Bacon, Nathaniel 1647–1676

Nathaniel Bacon is remembered largely because of his leadership in the event that became known as Bacon’s Rebellion, a 1676 attack on Native Americans and the colonial government in Jamestown, Virginia. Bacon was born in Suffolk in 1647. His father, Thomas Bacon, was a well-heeled aristocrat. Nathaniel was named for an older cousin who was a country theorist, a philosopher opposed to the reign of Charles I, and who served as Oliver Cromwell’s master of requests. Bacon was raised on his father’s large estate at Freestone (Friston) Hall. He studied at Cambridge for two-and-a-half years, but his father withdrew him as punishment for extravagant behavior. Subsequently, he was tutored by the scientist John Ray, who praised Bacon’s intellect but remarked that the young man lacked the patience for long periods of study. In 1663, Ray took Bacon, two older students, and their servants on a grand tour of Europe. For three years, the group traveled through the Netherlands, present-day Germany, Austria, and the cities of northern Italy. In 1666, while visiting Bologna, Bacon contracted smallpox. Upon his recovery, he returned to England, reenrolled at Cambridge, and took a master’s degree there in 1668. Next Bacon took up law, receiving the title of esquire in 1669 or 1670. Bacon married Elizabeth Duke in May 1670. Elizabeth’s father, Sir Edward Duke, so disapproved of Bacon, who had a reputation for being arrogant and brash, that he disowned his daughter. In the early 1670s, Bacon, who also was ambitious and well-spoken, became involved in a scheme to defraud another young man of his inheritance. When this was discovered, Bacon was forced into exile in America. As Bacon’s father had given him 1,800 pounds, upon his arrival in Virginia in 1674, Bacon was already among the colony’s wealthiest men. With the help of Governor Berkeley, a cousin by marriage and Bacon’s future adversary, and his older cousin and namesake Nathaniel Bacon, Bacon acquired about 1,230 acres of land. Bacon’s holdings stretched from his main plantation, Curles Neck, which was 40 miles up the James River from Jamestown, to the Falls of the James, the farthest reach of English settlement and the site of the present-day city of Richmond. Despite Bacon’s youth, Berkeley recognized his high social standing and appointed him to the Governor’s Council, the ruling body of the colony. Bacon’s attendance record indicates that he was uninterested in government. In June 1675, he missed the entire session; in September, he sat for a day; and in March 1676, he sat for a day and a half. The 1670s were a tense time in Virginia. Governor Berkeley had been serving intermittently for over thirty years, Native Americans had become worried over increasing English encroachment, and some planters felt that Berkeley was not offering adequate protection in the event of attack. In 1676, these tensions erupted into open warfare. A group of dispossessed Doeg Indians, upset by what they considered crooked trade, raided English settlements, including Bacon’s plantation, killing his overseer and three servants. A group of angry planters responded by killing not only Doegs but also Susquehannocks, who had been allied with the English for nearly three decades. The Susquehannock responded in kind, and the planters upriver from Jamestown asked Berkeley to send in the colonial militia. Berkeley replied by claiming that Bacon and others had indiscriminately murdered both friendly and hostile Native Americans and had generally disregarded the authority of law and government. Instead of supporting the planters, Berkeley sent 300 militiamen to capture Bacon. Nathaniel Bacon, a wealthy Virginia landholder, is remembered for a short-lived rebellion which took his name against the royal governor, Sir William Berkeley, and Native American tribes in 1676. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania) Bacon, who had raised an army of his own to engage in warfare against the natives, now turned on Jamestown itself, finally burning it to the ground on September 19, 1676. He briefly gained control of the colonial government and enacted a series of statutes known as Bacon’s Laws. Bacon, however, died of dysentery on October 26, 1676, at the age of 29. In January 1677, Berkeley returned from exile on the Eastern shore of Maryland with royal troops and resumed control of the colony. Matthew Jennings See also: Bacon’s Rebellion; Berkeley, Sir William; Chesapeake; House of Burgesses; Riots; Tobacco; Document: Governor William Berkeley on Bacon’s Rebellion (1676). Bibliography Nash, Gary B. Red, White and Black: The Peoples of Early North America. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000. Washburn, Wilcomb E. The Governor and the Rebel: A History of Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957. Webb, Stephen Saunders. 1676: The End of American Independence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985. Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit’ circa 1620 … nathaniel bacon Publish with Glogster! Bacon Jelly Gallery: Bacon Facts

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