Little Bits of History

September 19

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 19, 2017

1676: Jamestown, Virginia is burned to the grown. Late in 1606, settlers came to New World from England. They settled in what is today Virginia and established themselves at Jamestown. Unlike Roanoke Colony, this one survived and thrived, eventually. William Berkeley was governor of the Virginia colony from 1641-1652, appointed by his friend King Charles II of England. While governor, he passed laws to help diversify crops grown in the colony. The English Civil War interfered but in 1660, William was placed back as governor of Virginia. He was hoping for a diverse economy, free trade, a close knit colonial society, and freedom from London.

Berkeley was not at all responsive to the needs of the western frontier colonialists, especially those in confrontation with the Doeg Indians. He also cut Nathaniel Bacon out of negotiations and the fur trade in the region. Bacon was a wealthy merchant born in England and had been educated at Cambridge, made the grand tour of Europe, and got into a bit of trouble when he cheated another man out of his inheritance. His father gave him £1,800 and sent him to the colonies in exile. Upon arriving in the New World, Bacon purchased two plantations. His cousin was a friend of Berkeley’s and Bacon was appointed to the governor’s council.

Unrest began as early as 1674 and people were outraged by the corruption in Jamestown and the governor’s “inhumanly oppressive, and inexcusably inefficient” government, especially in war. As the natives grew more aggressive in defending their lands from the encroaching Europeans, the governor did little to support the border families. Bacon’s overseer at one of his plantations had been killed in an Indian attack. By July 30, Bacon and his makeshift army issued a Declaration of the People of Virginia lambasting Berkeley. This did little to help the matter. On this day, Bacon and 300-500 men entered Jamestown and set fires, burning it to the ground.

Berkeley fled and sent for help, but nothing was instantaneous. He had to wait. Bacon died of dysentery on October 26, 1676. John Ingram took over the leadership of the rebellion, but without Bacon, it pretty much just fell apart. When help did arrive, there were not enough rebels to sustain the conflict. Berkeley, then 71, returned to Jamestown in January 1677 and began to rebuild. The government seized the property of several of the wealthy men who had participated in the uprising and 23 men were executed by hanging. England sent a team to investigate the incident and report to King Charles, who relieved Berkeley of his position later in the year.

That old fool has put to death more people in that naked country than I did here for the murder of my father. – King Charles II

Of this and the aforesaid articles we accuse Sir William Berkeley as guilty of each and every one of the same, and as one who has traitorously attempted, violated, and injured his Majesty’s interest here by a loss of a great part of this his colony and many of his faithful loyal subjects by him betrayed and in a barbarous and shameful manner exposed to the incursions and murder of the heathen. – Nathaniel Bacon in the Declaration of the People of Virginia

I was not cut out to be a rebel. – Gene Tierney

I will die like a true-blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning – organize. – Joe Hill