Bacon's Rebellion

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in Liberty
(1975). In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon began a mutiny
against the governor of Virginia, William Berkeley, because Bacon
(and many other Virginians) wanted to pursue a
more vigorous war against the Indians
than Berkeley would
allow. This mutiny was the spark that lit the flame of Bacon’s

Why? Why revolution?
This question is asked in fascination by contemporary observers
and historians of every revolution in history. What were the reasons,
the "true" motives, behind any given revolution? The tendency
of historians of every revolution, Bacon’s Rebellion included, has
been to present a simplistic and black-and-white version of the
drives behind the revolutionary forces.

Thus, the "orthodox"
version holds Nathaniel Bacon to have been a conscious "torchbearer"
of the later American Revolution, battling for liberty and against
English oppression; the version of "revisionist" history
marks down Bacon as an unprincipled and Indian-hating demagogue
rebelling against the wise statesman Berkeley. Neither version can
be accepted as such.

The very search
by observers and historians for purity and unmixed motives in a
revolution betrays an unrealistic naïveté. Revolutions
are mighty upheavals made by a mass of people, people who are willing
to rupture the settled habits of a lifetime, including especially
the habit of obedience to an existing government. They are made
by people willing to turn from the narrow pursuits of their daily
lives to battle vigorously and even violently together in a more
general cause.

Because a revolution
is a sudden upheaval by masses of men, one cannot treat the motives
of every participant as identical, nor can one treat a revolution
as somehow planned and ordered in advance. On the contrary, one
of the major characteristics of a revolution is its dynamism, its
rapid and accelerating movement in one of several competing directions.
Indeed, the enormous sense of exhilaration (or of fear, depending
on one’s personal values and one’s place in the social structure)
generated by a revolution is precisely due to its unfreezing of
the political and social order, its smashing of the old order, of
the fixed and relatively stagnant political structure, its transvaluation
of values, its replacement of a reigning fixity with a sense of
openness and dynamism. Hope, especially among those submerged by
the existing system, replaces hopelessness and despair.

The counterpart
of this sudden advent of unlimited social horizons is uncertainty.
For if the massive gates of the political structure are at last
temporarily opened, what path will the people now take? Indeed,
the ever-changing and -developing revolution will take paths and
entail consequences perhaps only dimly, if at all, seen by its original

A revolution,
therefore, cannot be gauged simply by the motivations of its initiators.
The paths taken by the revolution will be determined not merely
by these motives, but by the resultant of the motives and values
of the contending sides – as they begin and as they
change in the course of the struggle – clashing with and interacting
upon the given social and political structure. In short, by the
interaction of the various subjective values and the objective institutional
conditions of the day.

For masses
of men to turn from their daily lives to hurl themselves against
existing habits and the extant might of a ruling government requires
an accumulation of significant grievances and tensions. No revolution
begins in a day and on arbitrary whim. The grievances of important
numbers of people against the state pile up, accumulate, form an
extremely dry forest waiting for a spark to ignite the conflagration.
That spark is the "crisis situation," which may be intrinsically
minor or only distantly related to the basic grievances; but it
provides the catalyst, the emotional impetus for the revolution
to begin.

This analysis
of revolution sheds light on two common but misleading historical
notions about the genesis of revolutions in colonial America. Conservative
historians have stressed that revolution in America was unique;
in contrast to radical European revolutions, American rebellion
came only in reaction to new acts of oppression by the government.
American revolutions were, therefore, uniquely "conservative,"
reacting against the disruption of the status quo by new acts of
tyranny by the state. But this thesis misconceives the very nature
of revolution.

as we have indicated, do not spring up suddenly and in vacuo; almost
all revolutions – European or American – are ignited by
new acts of oppression by the government. Revolutions in America
– and certainly this was true of Bacon’s Rebellion – were
not more "conservative" than any other, and since revolution
is the polar archetype of an anticonservative act, this means not
conservative at all.

Neither, incidentally,
can we credit the myth engendered by neo-Marxian historians that
revolutions like Bacon’s Rebellion were "class struggles"
of the poor against the rich, of the small farmers against the wealthy
oligarchs. The revolution was directed against a ruling oligarchy,
to be sure; but an oligarchy not of the wealthy but of certain
wealthy, who had gained control of the privileges to be obtained
from government. As we have pointed out, the Bacons and Byrds were
large planters and the revolution was a rebellion of virtually all
the people – wealthy and poor, of all occupations – who
were not part of the privileged clique. This was a rebellion not
against a Marxian "ruling class" but against what might
be called a "ruling caste."

No common purity
of doctrine or motive can be found among the Bacon rebels, or, for
that matter, in the succeeding rebellions of the late 17th century
in the other American colonies. But the bulk of their grievances
were certainly libertarian: a protest of the rights and liberties
of the people against the tyranny of the English government and
of its Virginia agency. We have seen the accumulation of grievances:
against English mercantilist restrictions on Virginian trade and
property rights, increasing taxation, monopolizing of trade by political
privilege, repeated attempts to impose feudal landholdings, tightening
rule by the governor and his allied oligarchs, infringements of
home rule and local liberties, and, to a far lesser extent, persecution
of religious minorities.

On the other
hand, there is no denying that some of the grievances and motives
of the rebels were the reverse of libertarian: hatred of the Indians
and a desire for land grabbing, or, as in the allied and later rebellions
in neighboring Maryland, hatred of Roman Catholicism. But even though
the spark of Bacon’s Rebellion came from an antilibertarian motif
– pursuit of more rigorous war against the Indians, and Bacon’s
motives were originally limited to this – it is also true that
as the rebellion developed and the dynamics of a revolutionary situation
progressed, the other basic grievances came to the fore and found
expression, even in the case of Bacon himself.

It should also
be recognized that any revolt against a tyrannical state, other
things being equal, is ipso facto a libertarian move. This is all
the more true because even a revolution that fails, as did Bacon’s,
gives the people a training ground and a tradition of revolution
that may later develop into a revolution more extensively and clearly
founded on libertarian motives. If cherished in later tradition,
a revolution will decrease the awe in which the constituted authority
is held by the populace, and in that way will increase the chance
of a later revolt against tyranny.

Overall, therefore,
Bacon’s Rebellion may be judged as a step forward to liberty, and
even a microcosm of the American Revolution, but despite,
rather than because of, the motives of Bacon himself and of the
original leaders. Nathaniel Bacon was scarcely a heroic and conscious
torchbearer of liberty; and yet the dynamics of the revolutionary
movement that he brought into being forged such a torch out of his

After the start
of the mutiny at Jordan’s Point, Berkeley, having tried to stop
the movement, denounced Bacon and his followers as rebels and mutineers
and proceeded west against them. He missed Bacon, however, who had
gone north to New Kent County to gather men who were also "ripe
for rebellion." Meanwhile, masses of Virginians began to join
Bacon – on the most hysterical and bigoted grounds. Berkeley’s
unfortunate act of war of March 1676 had declared war not only against
enemy Indians but just as roundly against neutrals. The peaceful
and neutral Pamunkey Indians, fearful and unhappy at this prospect
and terrorized by the Baconians, fled to the wilderness of Dragon
Swamp on the Gloucester peninsula.

To many Virginians,
it was incomprehensible that Berkeley should proclaim men as traitors
whose only crime seemed to be hard-line pursuit of victory against
all Indians; at the same time, Berkeley was clearly soft on the
Pamunkeys. The protests poured in: how can anyone tell "friendly"
Indians from enemy Indians? "Are not the Indians all of a color?"
Thus, racism and war hysteria formed a potent combination to sweep
away reason, as a time-honored phrase of the racists, "You
can’t tell one from another," became logically transmuted into
"The only good Indian is a dead Indian." Or, as the Baconian
rebels put it:

Away with
these distinctions … we will have war with all Indians which
come not in with their arms, and give hostages for their fidelity
and to aid against all others; we will spare none. If we must
be hanged for rebels for killing those that will destroy us, let
them hang us.

Alarmed, Berkeley
rushed back to the capital and to appease the people called an election
– at long last – for the House of Burgesses. The election
was called in mid-May for a session to begin in early June. This
was the first election since the beginning of Berkeley’s second
reign. This in itself was a victory against tyranny. Meanwhile,
Bacon and his band of Indian fighters proceeded against the Susquehannocks,
but soon veered their attention, as usual, to the friendly but far
less powerful Occaneechees, whom Bacon had even persuaded to attack
the Susquehannocks. The Occaneechees had given Bacon’s exhausted
and depleted band food and shelter, and had attacked the Susquehannocks
themselves in Bacon’s behalf. The Occaneechees presented their prisoners
to Bacon and the prisoners were duly tortured and killed.

A dispute,
however, arose over the plunder from the raid and especially over
a half-dozen friendly Manikin and Annaleckton Indians who had been
prisoners of the Susquehannocks and had helped the Occaneechees
destroy the Susquehannock camp. The Occaneechees naturally wanted
to keep the plunder from the Susquehannock raid, and to free the
friendly Indians they had liberated. But Bacon demanded the plunder
for himself and insisted that the Manikins and Annalecktons be turned
over to him as slaves.

Bacon fell
into a dispute with the Occaneechee chief, who balked at selling
food to his men, whereupon Bacon launched a surprise attack on the
Indians, burning and slaughtering over 100 Indian men, women, and
children, and kidnapping others. To Bacon went the plunder and,
in addition, an Occaneechee stock of valuable beaver fur. Some contemporary
accounts assert the fur was Bacon’s major aim in the surprise attack.
In any case, Bacon returned from this irrelevant act of butchery
as the leader of a band of heroes in the eyes of the bulk of the
Virginia people, and insisted more than ever that all Indians were
enemies: "this I have always said and do maintain." Undaunted
by Berkeley’s denunciation of Bacon for treason and rebellion and
his expulsion of Bacon from the council, the freemen of Henrico
County unanimously elected Bacon and his associate James Crews as
burgesses. Joining the inner councils of Bacon’s Rebellion were
two wealthy and influential Virginians: William Drummond, tobacco
planter and former governor of Albemarle colony, and the intellectual
Richard Lawrence, who had lost land through legal plunder to a favorite
of Berkeley’s.

Ignoring the
election results, Berkeley sent an armed force to capture Bacon
and bring him back to Jamestown. Here ensued a patently spurious
reconciliation scene, with Bacon in open assembly confessing his
guilt and Berkeley, out of character, granting him forgiveness.
Clearly an uneasy truce had resulted from the glowering confrontation
of armed force and the threat of full-fledged civil war. For Berkeley
knew that 2,000 men were armed and ready to come to Bacon’s rescue.
Berkeley also restored Bacon to his seat in the Council, perhaps
to retire him to what at this point was a less important seat.

With Bacon
quieted, the House of Burgesses, largely supporters of Bacon and
certainly anti-Berkeley, did very little. A few feeble essays in
reform were quickly stifled by the domineering governor. Except
for acts restricting trade with the Indians, and imposing dictates
on avowedly friendly Indians by forbidding them to hunt with guns
even on their own reservations, the assembly did little and certainly
nothing against Berkeley. Indeed, they saw fit to eulogize Berkeley’s
rule. Bacon, warned of a plot on his life and seeing how reconciliation
had only succeeded in dangerously weakening the revolutionary movement,
calming the people, and taming the assembly, escaped from Jamestown.
He still lacked official sanction to fight Indians.

Returning home,
Bacon raised an armed troop and on June 23 invaded Jamestown, where,
under bayonet, he forced Berkeley and the assembly to grant him
the commission to fight the Indians – the original point of
the rebellion. But now the Baconian assembly, emboldened by the
Bacon victory, pushed through in a few days a series of reform measures
that became known as "Bacon’s Laws."

Several of
these measures were invasive of liberty: the inevitable laws for
more stringent war and regulation against the Indians, prohibition
on the export of corn, restrictions on the sale of liquor. But the
bulk of the laws were in a libertarian direction: requiring annual
rotation of the powerful office of sheriff; prohibiting anyone from
holding two local offices at the same time; penalizing excessive
charges levied by public officials; providing for triennial elections
for the local vestry boards by the freemen of the parish (thus ending
the closed oligarchical control of the vestries).

Moreover the
assembly ended the absolute control of the appointed justices of
the peace, meeting in secret conclave, over county taxes and expenditures.
Annual election by all the freemen was provided, for choosing an
equal number of representatives to sit with the judges imposing
the county levies and expenditures. Furthermore, the law of 1670
taking the voting for burgesses away from nonlandholding freemen
was repealed. Thus, a true revolution had developed from a mere
movement to crush Indians more efficiently. Indeed, some leading
conservatives hinted darkly of anarchy and menace to private property;
one leading Berkeleyan sneered that Bacon’s followers were too poor
to pay taxes and therefore wanted none levied at all. In the meanwhile,
Bacon protested that revolution was farthest from his mind, as perhaps
it was, that all he wanted was to fight the Indians. Armed with
his coveted commission he proceeded west to do so.

Governor Berkeley,
however, was not content with this relatively peaceful resolution
of the problem, and he determined on civil war. Berkeley once more
cried treason and rebellion against Bacon and proceeded into Gloucester
County to raise a counterrevolutionary armed force. Hearing of this
treachery, Bacon and his men marched eastward, where the militia
of Gloucester County mutinied and to the governor’s face chanted,
"Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!" Berkeley, in disgrace and opposed
by the bulk of the people, fled to obscure Accomack County on the
Eastern Shore, where he lamented: "How miserable that man is
that governs a people."

Bacon was now
impelled by the logic of events to a radical and revolutionary position.
For, despite his wishes, he was now irrevocably a rebel against
Governor Berkeley; and since Berkeley was the agent of the king,
a rebel against the king of England as well. The logic of events
now compelled Bacon to favor total independence from England; for
him it was now independence or death. So swiftly had the dynamic
of revolution pushed events forward that the man who, just three
months before, had had no thoughts of rebellion, who only a few
weeks before had only wished to crush Indians more effectively,
was now forced to fight for the independence of Virginia from the

were abounding in neighboring Maryland and Albemarle. Bacon began
to envisage a mighty all-Chesapeake uprising – Maryland, Virginia,
North Carolina – to gain freedom from subjection to England.
The neighboring colonies were indeed ripe for rebellion, and William
Drummond, a leading Baconian and former governor of North Carolina,
helped stir up a rebel movement there led by John Culpeper, who
visited Jamestown during the turbulent rebellion of 1676.

But Bacon had
a critical problem: if the choice was only independence or death
for him, that choice did not face the rest of the Virginians.
Thus, one of Bacon’s followers, on hearing him talk of plans to
fight English troops, exclaimed, "Sir, you speak as though
you designed a total defection from His Majesty and our country!"
"Why, have not many princes lost their dominions so?"
Bacon calmly replied. Less chary of a radical policy was Sarah,
wife of William Drummond, who, breaking a stick in two, exclaimed,
"I care no more for the power of England than for this broken

Bacon now faced
a twofold chore: the cementing of the Virginia people behind the
new, difficult, and radical task; and the smashing of the Berkeley
forces before they could rally. Unfortunately, it is not surprising
that a man dedicated to a hard line against the Indians would not
hesitate in a hard line against his own people. Bacon began to wield
the weapon of the compulsory public-loyalty oath. From his headquarters
at the Middle Plantation (later Williamsburg), Bacon issued a call
for a convention of the leading men of the colony. Once at the convention,
Bacon issued a manifesto, grandiosely entitled the "Declaration
of the People," demanding surrender of Berkeley and 19 of his
closest cohorts in four days. Refusal to surrender would mean arrest
for treason and confiscation of property.

In the declaration,
several accusations were leveled against Berkeley: (1) that "upon
spacious pretense of public works [he] raised great unjust taxes
upon the commonality"; (2) advancing favorites to high public
offices; (3) monopolizing the beaver trade with the Indians; (4)
being pro-Indian.

Bacon now assumed
dictatorial authority over the colony. He forced the convention
to subscribe to an oath of allegiance. The first clause caused no
trouble – a pledge not to join Berkeley’s forces. The second
part caused a great deal of trouble – a pledge to oppose any
English forces sent to aid Berkeley. The Virginians balked at open
revolution against the Crown. Bacon, however, locked the doors and
forced the assembled men to take the entire oath. Bacon now proceeded
to terrorize the mass of Virginians to take the same oath, and arrested
any who refused. Terror is a poor way to persuade someone to be
loyal, and from this moment Bacon’s formerly great popularity in
the colony began to ebb.

this juncture, when smashing Berkeley’s forces was the order of
the day, Bacon permitted himself to be diverted to the old sport
of killing Indians. Instead of pursuing the Indian war against the
tribes actually fighting, Bacon again found it convenient to attack
the hapless and neutral Pamunkey Indians, who had fled to the swamps
and wilderness of Gloucester County to be left alone. After wasting
many days trying to find the Pamunkeys in the swamps and, of course,
plundering as they went, Bacon’s forces found the Pamunkeys’ camp
and plundered, captured, and slaughtered the unresisting Indians.
Bacon was a hero once more.

While Bacon
was off to raid the Pamunkeys, Berkeley had seized the opportunity
to win control of the fleet, Jamestown, and the principal river
areas. In contrast to Bacon’s reliance upon volunteers for his army,
Berkeley raised his counterrevolutionary force by the promise of
plunder from the estates of those who had taken Bacon’s oath, and
the promise of subsidy and exemption from virtually all taxes. Each
party was soon promising liberty to the servants of the opposing

Marching on
Jamestown again, Bacon now drove Berkeley out of the capital. In
the course of the battle, Bacon used a new stratagem: he kidnapped
some of the wives of the Berkeley leaders and threatened to place
them in the front line if the Berkeley forces fired upon their fortifications.

Power corrupts,
and the repeated use of aggressive violence spirals inevitably upward
and outward. So with Nathaniel Bacon Jr. Beginning with the Indians,
Bacon increasingly extended despotism and violence against Virginian
citizens. After capturing Jamestown, Bacon burned it totally to
the ground, on the flimsy excuse of hypothetical military necessity.
The forces of Giles Brent, now a colonel, in the northern counties,
which had shifted from Bacon’s to Berkeley’s cause, were marching
south, but Brent’s men deserted him completely when they heard of
Bacon’s victory at Jamestown.

After driving
Berkeley’s forces back to the Eastern Shore, Bacon enforced his
loyalty oath on more masses of people, seized provisions for his
army from the populace, and punished several citizens by martial
law. Even his cousin, Nathaniel Bacon Sr., was not spared the plunder
meted out to the leading opponents of the rebellion, even though
the elder Bacon had previously warned his cousin of an attempt on
his life. The elder Bacon’s property was looted to the loss of £1,000.

Just as Bacon
made ready to proceed against Berkeley and the Eastern Shore, this
leader of revolution fell ill and died on October 26, 1676. In a
few short months he had brought Virginia and perhaps the neighboring
colonies to the brink of revolutionary independence from Great Britain.
Who knows what might have happened had Bacon lived? Without the
inspiration provided by their leader, the rebellion fell apart and
Berkeley’s forces conquered the disorganized rebel units.

One of the
last of the rebel bands to yield was a group of 400 Negro slaves
and white servants, fighting for their freedom in Bacon’s army.
Captain Thomas Grantham of the Berkeley forces persuaded them to
disarm by promising them their freedom, after which he delivered
them back to their masters.

Governor Berkeley
was not a forgiving soul, and he now instituted a veritable reign
of terror in Virginia. As he defeated each of the rebel units, he
court-martialed and hanged the leaders. Neither was Berkeley very
discriminating in his court-martialing and hanging parties; in one
of them he included Thomas Hall, clerk of New Kent County, who had
never taken up arms in the rebellion but who had angered Berkeley
in other matters. It was enough, however, that Hall, "by divers
writings under his own hand … a most notorious actor, aided and
assisted in the rebellion."

One of the
hanged rebels protested, no doubt truthfully, that he had always
been a loyal subject of the Crown and only meant to take up arms
against Indians. As in the case of many rebels, he was hanged in
a cause the rapid progress of which had traveled far beyond his
understanding. When the eminent William Drummond, who had incurred
the dislike of Berkeley even before the year’s events, was captured
in the swamps and dragged in before the governor, Berkeley gloated:
"Mister Drummond! You are very welcome. I am more glad to see
you than any man in Virginia; Mister Drummond you shall be hanged
in half an hour."

To which Drummond
steadfastly replied, "I expect no mercy from you. I have followed
the lead of my conscience, and done what I might to free my country
from oppression." Allowing for a few hours missed, the promise
was indeed carried out, and Drummond’s ring confiscated by Berkeley
for good measure.

Most defiant
of the captured rebels was Anthony Arnold, who delivered a trenchant
attack on the rights of kings:

They have
no rights but what they got by conquest and the sword, and he
that can by force of the sword deprive them of it has as good
and just a title to it as the king himself. If the king should
deny to do me right I would make no more to sheath my sword in
his heart or bowels than of my mortal enemies.

The court hung
"the horrible resolved rebel and traitor" Arnold in chains,
openly regretting that it could not draw and quarter him as well.
Berkeley also proceeded to confiscate the estates of one rebel after
another, thus recouping his own personal fortunes.

for Berkeley’s uninterrupted pleasure, the king’s commissioners
arrived in January with a general pardon for all rebels. What is
more, the commissioners promised that they would redress the grievances
of the people. The king further ordered Berkeley back to England.
But Berkeley, defying the commissioners, continued imposing his
own loyalty oaths, seizing more property for his own use, and delaying
publication of the king’s pardon. He finally published the pardon,
but exempted 18 nameless people – an excellent way of cowing
the Virginians so as to keep them from bearing their grievances
to the commissioners. Civil trials for treason proceeded apace,
and several more were hanged.

the subservient assembly now met and quickly repealed all of the
bold acts of liberal reform of Bacon’s assembly of June 1676. Under
Berkeley’s direction, the assembly proceeded to hang many more rebels
by acts of attainder, and to fine, imprison, banish, and expropriate
still more. Some rebels were ordered to pay heavy fines and appear
before the assembly with halters around their necks, kneeling to
repent of their guilt and beg for their lives. If freed by the assembly,
they were forced to repeat the same ordeal before the county court.

All leading
supporters of the rebellion were barred thereafter from holding
public office. Even the hapless indentured servants who followed
Bacon were sentenced to imprisonment whenever their terms of service
should expire. Anyone who had written or spoken anything favoring
the rebellion, or even criticizing anyone in authority, received
heavy fines, the pillory, flogging, or branding on the forehead.
Yet the jails were not filled, being kept clear by banishments and

Some hapless
Virginians were caught in the middle in the civil war. Thus Otto
Thorpe. Wishing not to sign Bacon’s compulsory loyalty oath, Thorpe
finally did so when his wife was threatened. Later in the rebellion,
Thorpe refused to aid Bacon further and had his property confiscated
by the rebels as a consequence. Then, when Berkeley returned to
power, he sent Thorpe to jail for swearing to the Baconian oath
and confiscated his property once more.

The commissioners
sadly concluded that no peace could come to the colony, either internally
or with the Indians, until Berkeley had been completely removed
from his post and the general pardon carried out. The only real
supporters of Berkeley in his fanatic campaign of vengeance were
20 friends of his among the oligarchy, known as the Green Spring
faction. The commissioners reported that the Green Spring group
was continually pleading for the punishment of the guilty, who were
"little less than the whole country." The commissioners,
indeed, estimated that of all the people in Virginia (who now numbered
about 40,000) only 500 had never supported the rebellion.

Finally, the
assembly, under pressure of the commissioners, forced the reluctant
Berkeley to stop the hangings. As one assemblyman stated, if not
for this interference, "the governor would have hanged half
the country." Under pressure of the commissioners, the assembly
of February 1677 also reenacted a few of the most innocuous of the
reform laws of the previous year.

Despite the
intimidation and terror, a large number of grievances were sent
to the assembly and the commissioners by the people of Virginia.
The most common grievance concerned the levying of heavy and unjust
taxes by officials, taxes that were used for expenditures over which
the people had no control. Typical was a petition from Surry County,
which prayed the authorities "to ease us His Majesty’s poor
subjects of our great burdens and taxes." The petition asked:

there yearly came a great public levy from James City we never
knew for what to the great grief and dissatisfaction of the poor
upon whose shoulders the levy chiefly lay, we most humbly pray
that for the future the collectors of the levy (who instead of
satisfaction were wont to give churlish answers) may be obliged
to give an account in writing what the levy is for to any who
shall desire it.

The Surry county
petition also humbly asked for a free election for every assembly
so that they could find redress for their grievances.

Not surprisingly,
this humble petition received its typical answer: severe punishment
for the petitioners by the assembly, for the high crime of "speaking
or writing disrespectfully of those in authority." Other grievances
mentioned in petitions were favoritism, illegal fees charged by
local officials, restriction of the right to vote, monopoly of the
Indian trade, and the arbitrary seizing of property by the government.

While the commissioners
were hardly zealous in defending the people against Berkeley’s oppression,
they at least arranged a peace with the Indians, and the great Indian
war was happily ended. Finally, the commissioners decided to carry
the king’s order into effect, and they ousted Berkeley. Leaving
for England, Berkeley made his exit in characteristic fashion, kicking
and snarling all the way, and bitterly denouncing the ambition,
incompetence, and ignorance of the appointed lieutenant governor
left in charge. At long last, on May 5, 1677, Berkeley embarked
for England, dying soon after his arrival.

Perhaps Berkeley’s
most appropriate epitaph was the reported comment on the Virginia
affair by King Charles II: "That old fool has hanged more men
in that naked country than I did here for the murder of my father."

The shadow
of Berkeley still fell over the unhappy colony, however, as Virginia,
not knowing of his death, still believed that Berkeley would soon
engineer his return. The colony was still in the hands of Berkeley’s
henchmen, the Green Spring oligarchs who had been reestablished
in their lucrative and powerful offices. Leading members of this
faction were Colonel Philip Ludwell, Colonel Thomas Ballard, Colonel
Edward Hill, and Major Robert Beverley. It also included Colonel
John Washington and Richard Lee.

Green Spring’s
control was especially strong after the commissioners had returned
to England in July. The Green Spring faction ran the council, and
engineered corrupt elections to the House of Burgesses. They continued
to drag rebels into court to seize their property and they levied
another large poll tax on the colony, again laying the heaviest
burden on the poorest citizens. Petitions from the counties to redress
grievances continued to be punished in the by-now-traditional manner:
severe punishment for statements highly scandalous and injurious
to authority.

Finally, in
October, news of Berkeley’s death arrived in Virginia, and the king
was finally able to get his complete and general pardon published.
The Baconian remnants, still hiding in the woods, were able to emerge
and resume their normal lives. But if Berkeley was at last truly
dead, his system was not; Berkeleyism and the Green Spring faction
continued to rule the colony. In fact, the next governor, Thomas
Lord Culpeper, was a relative of Lady Berkeley. The revolution had
failed, but it continued to live on in the hearts of Americans who
cherished the memory of its near victory – a beacon light for
future rebellions against tyranny.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School,
founder of modern libertarianism, and chief academic officer of
the Mises Institute. He was
also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his literary
executor. See
his books.

Best of Murray Rothbard

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