Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion

Dateline Virginia, 1676/7: This post shows the Grand Assembly’s perspective about the revolt. Primary source offered here.

The trouble ignited when Indians killed thirty-six English Americans, but the problem of debts and servitude had been brewing for a while.

Modernized transcription begins:

The distempered humor [mood] predominant in the common people (the usual causes of mutinies and insurrections, grounded upon false humors [sic], infused by ill affected persons provoking an itching desire in them to pry into the secrets of the Grand Assembly of the Country, and to take upon them to caluminate and censure the same, this being heightened by an intervening accident (viz.) the first Incursion of the Indians upon the head of Rappahannock River, wherein about thirty-six persons were killed, which caused great murmuring because so speedy a revenge was not taken for it, as their precipitate desires would have exacted, not considering that wars are not to be begun without mature deliberation, especially with our neighbors that had long lived in amity and good correspondence [agreement or communication] with us;

And that suddenly it could not be well discerned, whether the mischief was by them perpetrated, or by foreigners; nor regarding the present approaching of the Grand Assembly’s meeting, to whom the best relation that could possibly be made of the whole matter was presented, and which Assembly in the most prudent manner possible settled the manner ways and means, not only to prevent any further mischief, but also to punish and destroy the murderers, and that with all possible safety to and ease for the Country;

But the precipitate, giddy multitude not being therewith content, and Nathaniel Bacon, Junior, finding the multitude in such distempers, and being himself of a ruined fortune, ambitious and desiring novelties [revolts], and having designs to alienate this Country from his Majesty’s royal dominion and traitorously subject it to foreigners (as it since appears by his own confession to the minister that assisted at his death and by all other his actions) did with many false, though specious pretences, declaring to the people that if they would follow him, he would destroy the Indians, at his own cost and charges, giving himself out to have great revenues;

And thus having drawn many persons (of inclination like himself) together not only without commission, but contrary to command, he marched forth and killed many of our friend Indians; and being thus abetted and assisted, he insinuates into and possesses the people with liberty and free state from bondage; and that he would make the meanest of them equal with or in better condition than those that ruled over them; and the better to carry on his wicked design, he declares against the Governor, and many loyal persons, terming them “rebels” and “traitors” against the people, confiscates their estates, and distributes to his followers, sets prisoners for debt and otherwise at liberty, and declares freedom to all servants that belonged to any loyal persons and lists them as his chief and standing army and forces; many march to follow him in arms, threatening their ruin if they refused.

It is hereby ordered that there be an humble address made in the name of the Grand Assembly to his most sacred Majesty for his pardon for our late rebellions and a thankful acknowledgment for his most gracious act of favor, to us manifested in his grants sent over to us under his great Seal, which our defections might justly have deprived us of;

And that his Majesty according to the example of the King of Kings who promised to spare the unrighteous city for the sake of ten righteous would graciously be pleased, for the sake of those few, who lost their whole estates for their loyalty and whom no terrors nor dangers could affright [scare them off] from their allegiance, to accept of the repentance of the rest of the people of this country since out of offence of their crimes and enormities most of them returned by the unwearied pains and prudent management of the honorable, the Governor, and they returned to their duty before his Majesty’s forces designed for the reduction arrived here;

And that his Majesty would graciously grant those privileges and immunities, for which they formerly made their addresses by their agents; and that in all humility it be represented to his Majesty, the great inconveniences that daily do, and for the future must inevitably fall upon this his Majesty’s Colony of Virginia by independent government neighboring and bounding it northerly and southerly.

  1. By which this Country has been and daily is deprived of its inhabitants, many under pretence of gaining lands in Maryland go into that plantation whereby the country is rendered less capable to defend itself and maintain its charge; and lands already taken up that might be leased continue uncultivated for want [lack] of tenants;
  2. Our servants make their Escape thither [to there or Maryland], and although care be taken by the government there for their apprehension, yet the charge of fees to the officers and the unreasonable demands of those that take them, and the Charge to send after them often exceeds the value of their term of servitude;
  3. Our debtors make their escape thither [to there], and their laws being different from ours, and the charges of their Courts exceeding high, makes the cost and charges of suit of times exceed the value of the debt, and;
  4. That Indians inhabiting that Country and in peace and amity with them continue not the like with us but often offer injuries, which we are not well able to redress, they being under another government, and are always ready to receive such of our enemies who fly from us

[5.] The Isle of Kent granted to seated and planted by Col. William Clayborne, Sr., and formerly as a member or limb of this Country, as may appear by our records (they having sent delegates, to sit in this Assembly) and divers [various] other evidences & demonstrations detained from us by the Lord Baltimore.

6thly. The advancement of our manufacture, tobacco is much depressed, since they being under another government, cannot be by us constrained, to agree to such laws and restrictions as may be necessary for that purpose, these and many other inconveniences might be remedied and avoided, if his majesty would graciously please, that province and this his Majesty’s Country, might live under the same laws and under the immediate influence of his sacred Majesty’s royal government And the like (in most respects) may be represented to his Majesty, concerning that country which bounds us on the South, they now harboring our debtors and servants and receiving such as are fled from hence [here] for their treason and rebellion;

It is ordered that there may be letters sent from the Grand Assembly to his Royal Highness the Duke of York to acknowledge our thankfulness for his gracious favors to us his Majesty’s subjects in Virginia. In his gracious promise reported to us by Col. Francis Morrison that those patents granted to the Country’s detriment should be called in; and that his Royal Highness would be graciously pleased to continue his favor to us by interceding with his Majesty to grant what we now do or formerly have by our agents interceded to his majesty for.

It is ordered that there may be a letter sent from the Grand Assembly to the Lord Arlington to testify our thankfulness [sic] for his free and voluntarily act of favor to us in surrendering up his right to his Majesty’s grant to him and the Lord Culpeper; and that his lordship would be pleased to continue his favor to us, his Majesty’s subjects, by interceding to his Majesty to grant what we now do, or formerly by our agents, have interceded to his Majesty for.

It is ordered that five hundred pounds Sterling, part of the money raised by the two years fifty pounds of tobacco per pole, be left in England as a bank stock for the Country’s [Virginia’s] use on all occasions, and the remaining sum yet due to the Country by the money so raised as aforesaid, (the just disbursements of the Country’s agents being discompted [discounted] be ordered and disposed of, for the defraying the present charge of the Country, as the Assembly shall find occasion.

The rest of the day’s business concerns other matters.

Transcription ends.


Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1659/60—1693, ed. H. R. McIlwaine, Richmond: 1914, pp. 73-75.

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