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The Capturing of Jamestown by William Bacon

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Where “Changes in the Land” by William Cronon addressed the complex ecology and general perception of settlers and Indians, “Tales from a Revolution” addresses the dynamic and quickly changing politics and individual conflicts between settlers and Indians.

 Changes in the Land was an interesting read, however, Tales from a Revolution immediately piqued my interest in shedding light on the more violent and interesting aspects of the conflicts between settlers and Indians.In the early chapters “Tales from a Revolution” goes into great detail regarding the conflict with the Susquehanna and a how a peace and friendship that lasted for fifty years was broken when an English war party that was hunting Iroquois (alliance of five northern native American tribes) accidently killed a dozen or so Susquehanna warriors. It was a political blunder that could not slide. In turn, the Susquehanna killed some colonists and it conflict culminated into a confrontation at the Susquehanna fort where their peace messengers were murdered, and their fort besieged. The Susquehanna won the siege and conducted many raids and killed many colonists, one of such raids was at Bacon’s plantation where they killed the overseer and laid waste to it. Peace was unable to be made because the general sentiment was not a desire to restore peace with the Indians, but to seek revenge.

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 The original conflict was the fault of the settlers to which they offered no tribute to the Indians, putting the Susquehanna in a tough situation. They could not simply ignore the murder of 12 warriors. This would be the catalyst for the Susquehanna tribe revenge killing a number of colonists.Governor William Berkely was a master of diplomatic relations with the indians and wanted a return to stability and peace with the Susquehanna tribe. He refused to pay a commission for the killing, enslavement, or capture of indians. This caused rumors to circulate and many to perpetuate the lie that Berkeley had no interest in taking revenge on the indians and was even plotting with them and providing them firearms for furs. Many colonists demanded blood for the Susquehanna tribe killing colonists. This gave rise to Bacon who at a night of drinking with the militia of a city, was asked to lead them against the Indians. William Bacon was extremely charismatic and travelled Virginia recruiting volunteers to join his army. Within days, Bacon rallied an army of three hundred men. He promised for these men a better life after the conquest of indian lands, and that they would take revenge on the Susquehanna for killing of the colonists. 

Bacon convinced his men that the governor was not able nor willing to deal with the Indians, and that he was a sympathizer of their cause. This was a testament to the desire to take revenge on the indians, and to conquer their lands. One of the major events of Bacon’s rebellion was the capturing of Jamestown, which was the capital of Virginia at this time. Bacon burned Jamestown to the ground after his soldiers refused to do so. The commanding officers of Bacon’s army began burning their own houses in Jamestown, showing their conviction, resolve, and their belief in Bacon’s cause. Bacon did not want Jamestown to fall into the hands of governor William Berkely so after the long siege he felt burning it would be the best course of action. William Berkely was disgraced after he failed to relinquish Jamestown from the rebels, this greatly weakened loyalist support and gave even more credibility and renown to Bacon. Bacon represented the shifting mindset going on at the time. 

Bacon’s policy was the extermination of  Native Americans and the conquest of their lands. William Berkeley desired peace. At the siege of Jamestown, Bacon took the wives of the commanding officers of William Berkeley’s army hostage until they could finish reinforcing Jamestown Before an English naval squadron led by Thomas Larimore could arrive to aid Berkeley and his forces, Nathaniel Bacon fell ill with a case of typhus and had severe dysentery and died on October 26, 1626. King Charles ordered a thousand soldiers under colonel Herbet Jeffries transported in a fleet commanded by John Barry. The king offered a large reward for Bacon’s capture not knowing he was dead at this time, and offered extended amnesty to Bacon’s soldiers if they surrendered within twenty days. The king was proud of how well William Berkely’s handled the situation to suppress the rebellion and did not expect Bacon to already be dead. The remaining rebels that did not surrender and take the amnesty deal were captured and hanged as traitors and rebels. William Berkely had surpassed the kings expectations of him and had the situation completely under control. The governor was even one step ahead of the king, and had already established lines of communication with the Indians in order to negotiate a fragile peace, (which was what the king desired). The lands of the rebels was claimed by the crown and peace was made with the Pamunkeys and the Susquehannock. Despite the king’s praise, Berkely felt disgraced for all the loyalist houses that burned in Jamestown, and against the kings wishes he refused to pardon higher ranking rebels in Bacon’s army. 

A prevalent narrative going on at this time was that it was Berkely who was in the wrong. “The commissioners heard, accepted and then told in great detail to imperial authorities, a narrative of the rebellion in which Berkely was the villain. By march 1677 the commissioners had come to the conclusion that those who had styled themselves the loyal party, were the chief distributors and obstructions of the peace. The trouble they decided had started between the end of the rebellion and the commissioners arrival.”While Bacon’s rebellion threatened the peace and future diplomacy with indians and deserved to be destroyed, Berkely was manipulating the system to punish rebels and steal their goods and supplies despite the pardons from the king. He was demonstrating a great deal of corruption and causing unrest in Virginia. Because Bacon’s rebellion was so prevalent and so many people had joined it, unless there was a general pardon to be enforced, there would continue to be civil unrest and no peace would be had in Virginia. Commissioners speculated that if this kind of behavior continued from Berkely that there would have been another rebellion just as large as Bacons. “Berkely had tried and punished rebels using military justice, even though their prisoners had been captured after the rebellion in time of peace. They also hanged men who fell under the kings pardon, and had looted the estates of rebels with no pretense of due process.” Berkely’s personal vendetta to punish and prosecute former rebels was a much greater threat to the peace then dissatisfied citizens turned rebel. The very reason Bacon’s rebellion had begun was not just from a desire to kill Indians but also dissatisfaction with the state of affairs and how the government was running things. 

The reason Bacon had attracted so many supporters was he spoke to the heavy taxation and political powerlessness, labor shortages, and other economic problems felt by the common man at the time, and made the indians a scapegoat. They believed that with the Indians killed, enslaved, and their lands conquered; they could make a better life for themselves, free of their current problems. “Nathaniel Bacons in 1676 to 1677, but their diagnosis of Virginia’s problems lived on. 

The virulent anti-popery that emerged in a lot of stages of Bacon’s rebellion kept the cause alive, elevating it to the level of a struggle between god and protestantism in an english nation and satan.” John Coode inherited Bacon’s rebellion and used the rhetoric about the government not dealing with the indians appropriately in time of crisis.The province of Maryland was a protestant majority and in 1689, revolted against the proprietary government led by the Roman Catholic Charles Calvert. John Coode stripped the political power of Catholics in Maryland and ended the fragile tolerance of religious difference in Maryland which would not be restored until the American Revolution. 

Bacon’s rebellion demonstrated the discontent populace that wanted radical change, and how even Bacon dying was not the end of the problems with the rebellion. He planted the seeds for future rebels, and showed that many in Virginia would not be satisfied until the extermination of the Indians.

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