarded by the colonists, and fighting with the Indians. Afraid for his life, he fled also.
With Berkeley gone, Bacon came back to Jamestown and tried to take back his seat on the council, but the council refused. Berkeley heard of Bacon’s whereabouts and sent his men to arrest Bacon. Bacon spread propaganda about his location – one day he was here with four-hundred men, the next he was there with five-hundred.
Following the rebels burning down the entire city of Jamestown, Berkeley came out of hiding to view the damage. Bacon followed and surrounded the state house with Berkeley in it. Berkeley came out and bared his chest, demanding that Bacon shoot him right now. Bacon refused and the two went inside to discuss terms to an agreement. Berkeley, of course, gave Bacon everything he wanted including command of the Virginia militia.
After Bacon left to begin forming his militia, Berkeley denied ever giving him the commission and again demanded his arrest. He then went back into hiding until this Bacon mess was over. While Berkeley was in hiding, he received word that Bacon had died October 1676 of dysentery and the rebellion was over.
Many think Bacon’s actions were simply to put an end to local Indian problems, but after studying the incident, I’m leaning toward the idea that Bacon’s ego was larger than that. I think he wanted to be the governor of Virginia. He wanted to run the aging Berkeley out of office and take the glory (and the tax money) for himself.
Following the rebellion, Berkeley gathered up the leaders of the militia and hung twenty-three of them. He was summoned to England by the king to answer for his actions. He sailed the following spring, but he became ill on the voyage and died shortly after his arrival in July 1677 – without ever seeing the king.
Bacon’s Rebellion is a huge part of the fourth book in the Culpepper Saga, “Culpepper’s Rebellion.” It will be released October 31, 2015 and will be available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon.