"And 'twixt two iron wills Virginia In this year sixteen seventy-six stood poised."
One hundred years to the day, prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia, a Declaration of Independence was signed at Jamestown. That of July 4, 1776, was the inditation of a representative body of patriots and voluntarily signed by them; the Declaration of July 4, 1676 was also written by a representative patriot-but it was involuntarily signed, under duress, by a tyrannical royal governor.
The Jamestown Declaration was divided into three sections. The first was a Commission to Nathaniel Bacon, appointing him Commander in Chief of the forces in Virginia. The second was a commission each, for thirty officers, signed in blank by Sir William Berkeley, to be filled in at the discretion of the newly appointed general. The third section of the Declaration was a letter to King Charles, dictated by Bacon, which exonerated the young patriot from all blame, and making explanation and excuse for the procedure adopted by him in obtaining his demands. We may the more fully understand why Bacon was fully justified in marching his armed followers to Jamestown, there defying the royal governor by force of arms and forcing him to yield to his every demand, if we make review of the happenings in Virginia following the accession of Charles II to the English throne and the reappointment of Berkeley- to supreme command as his colonial representative.
In his first administration, cut short by the downfall of Charles I, Berkeley had, in justice been proclaimed the most popular governor ever commissioned to administer the affairs of the Colony. His second administration was a complete reversal of the first, begun and continued under an entire change of policy-. He had become an aristocrat of the aristocrats, intolerant of everything, and everybody he deemed running counter to his imperious will. Holding in contempt both printing press and popular education, he hesitated not to pronounce his philippics against them, and the so-called common people. All Virginians who failed to do him homage were classified as such.
Thus we find the condition of the Colony-, retrograding from bad to worse, and from the date of Berkeley's reception of his newcommission, (July 31, 1660), we may calendar the true beginning of the so-called Bacon's Rebellion.
Stimulated by the oppressions of the English King and the intolerance of his governor, the seed of Republicanism planted during the administration of Harvey (1629-39), began vigorouslyto grow, hastened to maturity by the rank injustice of the king. Charles not only strengthened the hands of his tyrant governor, but began bestowing upon his profligate favorites "large tracts of land in Virginia." Some of the acreage had already been patented under royal seal and at the time was in proper cultivation. The surprised and indignant owners received notice that they must male application to the new grantees for re-newal of lease, else suffer the loss of the estate through royal escheat. The asininity of the king reached its climax in 1773. He actually bestowed upon two of his favorites, Culpepper and Arlington, "All the dominion of land and water, called Virginia," as a gift for the term of thirty-one years.
It is said of Lord Culpepper, that he was "a cunning and covetous member of the Commission for Trade anti Plantations"; of the Earl of Arlington, that he was "a heartless spendthrift," wet, Charles did not hesitate to grant them right to all rents and escheats, "with power to convey all vacant lands, nominate sheriffs, escheators, surveyors, etc., present to all churches and endow them with lands, to form counties, parishes, etc. Notwithstanding the fact that their grant was for thirty-one years, they were authorized to make conveyances in fee simple." (Hening, Vol. 2, p. 519).
Imagine the President of the United States bestowing one of the Virginia counties upon some favorite, with power of escheat and authority to levy taxes. He has as much right so to do as had the English king to trample upon the rights of the people.
Upon learning of this astonishing presentation, the Colony was in an uproar. Had not "some discreet persons" counciled against it a revolt would have burst forth in 1674. The planters resorted to remonstrances against such action and appointed committees to appear before the king, but these efforts prevailed them nothing. Murmurs of disgust were heard in every quarter, the middle class, especially-, being induced to regard all aristrocrats, so-called, as natural enemies. Under such a condition of affairs "everything of a public character wes neglected. There were neither roads nor bridges in the Colony, the people being compelled to travel by canoe, small boat, or bridal path, and there were no schools."
The taxes levied by arbitrary will of the King, were collected by Berkeley, and the major part used by him for paying his own salary and expenses and that of the members of his aristocratic "Long Assembly-." What mattered it to him, nor theta, that the people were impoverished, their wretchedly constructed cabins unglazed and unsanitary; that, throughout the colony, towns and villages did not exist? In Jamestown, there were only eighteen dwelling houses, some untenable one church in ill repair, and a socalled state house. The Assembly was forced to meet in an ale house.
How fared Berkeley and his friends? In luxuriously furnished mansions, generally seated overlooking some noble stream, they entertained each other lavishly, waited upon by indentured servants and negro slaves. The governor dwelt in regal splendor at Green Spring plantation, where assisted by his beautiful young wife, he did the honor of such festive occasions as he construed should be the privilege of a royal governor. To justify the expense, he demanded a substantial increase in salary, notwithstanding, the fact that poverty, stalked through out the Colony, while his broad acres pastured great flocks of sheep, and seventy- blooded horses well stabled, awaited the pleasures of his guests; that barns and granaries stood' filled to overflowingwith the varied products of his fertile fields, and in the cellars, close at hand, were stored. the choicest vintage from foreign climes.
But Berkeley stayed not his band. With advancing years, becoming- more covetous, he had forbidden the Colonists to enter into trade with any Indian trapper or Indian tribes, while he and bosom companions endeavored to secure secret control of all traffic with the natives.
To insure the success of this undertaking, he constructed a chain of forts on the western borders of the Colony, giving as explanation that they mere necessary to afford protection from Indian depredations, his secret reason being to use them as trading posts where furs could' be purchased, collected and stored.
Ample distance between the forts permitted the Indian warriors to steal within the lines and test upon the defenseless Colonists the rifles and ammunition traded at the forts while robbing and murdering them at will.
To every protest and petition, Berkeley made excuses or turned a deaf ear, for an Indian slain made an Indian less to meet in trade; fewer pound's and shillings to find their way into the exchequer.
Protest proving of no avail, the indignant Colonists were ready for armed resistance against both Berkeley and the Indians, but there was no leader in whom they could put their trust. The governor reigned supreme, continuing in the course he had mapped out for himself and scorning the warning of some of his friends who predicted their might come a day of reckoning. It was nearer than the wisest of them expected. There is an old saw that proclaims—"The necessity produces the man." In this instance, it proved a true saying, for the man appeared and his name was Nathaniel Bacon.
Nathnaiel Bacon was born at Friston Hall, Suffork, England, January 2nd, 1647. He entered Cambridge University in 1661, and graduated with the M. A.<a href="#1" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
In England the degree was given as M. A. not A. M. as we have it."> degree in 1668, then being only 21 years of age. He had specialized in the study of law the last four years of his college course, and showed promise of becoming one of the most brilliant graduates of his class. Possessing a pleasing voice of unusual quality, a clear mind and the intuitive power to impress his audience with the logic of his argument, he was a young man who, stirred by patriotic ardor, would not hesitate to risk his all for the benefit of a cause, he thought was right. Like many young Englishmen of his day, especially younger sons, he decided to cast his lot among the freedom loving people of the new World, of whom he had heard and read so much. I doubt not he had met and talked with Cambridge men, who were native Virginians, sons of Colonists, sent to England to secure an education.
Before leaving for Virginia, Bacon married Elizabeth Duke, daughter of Sir Edward Duke, and his bride accompanied him to his new home, (1674).
After the happy couple had spent a short time visiting his cousin Nathaniel Bacon, the counselor, Bacon purchased a plantation at Curles Neck and there took his bride. Another plantation was purchased, (Bacon's Quarter) located near the Falls of the James, and here he erected a house and placed an overseer in charge. It was on this plantation the massacre of the overseer and a servant took place, which persuaded Bacon to take up arms and lead the little band of patriots who were willing to defy the royal governor rather than suffer longer from the incursions of Indian war parties.
The farm house of Bacon's Quarter is said to have been located on land now occupied by the Richmond Locomotive Works. Bacon's Quarter Branch still flows by the site and empties a short distance below, into Shockoe Creek, thence flowing toward the James it passes through a valley near where was fought the sanguinary battle between the English and Indians, known as Bloody-Run.
The bounds of Bacon's Quarter Plantation are not now known, though most of it was located within what is now the city limits of Richmond, especially those sections called Barton Heights, Highland Park and Ginter Park.
This detailed account of the condition of the Colony prior to the arrival of Nathaniel Bacon, has been thought necessary as a number of historians have not hesitated to express grave doubt as to his true patriotism, some going so far as to accuse him of endeavoring to advance, by means of a persuasive tongue and magnetic personality, his own interests and ambitions.
These writers are evidently ignorant of the state of ferment which permeated the whole Colony, before the arrival of the young lawyer, else a Virginian could not excuse their aspersion upon the memory of a man who gave his all, his life, to save others.
`'Virginians, (aye. Americans), have a right to be proud of the glorious history of the past; of the sons and daughters of the colony mho hesitated not to make the supreme sacrifice for the lasting benefits of peace and liberty.
Time has winged its flight, from Jamestown to the. might-, nation of today, and, till it he no more, may Virginia's children ever emulate the virtues of her past. Birthplace of Liberty; Mother of States; Defender of the Constitution, she speaks to you, in loving admonition
All that I have given Cries to the future for still richer gifts, The light and leadership that have been mine Lie like a solemn burden on my soul. A vow I must redeem, a pledge of splendor I may not let the future disavow. And this high charge I give unto my children; Forget not; fail not; shape the years to come That those who gave us our great heritage Shall not be shamed. Lift up your hearts, and live Greatly, that the strong spirits of our mighty dead May seem to live again in you, and sway, Far in the future, equal destinies." —Pageant of Virginia.