The Origin of Bacon's Rebellion
---Taking place almost three hundred and thirty-five years ago, Bacons Rebellion still remains an overwhelmingly controversial subject in the history of early English colonization. One of the areas under discussion that is more often disputed than others is the particular factor, or factors that potentially led up to the famed uprising. A majority of historical authors including Howard Zinn, Rebecca Stefoff, & Michale J. Puglisi exemplify the unrealistic belief that Bacon’s Rebellion was sparked solely by Indian hostility and unjust colonial rule. Although these factors may have concurred toward the revolt, such authors fail to underline the fact that Indian hostility and unjust colonial rule may not have been the only things that provoked the rebellion. Disregarding the popular speculations of Bacon's Rebellion’s origin, which indict native hostility and unrighteous colonial rule as the primary causes of the revolt, the extremely low price of tobacco, separation of the Virginia colonies, and the many trade regulations and restrictions imposed by England, are equally imperative subjects often overlooked in formation of the event.
---The extremely low price in tobacco export was a primary benefactor to Bacon’s Rebellion for two reasons. Number one, the low prices of tobacco had direct impact on the Virginia colonies’ commerce, and number two, it was a product of land and territorial issues for the colonists. A skewed supply-demand relation, attributable to the extensive overproduction of tobacco, caused the export price for tobacco to decrease drastically beginning in the mid-sixteen hundred...(1). By 1675, tobacco prices found a new low as “Virginians were growing more (tobacco) but forced to sell it for less”…(2). Because of the low tobacco prices, planters failed to find fair value in exchange of tobacco for goods. Most Virginian agricultural farmers relied on tobacco as a cash crop, without it many common colonists weren’t able to provide for their families, pushing them to drastic measures.
----From an agricultural standpoint, the tobacco plant exhausted the soil very quickly, enticing colonists to obtain unaltered land in the western frontiers (3). The more tobacco the colonists grew, the faster it fatigued the soil, leaving it unusable for a general period of time. With a shortage of plant able land, the colonists were considered the frontiers. But the Virginian colonists were unable to expand without the consent of the English monarch King Charles II theoretically owned the frontier land. (4). Finding it easier to encroach on Indian land, the settlers were countered by the violent actions of the natives, who were attempting to defend their land.
----The division of the Virginia colonies into separate entities was also a provoking factor in the progression of Bacon’s Rebellion. The separation of the Virginia colonies led to several different circumstances, and affected each social class individually. One of the most prominent circumstances of the division was that it allowed for the wealthy social elites to grasp authority among the individual and splintered colonies and manipulate them to their advantage. According to James L. Roark et al, at this time, the wealthiest top five percent of the Grandees (or social elite) owned seventy five percent of the colonial land. (6). In addition to owning a large portion of the land, the social elite were often appointed special privileges by King Charles II and his monarchs. Author Roland Merchand exemplifies some of these benefits in his article, A Documentary Source Problem, stating, “He (King Charles II) often gave huge tracts to his court favorites in London or to the friends of his Royal Governor in Jamestown, Virginia's capital… also, many of these wealthy people were exempt from land taxes, to the annoyance of poorer American farmers who had to pay them”… (7).
----With most of the wealthy Grandees being exempted from paying taxes, the already poverty-struck commoners of Virginia were forced to bear the burden. In his article, The History & Present State of Virginia 1705, historical author Robert Beverly presents the interesting fact that the separation of the Virginia colonies was, “contrary to the original Charters”, meaning that the colonies were in this way disregarding the original charter, and more importantly, showing the first indications of independence (5). Ultimately, the overwhelmingly large gap between the rich and the poor caused tension between the two social classes and potentially led to serve as a spark for Bacon’s Rebellion (8).
----The many trade regulations and restrictions imposed by England played its own significant role in the formation of the revolt. The English acts of Parliament instituted policies which restricted many of the Virginian colonists’ trade and exports. A credible example of one of these policies is the Navigation Act. The Navigation Act of 1660 was a limitation policy established by the English Parliament with the purpose of restricting exports. This Navigation Act was one of the reasons why tobacco prices were substantially so low (9). Restrictions by English representatives of the colonies would have a potentially significant affect on commerce as well as the common people, a majority of who survived through agricultural farming. The Virginia colonies were represented by an English legislation and because of the restrictions, harsh policies, and heavy taxes, Nathanial Bacon easily convinced the common people and made out the governor of Jamestown, William Berkeley as the antagonist because he served as the closest connection with England. In the summer of 1676, the protest led by Bacon and his supporters against Berkeley became violent as they parade through Jamestown plundering many of the social elite’s estates (10).
----A recent 2008 issue that uniquely relates to Bacon’s Rebellion could very possibly be the Iraq War. Beginning in 2003, this ongoing war and its purpose has many Americans confused and aggravated. While some seem to believe that the invasion was scheduled to remove dangerous “weapons of mass destructions”, others agree that President Bush’s military campaign in the Middle East is just the mask to pump Kuwait’s oil into America’s pockets. Bringing up the subject nowadays, many Americans begin to question the war’s motives, origin and exactly who the antagonist is in the situation. Like Bacon’s Rebellion, looking at the Iraq War three hundred and thirty five years later down the road, I personally believe that people are going to be as puzzled by its motives and origin as the people are today, if not more. Both the Iraq War & Bacon’s Rebellion have perplexed beginnings and indistinct motives, and whether it be Nathanial Bacon and his mob of supporters against William Berkeley and the social elites, or the United States of America versus the gorilla warfare of Iraqi insurgents, no party is clearly wrong or necessarily right in their outlook and intentions.
----“Bacon's Rebellion was probably one of the most confusing yet intriguing chapters in Jamestown's history”, insists prominent historian Susan MCculley.” It was an event that seemed to be inspired by a complication of economic and social issues such as Indian hostility, unjust colonial rule, extremely low price of tobacco, separation of the Virginia colonies, and the many trade regulations and restrictions imposed by England. Although there is a slew of information that is uncertain about this uprising, one fact that many historians agree on it that the rebellion wouldn’t generally be deemed as successful. Even so, it was an essential period in American history and even thought to be a predecessor to the American Revolution and the civil war (11). I personally believe that this event was one that shaped America into the nation that it is today.
1.) (Roland Merchand). A Documentary Source Problem- “Due to a substantial growth in production…tobacco prices were depressed after 1670 and took an even sharper down-turn in 1675”. http://marchand.ucdavis.edu/lessons/bacons/bacon.html
2.) (Roland Merchand). A Documentary Source Problem- “Virginians were growing more, but forced to sell less” http://marchand.ucdavis.edu/lessons/bacons/bacon.html
3.) (Robert Beverly- The History and Present State of Virginia 1705 excerpt, Document one pg 6.)
4.) 1. (Roland Merchand). A Documentary Source Problem- “Tobacco growing, as practiced in the 17th century, exhausted the soil in only a few years, so planters were constantly concerned about opportunities for expansion into the virgin lands on the frontier” http://marchand.ucdavis.edu/
5.) (Robert Beverly- The History and Present State of Virginia 1705 excerpt, Document one pg 6.)
6.) James L. Roark, Michael p. Johnson et al…The American Promise (A History of the United States) Pg. 90
7.) (Roland Merchand). A Documentary Source Problem- “He often gave huge tracts to his court favorites in London or to the friends of his Royal Governor in Jamestown, Virginia's capital. Also, many of these wealthy people were exempt from land taxes, to the annoyance of poorer American farmers who had to pay them.”
8.) Howard Zinn adapted by Rebecca Stefoff. A Young People’s History of the United States, (Volume 1.) Pg. 37
9.) (Roland Merchand). A Documentary Source Problem- “Due to a substantial growth in production and to some of the restrictions on exports imposed by the Navigation Acts of the 1660's, tobacco prices were depressed after 1670 and took an even sharper down-turn in 1675.” http://marchand.ucdavis.edu/lessons/bacons/bacon.html
10. William Sherwood. Introduction/Summary to “Bacon’s Rebellion: The Declaration (1676)…Pg. 1
11. Bacon’s Rebellion Billings Warren et al http://www.virginiaplaces.org/military/bacon.html